The Merchants of Venice
The Voyage Home
Man of a Million Lies?
A Note on Religion
A Note on the Texts
Map of Marco's Journey
Kublai - Khan of all the Mongols
Kublai Khan was a grandson of Genghis Khan. He conquered northern China in 1279 and became great khan of the whole Mongol empire. During his reign he twice attempted an invasion of Japan. On both occasions his forces were decimated by a gale known as the khamikaze, or Divine Wind. These were two of the only occasions of which the Mongols were defeated.
Kublai ruled his empire, and China in particular, with an unsual benevolence for his age, adopting the Chinese style of civilisation. He encouraged religious and artistic pursuits and made Buddhism the state religion. He also established Daidu as the Chinese capital renaming it Khan-balik. The city is more familar to us today as Beijing (Peking).
Kublai Khan's most well-known achievement was the establishment of a magnificent summer palace at Shang-tu in northern China. Better known to us as Xanadu, Marco Polo describes it as "a huge palace of marble and other ornamental stones." There were "fully sixteen miles of parkland well watered with springs and streams and diversified with lawns." Within the parkland grazed "animals of all sorts, such as hart, stag and roebuck" which the khan kept "for recreation and sport."
The khan's summer palace had halls to accomodate six thousand guests. Kublai would sit on a pedstal with a table laid out before him bearing food and wine. Musicians would play and entertainers and dancers were laid on for the enjoyment of guests when the feasting was over. The palace halls were richly adorned with gold, silver and silks. It was a place described by Marco with much colour and abundance.
The khan's summer palace was romanticised by the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his poem, Xanadu. He is said to have written it after a dream he'd had having read Marco Polo's book of travels.
In Xanadu did Kublai Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river ran
Through caverns measureless to man,
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice six miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding spots of greenery.
When Kublai died in 1294, the Yuan dynasty he had introduced to China died with him. Mongol rule throughout the empire began to decline following disputes amongst a number of attempted Mongol leaders. Because of their traditionally nomadic lifestyle, the Mongols tended to absorb the ways of the cultures which they conquered. As a result they had very little in their own culture to leave to posterity. They have been largely forgotten by history even though they were responsible for the largest land empire the world has ever known.