Kublai's Victory in North China
In 1251, Kublai's eldest brother Möngke became Khan of the Mongol Empire, and Khwarizmian Mahmud Yalavach and Kublai were sent to China. Kublai received the viceroyalty over North China and moved his ordo to central Inner Mongolia. During his years as viceroy, Kublai managed his territory well, boosted the agricultural output of Henan and increased social welfare spendings after receiving Xi'an. These acts received great acclaim from the Chinese warlords and were essential to the building of the Yuan Dynasty. In 1252 Kublai criticized Mahmud Yalavach, who was never highly valued by his Chinese associates, over his cavalier execution of suspects during a judicial review and Zhao Bi attacked him for his presumptuous attitude toward the throne. Möngke dismissed Mahmud Yalavach, which met with resistance from Chinese Confucian-trained officials.
In 1253, Kublai was ordered to attack Yunnan, and he asked the Kingdom of Dali to submit. The ruling Gao family resisted and killed Mongol envoys. The Mongols divided their forces into three. One wing rode eastward into the Sichuan basin. The second column under Subutai's son Uryankhadai took a difficult route into the mountains of western Sichuan. Kublai went south over the grasslands and met up with the first column. While Uryankhadai travelled along the lakeside from the north, Kublai took the capital city of Dali and spared the residents despite the slaying of his ambassadors. The Mongols appointed King Duan Xingzhi as the local ruler and stationed a pacification commissioner there. After Kublai's departure, unrest broke out among certain factions. By 1256, Uryankhadai had completely pacified Yunnan.
Kublai was attracted by the abilities of Tibetan monks as healers. In 1253 he made Drogön Chögyal Phagpa, of the Sakya order, a member of his entourage. Phagpa bestowed on Kublai and his wife, Chabi (Chabui), a Tantric Buddhist initiation. Kublai appointed Uyghur Lian Xixian (1231–1280) the head his pacification commission in 1254. Some officials, who were jealous of Kublai's success, said that he was getting above himself and dreaming of having his own empire by competing with Möngke's capital Karakorum (Хархорум). The Great Khan Möngke sent two tax inspectors, Alamdar (Ariq Böke's close friend and governor in North China) and Liu Taiping, to audit Kublai's officials in 1257. They found fault, listed 142 breaches of regulations, accused Chinese officials and executed some of them, and Kublai's new pacification commission was abolished. Kublai sent a two-man embassy with his wives and then appealed in person to Möngke, who publicly forgave his younger brother and reconciled with him.
The Taoists had obtained their wealth and status by seizing Buddhist temples. Möngke repeatedly demanded that the Taoists cease their denigration of Buddhism and ordered Kublai to end the clerical strife between the Taoists and Buddhists in his territory. Kublai called a conference of Taoist and Buddhist leaders in early 1258. At the conference, the Taoist claim was officially refuted and Kublai forcibly converted 237 Taoist temples to Buddhism and destroyed all copies of the Taoist texts. Kublai Khan and the Yuan dynasty clearly favored Buddhism, while his counterparts in the Chagatai Khanate, the Golden Horde and the Ilkhanate later converted to Islam at various times in history - Berke of the Golden Horde being the only Moslem during Kublai's era (his successor remained a pagan).
In 1258, Möngke put Kublai in command of the Eastern Army and summoned him to assist with an attack on Sichuan. As he was suffering from gout, Kublai was allowed to stay home, but he moved to assist Möngke anyway. Before Kublai arrived in 1259, word reached him that Möngke had died. Kublai decided to keep the death of his brother secret and continued the attack on Wuhan, near the Yangtze River. While Kublai's force besieged Wuchang, Uryankhadai joined him.
The Song Dynasty minister Jia Sidao secretly approached Kublai to propose terms. He offered an annual tribute of 200,000 taels of silver and 200,000 bolts of silk, in exchange for Mongol agreement to the Yangtze River as the frontier between the states. Kublai at first declined, but later reached a peace agreement with Jia Sidao.
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