The Mongol conquest of China was a series of major military efforts by the Mongol Empire to invade China proper. It spanned six decades in the 13th century and involved the defeat of the Jin dynasty, Western Xia, the Dali Kingdom and the Southern Song. The Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan started the conquest with small-scale raids into Western Xia in 1205 and 1207. By 1279, the Mongol leader Kublai Khan had established the Yuan dynasty in China and crushed the last Song resistance, which marked the onset of all of China under the Mongol Yuan rule. This was the first time in history that the whole of China was conquered and subsequently ruled by a foreign or non-native ruler.
|Mongol conquest of China|
|Part of Mongol conquests|
Mongol conquest of Chinese regimes
|Southern Song dynasty (1211–1234)||Southern Song dynasty (1235–1279)|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Genghis Khan (possibly †)
Möngke Khan (possibly †)
Liu Heima (Liu Ni)
Emperor Li Anquan
Wanyan Yongji †
Emperor Xuanzong of Jin †
Emperor Aizong of Jin †
Emperor Mo of Jin †
Duan Xingzhi (defected to Mongols)
Emperor Gong of Song
Emperor Bing of Song †
In the early 1200s, Temujin, soon to be Genghis Khan, began consolidating his power in Mongolia. Following the death of the Kerait leader Ong Khan to Temujin's emerging Mongol Empire in 1203, Keriat leader Nilqa Senggum led a small band of followers into Western Xia, also known as Xi-Xia. However, after his adherents took to plundering the locals, Nilqa Senggum was expelled from Western Xia territory.
Using his rival Nilga Senggum's temporary refuge in Western Xia as a pretext, Temujin launched a raid against the state in 1205 in the Edsin region. The Mongols plundered border settlements and one local Western Xia noble accepted Mongol supremacy. The next year, 1206, Temujin was formally proclaimed Genghis Khan, ruler of all the Mongols, marking the official start of the Mongol Empire. In 1207, Genghis led another raid into Western Xia, invading the Ordo region and sacking Wuhai, the main garrison along the Yellow River, before withdrawing in 1208.
In 1209, the Genghis undertook a larger campaign to secure the submission of Western Xia. After defeating a force led by Kao Liang-Hui outside Wuhai, Genghis captured the city and pushed up along the Yellow River, defeated several cities, and besieged the capital, Yinchuan, which held a well-fortified garrison of 150,000. The Mongols, at this point inexperienced at siege warfare, attempted to flood out the city by diverting the Yellow River, but the dike they built to accomplish this broke and flooded the Mongol camp. Nevertheless, Emperor Li Anquan, still threatened by the Mongols and receiving no relief from the Jin dynasty, agreed to submit to Mongol rule, and demonstrated his loyalty by giving a daughter, Chaka, in marriage to Genghis and paying a tribute of camels, falcons, and textiles.
After their defeat in 1210, Western Xia served as faithful vassals to the Mongol Empire for almost a decade, aiding the Mongols in their war against the Jin dynasty. In 1219, Genghis Khan launched his campaign against the Khwarazmian dynasty in Central Asia, and requested military aid from Western Xia. However, the emperor and his military commander Asha refused to take part in the campaign, stating that if Genghis had too few troops to attack Khwarazm, then he had no claim to supreme power. Infuriated, Genghis swore vengeance and left to invade Khwarazm, while Western Xia attempted alliances with the Jin and Song dynasties against the Mongols.
After defeating Khwarazm in 1221, Genghis prepared his armies to punish Western Xia for their betrayal, and in 1225 he attacked with a force of approximately 180,000. After taking Khara-Khoto, the Mongols began a steady advance southward. Asha, commander of the Western Xia troops, could not afford to meet the Mongols as it would involve an exhausting westward march from the capital Yinchuan through 500 kilometers of desert, and so the Mongols steadily advanced from city to city. Enraged by Western Xia's fierce resistance, Genghis engaged the countryside in annihilative warfare and ordered his generals to systematically destroy cities and garrisons as they went. Genghis divided his army and sent general Subutai to take care of the westernmost cities, while the main force under Genghis moved east into the heart of the Western Xia Empire and took Ganzhou, which was spared destruction upon its capture due to it being the hometown of Genghis's commander Chagaan.
