All The Kings

Guyug Khaan
It was not until the summer of 1246 that a Grand Khurildai assembled at Kharkhorum to select a successor to Ogedei. This was mainly because of political maneuvering by Batu and other royal princes who had hopes of being elected. While deliberately stalling in Bulghar in 1241, Batu founded Sarai on the lower Volga River, as the capital of his Khanate of Kipchak, best known to history as the Golden Horde.
Between 1242 and 1246, Ogedei’s widow, Teregene, held power as regent in preparation for the selection of her son, Guyug, as the new Khaan. Guyug apparently was torn between completing the conquest of China and continuing the conquest of Europe. The latter project was complicated, however, by Guyug’s continuing rivalry with Batu. Just as civil war seemed imminent in 1249, Guyug died.
Munkh Khaan
Except for the descendants of Ogedei and Tsagaadai, most of the royal princes thought that Batu should be elected Khaan. By this time, however, Batu had decided that he preferred the steppes of the Volga to the steppes of Mongolia. He declined the offer and nominated Munkh, the eldest son of Tului (who had died in 1233), unquestionably one of the most gifted descendants of Chinggis. Munkh’s nomination was confirmed by a Grand Khurildai in 1251.
Taking seriously the legacy of world conquest, Munkh decided to place primary emphasis on completing the conquest of Asia, particularly China; Europe was to be dealt with later. Because the Song had had the benefit of a lull of nearly ten years in which to recover and to reorganize, conquering Asia had become more difficult than it would have been earlier.
Munkh himself took command, but he also placed great responsibility on his younger brother, Khubilai. Another brother, Khulege, was sent to Iran to renew the expansion of Mongol control in Southwest Asia. Munkh encouraged Batu to raid Central Europe, but did not send him additional resources. Thus, although Batu’s armies raided deep into Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia, and again overran Serbia and Bulgaria, these campaigns were not so important as the ones being undertaken in Southeast Asia and Southwest Asia.
Munkh Khaan also made some major administrative changes in the khanates established by the will of Chinggis. He disinherited the surviving sons of Ogedei, arranging that he and Khubilai would inherit the lands of East Asia. He also placed a limit on the domains of the successors of Tsagaadai; these were to end along the Oxus River and the Hindu Kush, instead of extending indefinitely to the southwest. Southwest Asia was to be the inheritance of Munkh’s brother, Hulege, the first of the Il-khaans or Mongol rulers of Iran.
Munkh prosecuted the war in China with intensity and skill. His principal assistant was Khubilai, who was appointed viceroy in China. In 1252 and 1253, Khubilai conquered Nanchao (modern Yunnan). Tonkin (as northern Vietnam was known) then was invaded and pacified. The conquest ended with the fall of Hanoi in 1257.
Song resistance in southern China was based upon determined defense of its well-fortified, well-provisioned cities. The Chinese empire began to crumble, however, under the impact of a series of brilliant campaigns, personally directed by Munkh between 1257 and 1259. His sudden death from dysentery in August 1259, however, caused another lull in the war with China and put a stop to advances in West Asia.
Khubilai Khaan
The overwhelming choice of the Grand Khurildai as Monkh’s successor was his equally brilliant brother, Khubilai.
Khubilai’s selection was opposed violently, however, by his younger brother, Arig Bokhe. This opposition precipitated a civil war won by Khubilai in 1261. For the next few years, the new Khaan devoted his attention to administrative reforms of his vast empire. A major development was Khubilai’s establishment in 1260 of a winter capital at what is now Beijing but was then called Dadu (great capital, also called Khanbalik) which shifted the political center of the Mongol Empire south into China. Khubilai maintained a summer residence north of the Great Wall at Shangdu (the Xanadu of Coleridge).
In 1268 Khubilai was able to turn his full attention to the war in China. A series of campaigns, distinguished by the skill of Bayan (grandson of Subeedei), culminated in 1276 in the capture of Hangzhou, the Song capital. It took three more years to subdue the outlying provinces. The last action of the war–a naval battle in Guangzhou Bay, in which the remnants of the Song fleet were destroyed by a Mongol fleet made up of defectors from the Song navy–took place in 1279.
