While his brother was moving against Damascus, the Great Khan Mongke was leading an invasion of China's southwest (Sichuan province). There, Mongke died in battle. That was in 1259. Succession erupted into a war (1260-64) over who was to be the next Great Khan. There was a lot of bloodletting and a permanent fragmentation of the empire. Mongke's brother who had been fighting alongside him in China emerged established in Beijing as Kublai Khan. He was to establish the Yuan dynasty, which would rule China until the Ming took power in 1368. Kublai Khan moved the capital from Karakorum, which became backwater for the Yuan dynasty.
Breaking with Kublai Khan's rule was the khanate called the Golden Horde, north of the Caspian and Black Seas — golden referring to the color of the warriors' tent. Another khanate was the Chagatai, stretching from Samarkand to Turfan in what today is China's Xinjiang province. The fourth, the Il-khanate, was in what today is Iran.
From Beijing, Kublai Khan pursued the subjugation of southern China, attracted by its wealth, including grain surpluses and towns along China's southern coast that were prospering from seaborne trade. Kublai tried to persuade the Southern Song emperor to subjugate himself peacefully, and when this did not happen Kublai drove his army of various ethnicities (including Chinese and Persians) deeper into China, while his navy, manned by Jurchens and Koreans, sailed south along China's coast. His conquest took sixteen years, ending around 1276.
Kublai Khan interfered little in China's economy. His rule left Confucianists without much influence and left merchants free to pursue trade. The Mongols assimilated little with the Chinese, Kublai not wanting his army fusing with the Chinese. Nevertheless, some mixing between conquerors and the conquered happened — mainly Mongol soldiers taking Chinese women.
Meanwhile, Kublai Khan sent envoys to Japan to demand tribute, and he threatened reprisals if the Japanese refused. From the palace at Kyoto the Japanese answered, claiming that their nation had divine origins and therefore was not to be subject to anyone.
In 1274, from southern Korea, Kublai Khan launched his assault — a Mongol, Chinese and Korean force – with 600 to 900 ships, 23,000 troops, catapults, combustible missiles, bows and arrows. Bad weather compelled his invasion force to return, but he did not want to permit the appearance of Japan defying him, and he would try another invasion in 1281.
Japan was by well along in its political centralization and much experience in warfare, as in China its many power centers having fought until one family, the Yamato, ruled over those who had become subordinate local rulers. Agriculture had been advancing, making better use of fertilizer. With their greater harvests had come an increase in trade, a rise in population and growth in the number and size of towns. Craft persons were making umbrellas, leather, saddles, copper products, roof tiles and weaving fabrics.
For his second invasion, Kublai Khan sent something like 4,000 ships. For fifty-three days the Japanese held the invaders to a narrow beachhead on the southern-most major island, Kyushu. Then a hurricane struck. The Mongols withdrew again, only half of Kublai Khan's force making it back to China. The Japanese interpreted the hurricane as a "god wind," in Japanese: kami-kaze. Kublai had found the limit in empire that his brother Hulegu had found in the Middle East. It was a last attempt to invade Japan — until 1945, at Okinawa, when kami-kaze would also be a word of significance.
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