In August 1226, Mongol troops approached Wuwei, the second-largest city of the Western Xia empire, which surrendered without resistance in order to escape destruction. In Autumn 1226, Genghis took Liangchow, crossed the Helan Shan desert, and in November lay siege to Lingwu, a mere 30 kilometers from Yinchuan. Here, in the Battle of Yellow River, the Mongols destroyed a force of 300,000 Western Xia that launched a counter-attack against them.
Genghis reached Yinchuan in 1227, laid siege to the city, and launched several offensives into Jin to prevent them from sending reinforcements to Western Xia, with one force reaching as a far as Kaifeng, the Jin capital. Yinchuan lay besieged for about six months, after which Genghis opened up peace negotiations while secretly planning to kill the emperor. During the peace negotiations, Genghis continued his military operations around the Liupan mountains near Guyuan, rejected an offer of peace from the Jin, and prepared to invade them near their border with the Song. However, in August 1227, Genghis died of a historically uncertain cause, and, in order not to jeopardize the ongoing campaign, his death was kept a secret. In September 1227, Emperor Mozhu surrendered to the Mongols and was promptly executed. The Mongols then mercilessly pillaged Yinchuan, slaughtered the city's population, plundered the imperial tombs west of the city, and completed the effective annihilation of the Western Xia state.
One of the major goals of Genghis Khan was the conquest of the Jin dynasty, allowing the Mongols to avenge the earlier death of a Mongol Khan, gain the riches of northern China and to establish the Mongols as a major power in the East-Asian world.
Genghis Khan declared war in 1211, and while Mongols were victorious in the field, they were frustrated in their efforts to take major cities. In his typically logical and determined fashion, Genghis and his highly developed staff studied the problems of the assault of fortifications. With the help of Chinese engineers, they gradually developed the techniques to take down fortifications. Islamic engineers joined later and especially contributed counterweight trebuchets, "Muslim phao", which had a maximum range of 300 meters compared to 150 meters of the ancient Chinese predecessor. It played a significant role in taking the Chinese strongholds and was as well used against infantry units on the battlefield. This eventually would make troops under the Mongols some of the most accomplished and most successful besiegers in the history of warfare.
As a result of a number of overwhelming victories in the field and a few successes in the capture of fortifications deep within China, Genghis had conquered and consolidated Jin territory as far south as the Great Wall by 1213. He then advanced with three armies into the heart of Jin territory, between the Great Wall and the Yellow River. With the help of Chenyu Liu, one of the top officers who betrayed Jin, as well as the Southern Song, who wanted revenge on Jin, Genghis defeated the Jin forces, devastated northern China, captured numerous cities, and in 1215 besieged, captured and sacked the Jin capital of Yanjing (modern-day Beijing). However, the Jin emperor, Xuan Zong, did not surrender, but moved his capital to Kaifeng. The city fell in the siege of Kaifeng in 1232. Emperor Aizong fled to the town of Caizhou. The dynasty collapsed after the siege of Caizhou in 1234.
Many Han Chinese and Khitan defected to the Mongols to fight against the Jin. Two Han Chinese leaders, Shi Tianze, Liu Heima (劉黑馬, Liu Ni), and the Khitan Xiao Zhala (蕭札剌) defected and commanded the 3 Tumens in the Mongol army. Liu Heima and Shi Tianze served Ogödei Khan. Liu Heima and Shi Tianxiang led armies against Western Xia for the Mongols. There were 4 Han Tumens and 3 Khitan Tumens, with each Tumen consisting of 10,000 troops. The three Khitan Generals Shimobeidier (石抹孛迭兒), Tabuyir (塔不已兒) and Xiaozhacizhizizhongxi (蕭札刺之子重喜) commanded the three Khitan Tumens and the four Han Generals Zhang Rou, Yan Shi, Shi Tianze, and Liu Heima commanded the four Han tumens under Ogödei Khan. The Mongols received defections from Han Chinese and Khitans while the Jin were abandoned by their own Jurchen officers.
