Kublai Khan was the nephew of Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire. He was crowned as emperor on May 5, 1260 and also known as the founder of the Yuan Dynasty in 1271 by conquering China. His way of ruling distinguished himself from his predecessors because he ruled with a good administrative system that respected the local areas of conquered peoples. Basically, Kublai Khan was the first non-native ruler in China until his death in 1294.
The first steps
His parents, Tolui and Beki, raised him in the nomadic traditions of the Mongolians. Tolui, his father, taught him from a young age the art of war and while he was just a child, Kublai became a fighter and a hunter. Even more, he had the opportunity to find about the Chinese culture and philosophy. All his life he was influenced by the Chinese culture and most of his decisions war based on it.
In 1251 his older brother, Mongke, became the “Great Khan” and placed Kublai in charge of the northern China. That was a perfect moment for him to apply his education. His first important decision was to establish a new capital in northern China called Shangdu. Despite the fact that he helped his brother to conquer new territories, Kublai restrained the areas by uniting the people.
While he was in battle in southern China, Kublai received word that his older brother was killed in battle. Immediately after that, his younger brother (Ariq Boke) had consolidated the power and named himself the Great Khan. Kublai wasn’t pleased with the decision, so he disputed his brother’s claim and named himself the Great Khan in 1260. The two brothers started a civil war because both of them wanted to be the great ruler. However, Kublai defeated his brother in 1264 and he spared his brother’s life, but killed all of Ariq’s supporters managing to secure his place as the new Great Khan of the Mongolian Empire.
The Great Khan declared a new dynasty
Kublai’s respect for the Chinese culture had influenced him once more. He moved the capital of the empire to Dadu (now Beijing) and ruled in a specific way in order to keep with local tradition. After the capital was established in Dadu, Kublai improved the infrastructure, tolerated different religions and accepted the usage of paper money in exchanges. He also started trading with the West. The social structure was also changed dividing the population into four classes: aristocracy, foreign merchants, Han people and Southerners.
In 1267 he tried to extend the borders of his empire. Kublai tried to subdue the Song Dynasty from southern China. His movements to conquer the new territory lasted for a long time, more exactly until 1279. Even he faced strong challenges, Kublai definitively conquered the Song which made him the first Mongol to rule China. As a celebration for his success, the Great Khan declared a new dynasty: Yuan Dynasty.
His tolerable politics started to bring him enemies among the Mongolian aristocracy because they felt that Kublai betrayed his native culture. Also, the lower Chinese classes felt unjustly because they had to pay overrated taxes for several unsuccessfully military campaigns (Japan, Burma and Java). However, he was never unseated by his people.
Kublai’s decline started after a series of unsuccessful military campaigns. The most important fact was the death of his wife and his oldest son. Tough he was always ambitious to extend his empire, Kublai began drinking and eating in excess. In short time he became overweight and developed gout. In February 1294 the Great Khan died at the age of 78.