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Kublai Khan; in the National Palace Museum, Taipei—Courtesy of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China
(born 1215died 1294) Grandson of Genghis Khan who conquered China and established the Yuan, or Mongol, dynasty. When Kublai was in his 30s, his brother, the emperor Möngke, gave him the task of conquering and administering Song-dynasty China. Recognizing the superiority of Chinese thought, he gathered around himself Confucian advisers who convinced him of the importance of clemency toward the conquered. In subduing China and establishing himself there, he alienated other Mongol princes; his claim to the title of khan was also disputed. Though he could no longer control the steppe aristocracy effectively, he succeeded in reunifying China, subduing first the north and then the south by 1279. To restore China's prestige, Kublai engaged in wars on its periphery with Myanmar, Java, Japan, and the nations of eastern Southeast Asia, suffering some disastrous defeats. At home, he set up a four-tiered society, with the Mongols and other Central Asian peoples forming the top two tiers, the inhabitants of northern China ranking next, and those of southern China on the bottom. Posts of importance were allotted to foreigners, including Marco Polo. Kublai repaired the Grand Canal and public granaries and made Buddhism the state religion. Although his reign was one of great prosperity, his politics were pursued less successfully by his followers.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Kublai Khan, visit Britannica.com.