Shi Tianze was a Han Chinese who lived in the Jin dynasty (1115–1234). Interethnic marriage between Han and Jurchen became common at this time. His father was Shi Bingzhi (史秉直, Shih Ping-chih). Shi Bingzhi was married to a Jurchen woman (surname Na-ho) and a Han Chinese woman (surname Chang), it is unknown which of them was Shi Tianze's mother.
The Yuan dynasty created a "Han Army" (漢軍) out of defected Jin troops and army of defected Song troops called the "Newly Submitted Army" (新附軍).
Möngke Khan dispatched Kublai to the Dali Kingdom in 1253 to outflank the Song. The Gao family, dominated the court, resisted and murdered Mongol envoys. The Mongols divided their forces into three. One wing rode eastward into the Sichuan basin. The second column under Uryankhadai took a difficult way into the mountains of western Sichuan. Kublai himself headed south over the grasslands, meeting up with the first column. While Uryankhadai galloping in along the lakeside from the north, Kublai took the capital city of Dali and spared the residents despite the slaying of his ambassadors. The Dali King Duan Xingzhi (段興智) himself defected to the Mongols, who used his troops to conquer the rest of Yunnan. The Mongols appointed King Duan Xingzhi as Maharajah and stationed a pacification commissioner there. After Kublai's departure, unrest broke out among the Black Jang (one of the main ethnic groups of the Dali kingdom). By 1256, Uryankhadai, the son of Subutai had completely pacified Yunnan.
During their campaigns, the Mongol Empire recruited many nationalities in their warfare, such as those of Central and East Asia. The Mongols employed Chinese troops, especially those who worked catapults and gunpowder to assist them in other conquests. In addition to Chinese troops, many scholars and doctors from China accompanied Mongol commanders to the west. The Mongols valued workers with specialized skills.
The ability to make cast iron which was tough enough for shooting objects with gunpowder was available to the Chinese in the Song dynasty and it was adopted by the Liao, Jin, and Yuan dynasties.
During the invasion of Transoxania in 1219, along with the main Mongol force, Genghis Khan used a Chinese specialist catapult unit in battle. They were used in Transoxania again in 1220. The Chinese may have used the catapults to hurl gunpowder bombs, since they already had them by this time (although there were other siege engineers and technologies used in the campaigns, too.) While Genghis Khan was conquering Transoxania and Central Asia, several Chinese who were familiar with gunpowder were serving with Genghis's army. "Whole regiments" entirely made out of Chinese were used by the Mongols to command bomb hurling trebuchets during the invasion of Iran. Historians have suggested that the Mongol invasion had brought Chinese gunpowder weapons to Central Asia. One of these was the huochong, a Chinese mortar. Books written around the area afterward depicted the use of gunpowder weapons which resembled that of China.
One thousand northern Chinese engineer squads accompanied the Mongol Hulagu Khan during his conquest of the Middle East. 1,000 Chinese participated in the Siege of Baghdad (1258). The Chinese General Guo Kan was one of the commanders during the siege and appointed Governor of Baghdad after the city was taken. But this is probably wrong since Hulagu's associate, Nasir al-Din Tusi claims that the darugha was a certain Asuta Bahadur or according to Rashid and Bar Heabreus, Ali Bahadur who repulsed the Mamluk charge under the shadow Caliph in 1262.
While serving in the Mongol armies, Chinese generals were able to observe the invasion of West Asia.
