China Chapter VI - Kublai And The Mongol Dynasty

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Chapter VI - Kublai And The Mongol Dynasty

While Bayan was winning victories for his master and driving the Chinese armies from the field, Kublai was engaged at Pekin in the difficult and necessary task of consolidating his authority. In 1271 he gave his dynasty the name of Yuen or Original, and he took for himself the Chinese title of Chitsou, although it will never supersede his Mongol name of Kublai. Summoning to his court the most experienced Chinese ministers, and aided by many foreigners, he succeeded in founding a government which was imposing by reason of its many-sidedness as well as its inherent strength. It satisfied the Chinese and it was gratifying to the Mongols, because they formed the buttress of one of the most imposing administrations in the world. All this was the distinct work of Kublai, who had enjoyed the special favor of Genghis, who had predicted of him that "one day he will sit in my seat and bring you good fortune such as you have had in my time." He resolved to make his court the most splendid in the world. His capital Cambaluc or Khanbalig--"the city of the Khan"--stood on or near the present site of Pekin, and was made for the first time capital of China by the Mongols. There were, according to Marco Polo, twelve gates, at each of which was stationed a guard of 1,000 men, and the streets were so straight and wide that you could see from one end to the other, or from gate to gate. The extent given of the walls varies: according to the highest estimate they were twenty-seven miles round, according to the lowest eighteen. The khan's palace at Chandu or Kaipingfoo, north of Pekin, where he built a magnificent summer palace, kept his stud of horses, and carried out his love of the chase in the immense park and preserves attached, may be considered the Windsor of this Chinese monarch. The position of Pekin had, and still has, much to recommend it as the site of a capital. The Mings, after proclaiming Nankin the capital, made scarcely less use of it, and Chuntche, the first of the Manchus, adopted it as his. It has since remained the sole metropolis of the empire.

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When Kublai permanently established himself at Pekin he drew up consistent lines of policy on all the great questions with which it was likely he would have to deal, and he always endeavored to act upon these set principles. In framing this system of government he was greatly assisted by his old friend and tutor Yaochu, as well as by other Chinese ministers. He was thus able to deal wisely and also vigorously with a society with which he was only imperfectly acquainted; and the impartiality and insight into human character, which were his main characteristics, greatly simplified the difficult task before him. His impartiality was shown most clearly in his attitude on the question of religion; but it partook very largely of a hard materialism which concealed itself under a nominal indifference. At first he treated with equal consideration Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Christianity, and even Judaism, and he said that he treated them all with equal consideration because he hoped that the greatest among them would help him in heaven. If some doubt may be felt as to the sincerity of this statement, there can be none as to Kublai's effort to turn all religions to a political use, and to make them serve his turn. Some persons have thought he showed a predilection for Christianity, but his measures in support of Buddhism, and of his friend the Pakba Lama, are a truer indication of his feelings. But none were admitted into his private confidence, and his acts evinced a politic tolerance toward all creeds. But his religious tolerance or indifference did not extend to personal matters. He insisted on the proper prayers being offered to himself and the extreme reverence of the kow-tow. Priests were appointed and specially enjoined to offer up prayers on his behalf before the people, who were required to attend these services and to join in the responses. Images of himself were also sent to all the...

(The entire section is 5,637 words.)