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Monday, 30 November 2015

Kublai Khan


Kublai was born on September 23, 1215,  the fourth son of Tolui, and his second son with Sorghaghtani Beki. His grandfather was the legendary Genghis Khan, who passed away when Kublai was 11.

Kublai 's brother, Möngk, was the conqueror of Persia and founder of the Ilkhanate.

Portrait of young Kublai by Anige, a Nepali artist in Kublai's court

Sorghaghtani chose a Buddhist Tangut woman as a result of Genghis Khan advice, as her son's nurse. Kublai later honored her highly.

On his way home after the conquest of the Khwarizmian Empire, Genghis Khan performed a ceremony on his grandsons Möngke and 9-year-old Kublai after their first hunt in 1224 near the Ili River. Kublai and his eldest brother killed a rabbit and an antelope then his grandfather smeared fat from the killed animals onto Kublai's middle finger in accordance with a Mongol tradition.


Kublai succeeded at the age of 44 his older brother, Möngke as the Great Khan of the Mongol empire. He was proclaimed Kublai Great Khan, on April 15, 1260.

Kublai's Empire was the first to have paper money, it was made from the bark of the mulberry tree, stamped with seals to guarantee their authenticity.

He ruled well, promoting economic growth with the rebuilding of the Grand Canal and repairing public buildings. His empire had roads with comfortable inns and stables for resting travelers. Kublai himself was transported in a carriage laid on top of four elephants.

Kublai officially created the Yuan Dynasty on December 18, 1271 and proclaimed the capital to be Dadu (Chinese literally. "Great Capital"), at modern-day Beijing. This marked the start of the Yuan dynasty of Mongolia and China.

Kublai was treated like a god, no noise was permitted within half a mile of where the Khan was.

He was renowned all over the world as he was the first Chinese emperor to be known in the west, due to the visit of Marco Polo.

Kublai conquered the south of China and made the Chinese lower caste citizens, requiring them to scrape and bow to his fellow Mongols The conquered Chinese unsurprisingly hated Kublai Khan who attempted to keep them under control through magic and propaganda.

Kublai Khan also conquered Burma. However, in 1281 a 140,000 strong army failed to conquer Japan. A typhoon destroyed his ships en route and the myth of Mongol invincibility vanished from Asia.

Super Khan's empire stretched from Hungary to Korea. Unlike the bloodthirsty older members of his family, Kublai was willing to negotiate before reaching for his sword. His later years were mainly spent on subduing rebellious factions amongst his fellow Mongols.


Medium height, dark eyed, Kublai had rather fair complexion for a Mongol.

His wives were Qutuqui of the Ikheres clan, Oghul-Khoimish (Oghul Teimish) of the Oirats and Chubei.  His favourite wife was the youngest, Chubei and he was heartbroken when she died in 1259.

There were also a number of concubines who were chosen for Kublai in a sort of biannual Mongol beauty contest.

In his last years the great Khan put on a lot of weight after the death of his favorite wife Chubei.


After having received two Venetian merchants, Nicoló and Maffeo Polo, Kublai Khan was fascinated by what he heard of the good news of Jesus Christ and he gave them a letter asking that the brothers to return to his palace with 100 Christian teachers and oil from a holy lamp in Jerusalem. Despite being guaranteed that within a few years there would be more Christians in Eastern Asia than Europe, the pope did nothing. When Nicoló and Maffeo Polo left Venice for a second journey to China, this time with Nicoló's son, Marco, they were accompanied by just two Friars with Marco Polo and his father and uncle. The two monks were unable to deal with the hard travelling, only getting as far as Armenia before turning back.

The discouraged Kublai turned instead to Buddhism, which he made the religion of his people. He continued to respect other religions observing Moslem, Jewish and Christian feast days as well.


The great Khan had an inexhaustible desire for knowledge and sought men of learning from Europe to educate him and his people.

Kublai was well versed in Chinese poetry, though one of his own works have survived. A Chinese poem written by him is included in the Selection of Yuan Poetry, titled 'Inspiration recorded while enjoying the ascent to Spring Mountain'.

Kublai Khan was partial to a milk called kumiss, which was prepared for him exclusively from his herd of white mares. Musicians played as the Great Khan devoured his Kumiss.

The great Khan became the first head of state to pass laws conserving game animals when he forbade his subjects to hunt during animal breeding sessions.

Painting of Kublai Khan on a hunting expedition, by Chinese court artist Liu Guandao, c. 1280.

Kubali owned 5,000 elephants and used lions on hunting expeditions. The big cats were trained to pursue and drag down huge animals from bulls to bears and to stay with the animal until the hunter arrived.

Kublai Khan owned 5,000 Mastiffs - the most dogs ever owned by one person.


Kublai's summer capital was in Shangdu (Chinese: "Upper Capital"), also called Xanadu, near what today is Dolonnur, about 220 miles (350 kilometres) north of Beijing.

Xanadu was visited by the Venetian traveler Marco Polo and his father and uncle in about 1275, and was destroyed in 1369 by the Ming army under Zhu Yuanzhang.

In 1797 historical accounts of Xanadu inspired the famous poem Kubla Khan by the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"In Xanadu did Kublai Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea."

Thanks to the poem by Coleridge, Xanadu became a metaphor for splendor and opulence. It was the name of Charles Foster Kane's estate in the film Citizen Kane and the title of the 1980 film Xanadu is a reference to Coleridge's poem. The title song "Xanadu" was a #1 hit in the UK.


Kublai became increasingly despondent after the death of his favorite wife. The failure of the military campaign in Japan also haunted him. Kublai turned to food and drink for comfort, became grossly overweight, and suffered from gout and diabetes.

The emperor increasingly suffered with gout and diabetes as a result of overindulging in alcohol and the traditional meat-rich Mongol diet. He tried every medical treatment available, from Korean shamans to Vietnamese doctors, and remedies and medicines, but to no avail.

Kublai weakened steadily, and on February 18, 1294, he died at the age of 78.

Having unified China and brought such prosperity and wealth the great Khan's empire was the talk of Europe for centuries afterward.

Kublai has been portrayed three times by Hollywood, firstly by George Barbier in 1938's Adventures of Marco Polo, secondly by Antony Quinn in 1965 Marco the Magnificent and lastly Zero Mostel played Kublai in the 1973 lumbering musical Marco.

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