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Kublai Khan

Biography >> Ancient China
Mongol Emperor of China Kublai Khan
Kublai Khan by Anige of Nepal

Early Life

Kublai was the grandson of the first great Mongol emperor Genghis Khan. His father was Tolui, the youngest of Genghis Khan's favorite four sons. Growing up, Kublai traveled with his family while his grandfather Genghis conquered China and the Muslim nations to the west. He learned to ride horses and shoot a bow and arrow. He lived in a round tent called a yurt.

A Young Leader

As the grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai was given a small area of northern China to rule. Kublai was very interested in the culture of the Chinese. He studied the philosophies of Ancient China such as Confucianism and Buddhism.

When Kublai was in his thirties his older brother Mongke became Khan of the Mongol Empire. Mongke promoted Kublai to the ruler of Northern China. Kublai did a good job managing the large territory and a few years later his brother asked him to attack and conquer southern China and the Song Dynasty. While leading his army against the Song, Kublai found out that his brother Mongke had died. Kublai agreed to a peace treaty with the Song where the Song would pay him tribute each year and then returned back north.

Becoming the Great Khan

Both Kublai and his brother Ariq wanted to become the Great Khan. When Kublai returned to the north he found out that his brother had already laid claim to the title. Kublai didn't agree and a civil war broke out between the two brothers. They fought for nearly four years before Kublai's army finally won and he was crowned the Great Khan.

Conquering China

After gaining the crown, Kublai wanted to complete his conquest of southern China. He laid siege to the great cities of the Song dynasty using a type of catapult called a trebuchet. The Mongols had learned about these catapults while at war with the Persians. With these catapults, the Mongol army threw huge rocks and thundercrash bombs onto the cities of the Song. The walls crumbled and soon the Song Dynasty was defeated.

Yuan Dynasty

In 1271 Kublai declared the start of the Yuan Dynasty of China, crowning himself as the first Yuan emperor. It still took five more years to completely conquer the Song Dynasty of the south, but by 1276 Kublai had united all of China under one rule.

In order to run the large empire, Kublai combined many aspects of Mongol and Chinese administration. He also incorporated Chinese leaders into the government. The Mongols were good at fighting wars, but he knew they could learn a lot about running a large government from the Chinese.

The capital city of the Yuan Dynasty was Dadu or Khanbaliq, which is now known as Beijing. Kublai Khan had a huge walled palace built in the center of the city. He also built a southern palace in the city of Xanadu which is where he met the Italian explorer Marco Polo. Kublai also built up the infrastructure of China building roads, canals, establishing trade routes, and bringing in new ideas from foreign countries.

Social Classes

In order to make sure that the Mongols remained in power, Kublai established a social hierarchy based on race. At the top of the hierarchy were the Mongols. They were followed by the Central Asians (non-Chinese), the northern Chinese, and (at the bottom) the southern Chinese. The laws were different for the different classes with the laws for the Mongols being the most lenient and the laws for the Chinese being very harsh.


Kublai died in 1294. He had become overweight and was sickly for years. His grandson Temur succeeded him as the Mongol Great Khan and Yuan emperor.

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