Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, completed his grandfather’s conquest of China and founded the Yuan Dynasty.


5 - 8


Geography, Social Studies, World History


Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan and a ruler of the Mongol Empire for over 30 years. Kublai Khan began the Yuan dynasty in present day Mongolia and China.

Image by Universal History Archive / Contributor
Kublai Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan and a ruler of the Mongol Empire for over 30 years. Kublai Khan began the Yuan dynasty in present day Mongolia and China.

Kublai Khan was born in 1215, during the reign of his grandfather, the Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan. As a young boy, Kublai was taught the art of warfare and became a skilled warrior and hunter. He also was exposed to many elements of Chinese culture, which he grew to admire.

In 1251, Kublai’s brother Möngke became the Great Khan, the ruler of the Mongol Empire. He put Kublai in charge of northern China. Kublai led successful military campaigns there and in surrounding areas, but unlike earlier Mongol military leaders, he treated the people he conquered with restraint. Kublai also established a new northern capital at Shangdu and surrounded himself with Chinese advisers to help him with the local population.

In 1259, Möngke was killed in battle while fighting the Chinese Song Dynasty in the south. Kublai learned that one of his brothers, Ariq Boke had been named to replace Möngke as the Great Khan. Kublai then established a truce with the Song and returned home, where he fought his brother’s claim to the throne. In 1260, Kublai was named as the Great Khan.

Kublai Khan wanted to unite all of China under his rule, including the Song in the south. In 1271, he renamed his empire the Yuan Dynasty to better appeal to his Chinese subjects, and he established his capital in modern-day Beijing. Eventually, most Song Chinese accepted Kublai’s rule. By 1279, the last of the Song opposition was defeated.

Kublai Khan adopted many Chinese systems and ideas. However, he also established a social hierarchy that placed Mongols at the top and the Chinese peasantry at the bottom. He filled many government positions with foreigners, including Venetian merchant and adventurer Marco Polo, who lived in China for many years. In addition, Kublai Khan launched a series of expensive and unsuccessful military campaigns that were financed by the manual labor of the Chinese peasantry.

Later in his life, Kublai Khan developed excessive eating and drinking habits, particularly after the deaths of his favorite wife and a son. Kublai died in February 1294, at the age of 79. The rule of the Yuan Dynasty continued for the next 30 years, until Chinese uprisings led to the collapse of the dynasty in 1368.

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Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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