Tag Archive | Kublai Khan

Kamikaze: The Savior of Japan

During the 13th century, the Mongols who were led by Kublai Khan, the grandson of great Genghis Khan planned two major invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281 AD respectively. On the both the occasion Mongol fleet along with their plans of conquest were laid to rest by massive typhoons. The typhoons destroyed Mongol fleets and forced the Mongols to retreat. These winds saved Japan from a certain foreign conquest and were lovingly named Kamikaze (the divine winds).

Thousands of Mongol Ships were destroyed by Kamikaze

Thousands of Mongol Ships were destroyed by Kamikaze


Kublai Khan was an able and ambitious ruler of the Mongols. He wanted to start where his grandfather had left off. He was the first Emperor of unified Mongolia and renamed Mongolian Empire into Yuan Dynasty. He wanted to embark on a series of conquests. He started by conquering China in 1230 and Korea in 1231. Japan which was hardly 100 miles away, feared an invasion would soon come to their shores. They had good reason for such belief, during 1267-74 Kublai Khan sent many messages to the Emperor of Japan demanding his submission to the Mongols or face the invasion. However, each time the messengers were blocked by the Japanese diplomats so they never got through to the Emperor. No replies from the Japanese Emperor made Kublai furious and the Mongols started preparations for the invasions. They started building an enormous fleet and recruited thousands of Chinese and Korean warriors.

Battle of Bun'ei

Mongols won decisive victory in Battle of Bun’ei only to be denied by Kamikaze


The Mongolian fleet set sail in autumn 1274 to launch the first invasion of Japan. The first invasion is also known as the Battle of Bun’ei. Mongols had 500-900 war ships along with 40,000 warriors mostly comprised of ethnic Koreans and Chinese. Mongols met the Japanese forces near the shores of Hakata Bay. The Mongols slaughtered their way through the initial Japanese resistance. The Japanese forces retreated, but the Mongols did not march forward. They felt that Japanese would be back with greater reinforcements, so they returned back to their ships. That night a violent typhoon struck at the ships that were decked in Hakata Bay. By morning, only a few ships remained. The fleet was completely destroyed, taking lives of thousands of Mongol soldiers. So, the Mongols had to shun their plans and return back.

Second Mongol Invasion of Japan

Kamikaze Struck During the Second Mongol Invasion of Japan


Though the Japanese had a lucky escape, but the Mongol spirits remained high. Kublai was more determined than ever to annex Japan. The Mongols wasted no time in rebuilding their fleet and recruiting larger number of warriors. Japan was also preparing for their defense by building two meter high walls all along the coast to protect themselves from future attacks. Seven years later in 1281, the Mongols returned to Japan with greater numbers. This time they had a fleet of 4,400 ships and estimated 70,000-140,000 soldiers. The forces were divided into two. One set sail from Korea while the other left from Southern China. Both the forces converged near Hakata Bay in August 1281. Mongols were not able to find landing space as the beaches had been walled. So, the Mongols decided to stay afloat for months while strategizing their attacks. All the while they exhausted their supplies. Then on August 15, the Mongols decided to launch an offensive the following day. At night, that day, when the final planning was done a typhoon struck again. About 4,000 ships were destroyed and 80% of soldiers were drowned or killed by the samurai warriors waiting on the beaches. Mongols turned back never to attack Japan again.

Kamikaze in World War II

Kamikaze was a group of suicide pilot squad during World War II


Kamikaze became famous during World War II. Kamikaze referred to the Japanese suicide pilots who deliberately crashed their planes into important enemy targets, usually ships. Kamikaze pilots did major damage to the US fleet and killed more than 2,000 American soldiers. Kamikaze movement evolved out of the desperation that Japan faced in the later stages of World War II, when they were losing.


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Marco Polo and his Tryst with Kublai Khan

Samuel Taylor Coleridge starts his unfinished poem Kubla Khan as “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, a stately pleasure-dome decree…” As the poet revealed the poem was composed one night in a state of opium induced dream after reading a work containing the descriptions of Xanadu. Xanadu was originally the capital of Kublai Khan after he had conquered China. Later on, though the emperor shifted his capital to Dadu, in present day Beijing. Xanadu stayed important as it was the imperial summer city during Kublai Khan’s reign. Coleridge saw Xanadu only in a dream after reading about it, but there was a person who actually saw Xanadu and later wrote about it. We are talking about Marco Polo, the great Venetian voyager. During Kublai Khan’s reign many Westerners were entertained in the imperial court and Marco Polo happened to be one of them.

Marco Polo Navigator

Marco Polo, The Great Navigator


Marco Polo’s father, Niccolo and his uncle Matteo were voyagers too. It is learned that when Marco was born his father and uncle were on a voyage to the East. Marco met with these two important people only when he was 15 years old. After getting from their voyage, Niccolo and Matteo shared some of their travel experiences with Marco Polo. The boy was deeply impressed and wanted to become a great navigator one day. He did not have to wait long, as the seventeen year old Venetian boy set sail with his father and uncle to Asia in 1271.