According to Ata-Malik Juvayni during the assault on the Alamut Assassins fort, "Khitayan" built siege weapons resembling crossbows were used. "Khitayan" meant Chinese and it was a type of arcuballista, deployed in 1256 under Hulagu's command. Stones were knocked off the castle and the bolts "burnt" a great number of the Assassins. They could fire a distance around 2,500 paces. The device was described as an ox's bow. Pitch which was lit on fire was applied to the bolts of the weapon before firing. Another historian thinks that instead gunpowder might have been strapped onto the bolts which caused the burns during the battle recorded by Juvayini.
Alans were recruited into the Mongol forces with one unit called "Right Alan Guard" which was combined with "recently surrendered" soldiers, Mongols, and Chinese soldiers stationed in the area of the former Kingdom of Qocho and in Besh Balikh the Mongols established a Chinese military colony led by Chinese general Qi Kongzhi (Ch'i Kung-chih).
Against the Alans and the Cumans (Kipchaks), the Mongols used divide and conquer tactics: first the Mongols told the Cumans to stop allying with the Alans and then, after the Cumans followed their suggestion, the Mongols defeated the Alans and then attacked the Cumans. Alan and Kipchak guards were used by Kublai Khan. In 1368 at the end of the Yuan dynasty in China Toghan Temür was accompanied by his faithful Alan guards. "Mangu enlisted in his bodyguard half the troops of the Alan prince, Arslan, whose younger son Nicholas took a part in the expedition of the Mongols against Karajang (Yunnan). This Alan imperial guard was still in existence in 1272, 1286 and 1309, and it was divided into two corps with headquarters in the Ling pei province (Karakorúm)." Alans were converted to Roman Catholic Christianity as were Armenians in China by John of Montecorvino.
At first, the Mongols allied with Song China as both had a common enemy in the form of Jin. However, this alliance broke down with the destruction of Jur'chen Jin in 1234. After Song forces captured the former Chinese capitals of Luoyang, Chang'an and Kaifeng from the Mongols and the Song had killed a Mongol ambassador, the Mongols declared war on the Song. Very quickly the Mongol armies forced the Song back to the Yangtze, although the two sides would be engaged in a four-decade war until the fall of the Song in 1276.
The Mongol force which invaded southern China was far greater than the force they sent to invade the Middle East in 1256.
While the Mongol forces had success against the non-Han Chinese ruled states of the Jin and Xia, conquering the Song took much more time. The Song forces were equipped with the best technology available at the time, such as an ample supply of gunpowder weapons like fire lances, rockets and flamethrowers. The fierce resistance of the Song forces resulted in the Mongols having to fight the most difficult war in all of their conquests, and the Mongols required every advantage they could gain and "every military artifice known at that time" in order to win. They looked to peoples they already conquered to acquire various military advantages. However, intrigues at the Song court would favour the Mongols.
After several indecisive wars, the Mongols unsuccessfully attacked the Song garrison at Diaoyu Fortress Hechuan when their Great Khan, Möngke, died of cholera or dysentery. However, the general responsible for this defence was not rewarded but instead was punished by the Song court. Discouraged, he defected to the Mongols and suggested to Möngke's successor, Kublai, that the key to the conquest of Song was the capture of Xiangyang, a vital Song stronghold.
The Mongols quickly enclosed Xiangyang and defeated any attempt to reinforce it by the Song. After a siege that lasted several years, and with the help of Muslim artillery created by Iraqi engineers, the Mongols finally forced the city of Xiangyang to surrender. The dying Song dynasty sent its armies against the Mongols at Yehue under the incompetent chancellor Jia Sidao. Predictably, the battle was a disaster. Running out of troops and supplies, the Song court surrendered to the Mongols in 1276.
Many Han Chinese were enslaved in the process of the Mongols invasion of China proper. According to Japanese historian Sugiyama Masaaki (杉山正明) and Funada Yoshiyuki (舩田善之), there were also a certain number of Mongolian slaves owned by Han Chinese during the Yuan dynasty. However, there is no evidence that Han Chinese, who were considered people of the bottom of Yuan society according to some researchers, suffered particularly cruel abuse.
