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Kublai Khan

Updated on December 27, 2009

Kublai Khan, Mongol khan (ruler) and founder of the Mongol dynasty in China. Born in 1216. Also called Khubilai Khan or Kubla Khan, he was the son of Tului and the grandson of Genghis Khan. After Mangu, his older brother, became Mongol khan in 1251, Kublai took part in the campaign for the conquest of southern China, reaching the frontier of Tibet. He became khan on Mangu's death in 1259, and in the years that followed he completed the subjugation of north China. Between 1264 and 1267 he established his capital on the site of modern Peking, known then as Khanbalik (City of the Khan), Taitu, or Cambaluc.

In 1271 he proclaimed the foundation of the Yuan dynasty at Khanbalik. Eight years later, when he finally ousted the native Sung dynasty in the south he became the first of foreign conqueror to rule all China. His empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Volga River and Poland. He ruled China and Mongolia directly, but large sections of his empire were governed by subchiefs. He failed in his attempts to conquer Japan in 1274 and 1281, and Java in 1293. Although he conquered Vietnam in 1281-1287 and Burma in 1287, he was unable to incorporate them into his empire.

Kublai Khan was a convert to Buddhism, and he made Buddhism the state religion of his empire. He adopted China's traditional Confucian form of government. Under his rule, literature, commerce, industry, and agriculture flourished. The fame of his magnificent court spread throughout the world, and many foreign merchants, diplomats, and soldiers found employment there. The most famous of these foreign visitors was Marco Polo, who served Kublai Khan on various diplomatic missions between 1275 and 1292, and left a vivid account of his experiences.

Kublai Khan died in 1294.

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