Essay: Chinese History How Genghis Khan

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Chinese History

How Genghis Khan and His Mongols Takeover of China Had an Overall Good Effect on China.

The Mongols played a much more important role in history than did the Khitans and Juchen barbarians whom they resembled racially and culturally. Their role on the world stage was more outstanding not only because of the organizing genius of their world-conquering "Emperor within the Seas," Genghis Khan ( 1206-1227),

who molded numerous little tribes into a nation in arms, but also because the Mongol leaders made generous use of the skills and resources of the civilizations they conquered.

Among these civilizations China was by far the wealthiest and most important. In practically all their campaigns after the conquest of China the Mongols used war machinery which was the product of Chinese ingenuity, and the history of the Mongol dynasty is filled with the attainments of Chinese, Persians, and other non-Mongols whom the conquerors employed in administrative positions.

Under Genghis Khan and his immediate successors, the hard-riding, fast-moving nomads first subdued the empires which had formed in border areas of China: in Manchuria and North China the Juchen empire of the Kins or Golden Tatars; south of the Gobi Desert the Tibeto-Burman kingdom of the Tanguts; in Turkestan the Khitan state of the so-called Kara Khitai; and in the southwest the kingdom of Nanchao ruling over areas now included in the modern provinces of Yunnan and Szechuan. As the Mongols had also subjugated Korea (1255) and overrun Annam (1257), the fragmentary China of the Sung dynasty was already surrounded by Mongol dominated territories when the main Mongol onslaught against the Middle Kingdom came in 1267 under Kublai Khan, able grandson of Genghis. In spite of considerable resistance on the part of the Chinese, the Mongols forced the surrender of the Sung empress-regent and boy emperor in their capital at modern Hangchow (1276), which was followed by the capture of Canton (1277) and the destruction of the fleet carrying the last youthful Sung pretender (1279).

The Mongols, just as the other barbarian invaders before them, fell rapidly under the spell of Chinese culture. Kublai ruled in China according to Chinese precedent. At Peking he built an ancestral hall similar to those erected by founders of preceding dynasties and placed in it the tablets of his Mongol ancestors.

He also ordered a temple to be constructed to Confucius, and nine Sung scholars were accorded places of honor in this hall of fame. He lived up to Chinese traditions by proving himself a patron of education. At Peking and elsewhere the Confucian colleges, which had suffered from neglect, were restored and expanded, and under his successors competitive civil service examinations were gradually resumed.

On the southeast corner of Peking's city wall he had an observatory built which he equipped with bronze instruments designed by the Chinese astronomer Kuo Shou-ching.

With Kublai's great appreciation of China's culture went an equal readiness to rely on Chinese intelligence in working out the necessary details for the direction of state affairs, Reviving economic controls, he appointed imperial inspectors for the annual examination of crops and the regulation of food supply. They were instructed to purchase stocks for storage against future shortages. A social security system was also organized, copying measures of Chinese social reformers in the past which had provided charitable relief for the sick, orphans, aged, and needy scholars.

The Chinese financial system was taken over completely by the Mongols. They resumed the issuance of paper money as an easy means of securing funds.

Honoring Chinese institutions and ruling the country with Chinese techniques not only made for more efficient administration, it was also good politics on the part of the Mongols inasmuch as it gave the Chinese the illusion of being governed by native rulers. Besides, the preservation of Chinese conservatism with its antimilitaristic tendencies was a political asset for a conqueror, as long as his own political command position was firm and his military supremacy remained uncontestable, on the side of the Chinese, the fact that an alien emperor adopted Confucian institutions strengthened their belief that Confucianism was, as it claimed to be, a universal philosophy of ethics and government without civilized alternative. Racial extraction, color, and language were not important for a Confucian Chinese as long as a man in his word and deed respected the classics.

