Genghis Khan — Emperor with Extraordinary Military Achievements

Genghis Khan (1162 — 1227), named Temujin, was the founder of the Mongol Empire (1206 — 1368) and a brilliant military genius with unprecedented accomplishments in expanding territory. 

After his grandson Kublai established the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) based on Mongol Empire, he was respected as Emperor Taizu of Yuan. 

Portrait of Genghis Khan the Emperor Taizu of Yuan, By Court Artist of the Yuan Dynasty

Portrait of Genghis Khan the Emperor Taizu of Yuan, By Court Artist of the Yuan Dynasty — Taipei Palace Museum

Struggle and Fight in the Early Years

Temujin was born into a noble clan in Mongolia, and his father was poisoned to death when he was 8 years old. 

Then, he and his mother were expelled by other noble Mongol tribes, and their clan was dispersed soon.

During this period of his early life, he encountered many fights and life-and-death moments, and Temujin survived everything.

A few years later, his mother and wife were kidnapped by his enemies; so Temujin allied with his father’s good friend, and successfully defeated the clans that took away his family.

Then he rebuilt their clan and started to expand. 

Based on his braveness and extreme military talent, Temujin's clan kept growing, and more people complied with him for his achievements and smart reign.

Later, he accepted Jurchen Jin's reward, while perishing clans that killed his father before.

Copper Dragon of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty

Copper Dragon of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty — Heilongjiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Establishment of the Mongol Empire

When Temujin was 44, he finally defeated or complied with all clans in the Mongolia Plateau, and built the unified Great Mongol Empire there. He was then respected as Genghis Khan, Great Khan, or Genghis Emperor, meaning the "Universal Ruler".

He created Mongolian scripts, published, and implemented the first law in his empire. He established an administration system that combined military, politics, and the economy as a whole pact.

Generals with great contributions were nominated and rewarded as the ruling class; they were responsible for their own areas’ military activities, politics, and economy. This system made his army efficient, organized, and powerful. 

He also respected religious freedom, as all the people under his reign could choose whatever they would like to believe in, which encouraged communication of different religions.

Four years after his enthronement, Genghis Khan cut off the tributary relation to Jurchen Jin Dynasty (1115 — 1234) and stopped respecting Jin as suzerain.

Blue-and-White Porcelain Cup of the Yuan Dynasty Decorated with Dragon and Cloud Patterns

Blue-and-White Porcelain Cup of the Yuan Dynasty Decorated with Dragon and Cloud Patterns — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Genghis Khan and the Expanding Mongol Empire

Genghis Khan's management system made his kingdom progress, while the fighting gene in his blood substantially enlarged the territory of the Mongol Empire through many wars.

Battles in his early stages were aimed at avenging his father, unifying Mongolia, and overthrowing the reign of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty, all of which were searching for justice and better lives for his people. 

However, the Mongol conquest wars of other states that he initiated afterward were for expansion.

He and his army occupied large numbers of lands and people during that period; and in those invasive battles, he had been invincible. 

As an influential and talented monarch, Genghis Khan was eulogized for his military achievements by his people; however, he was also criticized for being cruel, because he had initiated many wars, destroyed many cities, and taken away large numbers of lives.

Deer and Flower Shaped Jade Decorations of Jin to Yuan Dynasty

Deer and Flower Shaped Jade Decorations of Jin to Yuan Dynasty — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Mysterious Departure and Mausoleum of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan passed away when he was attacking the Western Xia Dynasty (1038 — 1227) in northwest China. However, the cause of his death remains mysterious. 

There were many different versions regarding the way he passed away.

Some said he was assassinated by a queen from the Western Xia Dynasty that he conquered, others gossip implied that he was poisoned by one of his sons who wanted the throne.

The most well-accepted one was that he got shot during a war.

As an emperor with remarkable military achievements, injured and passed away on the battlefield probably the best way to say goodbye to the world. 

Besides, his burial place was a secret as well.

A famous version was that one day, he sat under a big tree for a long time, then he decided that this was the place to bury him after he passed away.

Another saying was that he was buried secretly in a grave inside a mountain; everyone who had been involved in the grave’s construction was buried with him later. 

The most poetic version was that he was buried in the place Genghis Khan died, not in a chosen place or a fancy grave. 

After being deeply buried in the earth, his cavalry army trampled that place to be flat again, honored him for the last time, and left.

When the ground was covered with grass and other vegetation again, his secret graveyard guardians left. Since then, no one knows where this famous emperor ended. 

The history and rise of his ancestors, his fights, and his contributions to his tribe and kingdom, all have been documented in The Secret History of the Mongols.

After his grandson, the Kublai Khan, established the Yuan Dynasty, a mausoleum that only buried some of his clothes was built to memorize him.

Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ejin Horo Banner, Inner Mongolia.

Mausoleum of Genghis Khan in Ejin Horo Banner, Inner Mongolia.


Yelv Chucai — Influential, Brilliant Politician


Yelv Chucai (1190 — 1244), courtesy name Jinqing, was one of the most trusted, respected, and influential officials of Genghis Khan and his son Ögedei Khan. 

During over 30 years of his serving the first two emperors of the Mongol Empire, he saved countless lives and made great contributions to establishing etiquettes and promoting cultural communication.

Peacock and Flower Shaped Jade Decoration On Hat of the Yuan Dynasty

Peacock and Flower Shaped Jade Decoration On Hat of the Yuan Dynasty — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Noble Prince Serving His Enemy

Yelv Chucai's ancestors were royals of the Liao Dynasty (907 — 1125), after their empire perished, they started to serve in the Jurchen Jin Dynasty (1115 — 1234).

His father, a high-rank official of Jin, passed away when Yelv was a toddler. Since then, he was raised by his mother, a Han person from the Song Empire.

Therefore, Yelv Chucai was knowledgeable of Han culture and Confucianism, and also an expert on poetry, astronomy, math, Taoism, Buddhism, Fengshui, Chinese Medication, etc.

Gilding Crown Decoration of the Liao Dynasty

Gilding Crown Decoration of the Liao Dynasty — Lingyuan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

After he grew up, Yelv refused to accept the political position that was given only because of his noble family name; he insisted on taking the Imperial Examination of Jin and achieved first place. 

Years later, the city Yelv lived in was occupied by the Mongol Empire.

Among Jin's captives, Genghis Khan found a very tall and handsome man who was also very knowledgeable. 

Yelv then was chosen as a consultant by Genghis Khan, because of his impressive talent and willingness to be supportive. 

Terminating of Large Scale Massacres

Genghis Khan found Yelv very insightful and trustworthy, so he took Yelv with him wherever he went, and so did his sons. They truly trusted and listened to Yelv and followed many of his suggestions.

Normally, Genghis Khan’s army would slaughter all the people in their conquered cities, if they had fought against them.

Fortunately, a few years later, Yelv persuaded him to stop, and created an efficient policy regarding the management of the former enemies and surrendered people in the defeated cities.

Millions of lives were saved thanks to Yelv.

Before, Genghis Khan and his sons were more interested in defeating more cities and occupying more lands; Yelv convinced them to pay more attention to the management of their existing realm well, by protecting local agriculture and economy. 

Mother-of-Pearl Inlaid Lacquer Box of the Yuan Dynasty

Mother-of-Pearl Inlaid Lacquer Box of the Yuan Dynasty — Tokyo National Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Preserving of Culture and Establishing of Etiquettes

After Genghis Khan passed away, his third son Ögedei Khan (1186 — 1241) ascended to the throne and soon nominated Yelv Chucai as prime minister. 

Later, some Mongol nobles planned to slaughter all people on the vast conquered land of the Song Empire and turn these places into huge pastures to keep horses and cows.  

Yelv successfully persuaded the Ögedei Khan to abolish that suggestion and promoted many efficient policies to preserve and develop agriculture and economy in these places.

Yelv reigned those areas well and collect a large amount of taxes and money, which both pleased the Mongol's ruling class, and protected people and their culture from being totally destroyed.

Musical Instrument Qin named "Shi Jian Qiao Bing" of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907)

Musical Instrument Qin named "Shi Jian Qiao Bing" of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), Had Been Collected by Yelv Chucai — Sichuan Museum 

Yelv also assisted Genghis Khan and his sons in setting and applying proper national etiquette, creating basic laws, retrieving centralized authority, refining the political system, establishing educational institutions, implementing tax and agriculture policies, etc., inspired by Confucianism and Han culture.

Years later, his policies were further progressed and extensively implemented by Kublai Khan in the Yuan Dynasty. 

When Yelv passed away, his current emperor provided him with a very solemn burial ceremony, and buried him in a beautiful place in his hometown (it is The Summer Palace now), as he wished; large numbers of civilians grieved for him. 

Besides his remarkable political achievements, which built a solid foundation for the Yuan Dynasty, having successfully convinced Genghis Khan and his sons to stop slaughtering civilians in their conquered cities already made Yelv a great saint.

Based on the military achievement of the Mongol Army during that period, it is not easy to calculate exactly how many lives he had saved. 

Silver Wine Cup (Cha Bei) by Craftsman Zhu Bishan of the Yuan Dynasty

Silver Wine Cup (Cha Bei) by Craftsman Zhu Bishan of the Yuan Dynasty — Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)