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Mongolian general and statesman Kublai Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan. He conquered China, founding and becoming the first emperor of the country's Yuan Dynasty.
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His stance on the role and structure of government was shaped by the wisdom these advisers imparted. They convinced him of the necessity of interdependence between the ruler and the ruled, reinforcing Kublai’s instinctive tendency toward humanity and generosity of spirit. This approach, the advancement of a philosophy of civilized behavior, was a great departure of thought in the Mongol line from the methods employed by Genghis Khan and Kublai’s contemporaries,
where the capture of a city or territory, for instance, was expected to include complete devastation followed by a massacre of the population. It would help Kublai’s rise to power continue beyond the typical initial stages.
In 1257, unhappy with how the war against the Chinese Song Dynasty was progressing, Mngke led an expedition into western China. He was killed by the Chinese defense in August 1259, however, and his younger brother Arigbge immediately made plans to have himself named khan. When Kublai, who was besieging a Chinese city with his army, heard of Arigbge’s plans, he and his associates held an assembly, during which Kublai was unanimously elected khan in succession to Mngke. Ten days later, he announced his succession in an announcement drawn up in classical Chinese. However, because primogeniture was not a recognized principle at the time (Kublai was older), Arigbge had himself declared khan, ignoring Kublai’s pronouncement.
In 1264, Kublai defeated Arigbge in battle; two years later, Arigbge died. However, the disputed nature of Kublai’s reign did not die with Arigbge, as certain family factions would repeatedly lay claim to the throne. Kublai, however, would never relinquish his power, and no effort aimed against him would be successful.
Generally, Kublai's overriding achievement as khan is seen as reestablishing unity within China, a country that had been divided since the end of the Tang Dynasty, which ended in 901 A.D. The major step taken to unify China was the conquest of the Song Dynasty in the south, an accomplishment that took several years.
Kublai may not initially have had intentions of ruling beyond his realm in the north, leaving the Song Dynasty ostensibly in control of South China, but the ill treatment of emissaries he had sent convinced him that the Song must be dealt with conclusively, and military actions commenced in 1267. Nine years later, in 1276, Kublai’s forces captured the Song’s child emperor, but loyalists delayed the dynasty’s inevitable fall until 1279. Anticipating his eventual success, eight years earlier Kublai had given his dynasty a name: Ta Yan, or Great Origin. Kublai’s lasting reign can be in part be attributed to his defeat of the Song, because once the dynasty was toppled and taken into the Mongol fold, Kublai built on its foundations and piggybacked on the advances of this brilliant and progressive civilization.
With all of China finally in Mongol hands, the Mongol sphere of influence had reached its effective limit internally. But Kublai, in an effort to restore China’s regional stature, engaged in a series of costly, misguided and ultimately fruitless wars with peripheral kingdoms.
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