Polo Brothers and Kublai Khan

Polo Borthers at the Court of Kublai Khan


The Polos left not only with the trading intention, they were also carrying some letters and valuable gifts from the Pope to be delivered to Kublai Khan, the great Mongolian emperor of China. During their first visit to China Niccolo and Matteo had earned the favor of Kublai Khan. The Khan had expressed his interest in Christianity to the Polo brothers. The Polo brothers were requested to speak to the Pope on the Khan’s behalf. Kublai Khan wanted the Pope to send the Polo brothers back to China, along with 100 learned priests and holy water. Though the Pope could not fulfill Kublai Khan’s request, he sent letters and valuable gifts anyway to not offend the mighty Khan. Polos on their behalf arranged for two friars, but these holy men decided to turn back after tasting difficulty in travelling.

Kublai Khan Dome in Xanadu

Pleasure Dome in Xanadu


It is learned that the band of Polos left Venice to travel south via the Mediterranean Sea to the Holy Land (modern day Israel and Palestine), which was then under the partial control of the Christian crusaders. From the port city of Acre, the voyagers travelled northwards to Trebizond and then south till reaching Baghdad. They then reached the port city of Ormuz from where they travelled to the Taklamakan Desert. They crossed the Gobi Desert to reach China. In China, the Polos received warm welcome. Young Marco Polo immersed himself in Chinese culture and quickly gained the favor of the Khan, for he was a talented linguist. He was appointed a special envoy to the Yuan court, which helped the young man to travel to Asian countries such as Burma, Tibet and India. Later on, Marco Polo was appointed the tax inspector at Yanzhou and an official at the Privy Council.

Marco Polo and Kublai Khan

Marco Polo and Kublai Khan


The three Polos stayed in China for nearly 17 years and during this time they had amassed a lot of wealth. When Kublai Khan reached his late seventies and his health was fading, the Polos wanted to leave China with all their wealth. But they were afraid that such a request might offend the great Khan. But Kublai Khan on hearing their request at once allowed them to leave China. But he set a final mission for the Polos. They had to escort the Mongol Princess Kokachin to Persia on their return voyage. The return trip was less than favorable. It took two years to reach Persia and during this tenure about 600 crew members and passengers died. When the Polos finally reached Ormuz, there were only 18 surviving members in the crew. The Persian Prince who was to marry Kokachin had died in this time, so the Polos had to wait until an ideal husband was found for the Mongol Princess. The Polos left for Venice and returned on 1295.

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Recent Find Proves Marco Polo Never Really went to China

Marco Polo is one of history’s greatest explorers and his fame was established by journeys to China and the Far East. But modern day scholars feel Marco Polo never went to China. They think that the Venetian merchant adventurer picked up second hand stories about Japan, China and Mongol Empire from other Persian merchants he met during his voyage to the shores of Black Sea (which is thousands of miles short of the Oriental Empires). He put all the stories told by the Persian merchants together and used the information for his bestselling book “A Description of the World”. This is one of the first travel books of its type.

Marco Polo is a famous explorer for his travel to China and Far East

As a proof of their findings the archaeologists point to the inconsistencies and inaccuracies in Marco Polo’s description of Kublai Khan’s attempted invasions of Japan in 1284 and 1281. Scholars feel Marco confused two details – about the first expedition and second expedition. In his account of Kublai Khan’s invasion he states that the fleet left Korea and was hit by a typhoon before reaching Japanese coast. These events happened in 1281 and not in Kublai Khan’s first expedition. It is unbelievable that an eye witness could confuse events that were separated by seven years.

Manuscript of A Description of the World

Recently the remnants of Marco Polo’s fleet were found. There is a sharp contrast between the real ships and their description by Marco Polo. The Venetian described the ships as having five masts but the ships found have only three masts. Such contrast in facts raised doubts over Marco’s expedition.

Remnants of Kublai Khan’s lost fleet were found

Further, Marco Polo describes Kublai Khan’s fleet using pitch to make their ship hulls watertight. He used the word ‘chunam’ which means ‘nothing’ in Chinese and Mongol. But this same word means pitch in Persian. Most of the local names and place names are Persian terms for Chinese or Mongol place names.

Marco Polo claimed to be an emissary to the court of Kublai Khan but no records are found

Marco Polo had also claimed that he worked as an emissary to the court of Kublai Khan. But the Mongol and Chinese records from those times do not have Marco Polo’s name anywhere. In his book Marco maintained a first person narrative, but in the sections about China and Mongolia he reverts to a second person narrative as though he had heard about these from someone else.  Marco Polo is also known to be an acute observer of daily life and rituals. But some of the prominent customs in China such as chopsticks, tea drinking or the Great Wall find no mention in his work.

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