Khubilai did not share Munkh’s fierce desire to conquer the world. He had warred against China with determination, but apparently he realized that there was a limit to the Mongol capabilities for consolidating and for controlling conquered territory. It is likely that he recognized that this limit was being approached because of an event that occurred during the interregnum between Munkh’s death and his own accession.
Hulege, who had seized Baghdad and defeated the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 and conquered Mesopotamia and Syria, had returned to Mongolia upon receiving news of Munkh’s death. While he was gone, his forces were defeated by a larger, Mamluk, army at the Battle of Ain Jalut in Palestine in 1260. This was the first significant Mongol defeat in seventy years. The Mamluks had been led by a Turk named Baibars, a former Mongol warrior who used Mongol tactics.
Neither Khubilai nor Hulege made a serious effort to avenge the defeat of Ain Jalut. Both devoted their attention primarily to consolidating their conquests, to suppressing dissidence, and to reestablishing law and order. Like their uncle, Batu, and his Golden Horde successors, they limited their offensive moves to occasional raids or to attacks with limited objectives in unconquered neighboring regions.
After the failure of two invasion attempts against Japan in 1274 and 1281, Khubilai also gave up his goal of expansion to the east. In January 1293, Khubilai invaded Java and defeated the local ruler, only to be driven off the island by a Javanese ally who turned against him.
After the Song Dynasty had been destroyed, in 1279 Khubilai declared himself Emperor of a United China with its capital at Dadu, and he established the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).
The Yuan Dynasty
A rich cultural diversity evolved in China during the Yuan Dynasty, as it had in other periods of foreign dynastic rule. Major achievements included the development of drama and the novel and the increased use of the written vernacular. The Yuan was involved in a fair amount of cultural exchange because of its extensive West Asian and European contacts. The introduction of foreign musical instruments enriched the Chinese performing arts. The conversion to Islam of growing numbers of people in northwestern and southwestern China dates from this period. Nestorian Christianity and Roman Catholicism also enjoyed a period of toleration. Lamaism flourished, although native Daoism endured Mongol persecutions. Chinese governmental practices and examinations were reinstated by the Mongols in the hope of maintaining order within society. Advances were realized in the fields of travel literature, cartography, geography, and scientific education. Certain key Chinese innovations–such as printing techniques, porcelain playing cards, and medical literature–were introduced in Europe, while European skills, such as the production of thin glass became popular in China. The Mongol conquest never affected China’s trade with other countries. In fact, the Yuan Dynasty strongly supported the Silk Road trade network, allowing transfer of Chinese technologies to the west.
The Mongols undertook extensive public works. Land and water communications were reorganized and improved. To provide against possible famines, new granaries were ordered to be built throughout the empire. Dadu was rebuilt with new palace grounds that included artificial lakes, hills, and parks, and the capital became the terminus of the Grand Canal, which was completely renovated. These commercially oriented improvements encouraged overland as well as maritime commerce throughout Asia and facilitated the first direct Chinese contacts with Europe. Chinese and Mongol travelers to the West were able to provide assistance in such areas as hydraulic engineering, and they brought back to China new scientific discoveries, agricultural crops, methods of food preparation, and architectural innovations.
The Mongols sought, but failed, to govern China through its traditional institutions. At the outset, they discriminated against the Chinese socially and politically, monopolized the most important central and regional government posts, and developed an unprecedented and complex six-tier local-government administration. Mongols also preferred employing non-Chinese from other parts of the Mongol domain–Inner Asia, the Middle East, and even Europe.
Khubilai Khaan died in 1294. The last years of Yuan Dynasty were marked by struggle, famine, and bitterness among the populace. The dynasty was, significantly, one of the shortest-lived dynasties in the history of China, covering just a century, 1271 to 1368. The last of the nine successors of Khubilai was expelled from Dadu in 1368 by Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Ill Khaans
The Mongol defeat at Ain Jalut in 1260 led directly to the first important war between grandsons of Chinggis. The Mamluk leader, Baibars, made an alliance with Berkhe Khan, Batu’s brother and successor. Berkhe had converted to Islam, and he thus was sympathetic to the Mamluk for religious reasons, as well as because he was jealous of his nephew, Hulege.

Leave a Comment