Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Kublai Khan -- The First Nomadic Emperor in the History of China

Early Life of Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan (1215 -- 1294) was one of Genghis Khan’s grandsons; he had participated in many battles, and traveled to many places when he was a prince.


After his older brother defeated their uncle’s clan and ascended as the Khan of their Mongol Empire, Kublai became a trusted assistant who was in charge of more power.


Since Kublai was relatively closer to Han culture, and had many Han people in his office, he was mainly in charge of southern part of their kingdom and the invasion to the Song Dynasty.


As a genius militarist, he successfully expanded their realm southward. 


Defeating of Brother and Establishing of the Yuan Dynasty

A few years later, his older brother died in a battle with Song Empire’s army, and left no will in regard to who should be the next Khan.


At that time, Kublai was leading his army fighting against the Song, in the south far away. 


Soon, his wife sent him an emergency message saying that his younger brother was deploying troops, and was supported by some ministers to be the next Khan. 


So Kublai hurried back to a newly built city in Mongolia, and announced himself the new Khan; his younger brother, who was strongly against Kublai’s acceptance of Han culture, soon claimed himself new Khan as well.


Then the nobles of Mongolia started to choose side, while those two Khans kept fighting for their validity.


This war had lasted for four years. Kublai won in the end, and his younger brother was imprisoned since after. 


Then he established the Yuan Dynasty in the history of China, and moved his capital to Beijing. 


Emperor Kublai and His Governance 

Years later, Emperor Kublai, also hornored as Yuan Shi Zu, defeated the Song Dynasty and unified the whole of China.


He thought highly of Confucianism, inherited many officers and political systems of Song, and divided the whole nation into some provinces.


His government built many post houses, encouraged agriculture, and refined the transportation system. He also applied religious freedom policy which allowed all religions peacefully existed during his ruling period. 


Kublai Khan has been criticized for having initiated many wars and slaughtered many lives in the history of China; however, his political talent, administration skills, respect for Confucianism, and freedom of religion were also praised.


He constructed a comprehensive administrative system and solid foundation for the big empire that he built. 


Death of His Beloved Crown Prince

Kublai’s first son was very talented and brave, and was an expert in Confucianism; so he was highly appreciated by Emperor Kublai and was nominated as the crown prince.


In Kublai’s late years, a minister tried to frame the crown prince. This person pretended to be loyal to the crown prince and suggested Kublai to abdicate the throne and retire, which made Kublai very angry and suspicious.


However, the crown prince was even more scared and worried; this kind young man didn’t want his father to doubt his love and loyalty.


Soon, this crown prince passed away because of fear and sadness.


Kublai was very sad and then nominated a son of the late crown prince as the new heir. Years later, he passed away old and sick, in his own palace. 


Frequent, Unstable Changes of Emperors in Yuan Dynasty

The Yuan Dynasty that Kublai built lasted for 97 years in the history of China; in such a short period, however, it had experienced 11 emperors in total.


Except that Kublai was the emperor for 23 years, and the last emperor Toghon Temür were in the throne for 38 years, the rest of the other emperors each were in charge for very short terms.


There were many fights among the ruling class over the throne, since the inherit system was not well established and convinced.


After Genghis Khan passed away, his sons fought for the throne; then Kublai also had to win the throne through wars against his brother. Then Kublai’s heir also ascended to the throne after difficult battles. 


What's worse, some emperors were assassinated very soon after they became monarchs.


Those instability and constant changing in policies made the Empire Yuan kept declining. 


Conflicting Ideologies in the Yuan Dynasty

Within the Mongolia nobles, there were some basic ideologies that kept them fighting and separating.

One important aspect was that whether they should accept Han culture and Confucianism, and whether the empire should recover the Imperial Examination to select officers. 


Emperors of Yuan had different ideas, while the Mongolia nobles were never on the same side. 


Among knowledgeable Han people, there were two main ideologies regarding Yuan Empire’s ruling as well.


Some of them thought that they should adjust to changes and cooperate with Mongolia monarchs, as long as they could keep civilians safe and alive.


Others refused to serve for the invasive nomadic rulers, and lived in seclusion. 


Additionally, the Imperial Examination had been suspended for a long time, many talented people were living as civilians. These circumstances made more cultured people started writing novels and dramas, which were popular among civilians in the Yuan Dynasty.