Since China in Mongol times was no longer politically detached from western Asia or Europe, men of many different nationalities assembled at Kublai's cosmopolitan court. Indeed, one of the most significant effects of the Mongol conquests was the bringing into close contact civilizations which formerly had developed separately; Italians, Russians, and Arabs now engaged in business in Chinese cities or took administrative posts in the Chinese government. Among these men was the Venetian Marco Polo who set himself a monument by writing down the story of his travels through Asia and his impressions of China under Mongol rule.

How far ahead of Europe medieval China then was in some respects can be seen from the things Marco Polo especially mentioned as completely new to him: printed paper money, broad streets, police patrols at night, public carriages, bridges high enough to let masted vessels pass beneath, drains under the street to carry off refuse, road- sides with landscaped borders, elevated highways, and many other gifts of civilization, wondrous and admirable to the newcomer.

There exists a Far Eastern counterpart of Polo's travel book in the diary of a Nestorian Christian from Peking named Rabban Sauma, which gives us an interesting Oriental view of medieval Europe. Sauma visited Philip IV of France in Paris, met Edward I of England in Bordeaux, and finally proceeded to Rome where he entered negotiations with the newly elected pope Nicholas IV and celebrated before him the Holy Communion according to the Nestorian ritual in the hope of cementing a union of the two churches.

In 1269 Kublai Khan made a little-known attempt to Christianize his Mongol subjects and to spread European learning in his Asiatic domains.

With this purpose in mind he sent the older Polo brothers, Marco's father and uncle, on a mission to the pope with an invitation for a large number of cultured European educators and scientists to come to China.

Never had the Christian church such a unique missionary opportunity, but it slipped through indifferent hands at that time. Kublai, failing in his original purpose, later charged a Tibetan lama named Phags-pa to convert the Mongols to Lama Buddhism. Phags-pa's admirable success in doing so had significant consequences in history, for the Mongol conversion to the mysticism and superstitions of that cross creed between Buddhism and Shamanism must be regarded as a main factor in transforming those warlike and turbulent nomads into indolently peaceful and politically insignificant herdsmen. Kublai's successors remained, in the Chinese tradition, religiously tolerant. The first Roman missionary who came to China was Giovanni di Monte Corvino who baptized 5,000 converts and was named by the pope to be Archbishop of Peking in 1307.

The decline of the Mongols came as suddenly as their ascendancy. In China the reign of Kublai saw the climax of Mongol power. Kublai weakened his position by costly and unprofitable military expeditions, among which two attempted invasions of Japan were the most disastrous (1274 and 1281).

China, however, reaped long-term benefits from some of his far-flung campaigns. Closer relations with Annam, Burma, and Korea ensued, and the modern provinces of Szechuan and Yunnan became integral parts of the Empire.

On the other hand, Mongol adventures threw an enormous economic burden on the conquered. Military requisitions and rampant inflation provoked by successive issues of rapidly depreciating paper money caused widespread discontent among the common people.

The scholar-gentry class too became increasingly bitter as they resented the official favors shown to Lamaism and particularly the stiff competition by Mongols and other aliens for lucrative posts in the government. The gentlemen found that their position under the Mongols was less important than under native rulers. Too often they had to content themselves with subordinate posts in tax bureaus and provincial offices where their training was needed but where their influence could be kept in check.

They remembered the balmy days when a scholar could "leap through the Dragon's Gate" and thus become the emperor's minister.

Many candidates for office remained unemployed. Living in retirement, they gave themselves to fiction and playwriting, which came into its great day in this period. World-famous novels were written, such as the historical Romance of the Three Kingdoms and All Men Are Brothers, a story of 108 swashbuckling Robin Hoods. Under semi-historical garb these novels directed hard literary blows against the government, a factor which greatly contributed to their wide popularity. These stories supply what is not found in conventional histories: the emotional atmosphere of medieval China, the feelings, fears, and hopes of its common people.

The Mongols, having conquered the country and absorbed Chinese culture and ideas, did not escape from the vicissitudes of the dynastic cycle. After the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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