With the desire to rule all of China, Kublai established the Yuan dynasty and became Emperor of China. However, despite the surrender of the Song court, resistance of Song remnants remained. Chinese resistance lasted for a few more years as Song loyalists organized themselves around a powerless boy emperor, brother to the last formal Song emperor. In an attempt to restore the Song dynasty, several Song officials set up a government in Guangdong, aboard ships of the vast Song navy, which still maintained over a thousand ships (which then carried the Song army, which had been forced by the Mongol army off of the land onto these Song warships). Realizing this, in 1279 Kublai sent his fleet to engage the Song fleet at the battle of Yamen in the waters off of modern Hong Kong, winning a decisive victory in which the last Song Emperor Bing of Song and his loyal officials committed suicide. This was the final major military confrontation of the Mongol conquest of the Song in southern China.
However, members of the Song Imperial Family continued to live in the Yuan dynasty like Emperor Gong of Song, Zhao Mengfu, and Zhao Yong. Zhao Mengfu painted at the Yuan court and was personally interviewed by Kublai Khan. This practice was referred to as 二王三恪.
The ancestors of the Trần clan originated from the province of Fujian and later migrated to Đại Việt under Trần Kinh 陳京 (Chén Jīng), the ancestor of the Trần clan. Their descendants, the later rulers of Đại Việt who were of mixed-blooded descent later established the Tran dynasty, which ruled Vietnam (Đại Việt). Despite many intermarriages between the Trần and several royal members of the Lý dynasty alongside members of their royal court as in the case of Trần Lý and Trần Thừa, some of the mixed-blooded descendants of the Trần dynasty and certain members of the clan were still capable of speaking Chinese such as when a Yuan dynasty envoy had a meeting with the Chinese-speaking Trần prince Trần Quốc Tuấn in 1282.
Professor Liam Kelley noted that people from Song dynasty China like Zhao Zhong and Xu Zongdao fled to Tran dynasty ruled Vietnam after the Mongol invasion of the Song and they helped the Tran fight against the Mongol invasion. The ancestors of the Tran clan originated from the modern day province of Fujian as did the Daoist cleric Xu Zongdao who recorded the Mongol invasion and referred to them as "Northern bandits". The Tran defeated the Mongol invasions of Vietnam.
Chinggis Khan organized a unit of Chinese catapult specialists in 1214, and these men formed part of the first Mongol army to invade Transoania in 1219. This was not too early for true firearms, and it was nearly two centuries after catapult-thrown gunpowder bombs had been added to the Chinese arsenal. Chinese siege equipment saw action in Transoxania in 1220 and in the north Caucasus in 1239–40.
Though he was himself a Chinese, he learned his trade from his father, who had accompanied Genghis Khan on his invasion of Muslim Transoxania and Iran. Perhaps the use of gunpowder as a propellant, in other words the invention of true guns, appeared first in the Muslim Middle East, whereas the invention of gunpowder itself was a Chinese achievement
During the 1250s, the Mongols invaded Iran with 'whole regiments' of Chinese engineers operating trebuchets (catapults) throwing gunpowder bombs. Their progress was rapid and devastating until, after the sack of Baghdad in 1258, they entered Syria. There they met an Islamic army similarly equipped and experienced their first defeat. In 1291, the same sort of weapon was used during the siege of Acre, when the European Crusaders were expelled form Palestine.
Indeed, it is possible that gunpowder devices, including Chinese mortar (huochong), had reached Central Asia through the Mongols as early as the thirteenth century.71 Yet the potential remained unexploited; even Sultan Husayn's use of cannon may have had Ottoman inspiration.
The presence of these individuals in China in the 1270s, and the deployment of Chinese engineers in Iran, mean that there were several routes by which information about gunpowder weapons could pass from the Islamic world to China, or vice versa. Thus when two authors from the eastern Mediterranean region wrote books about gunpowder weapons around the year 1280, it is not surprising that they described bombs, rockets and fire-lances very similar to some types of Chinese weaponry.
This called for the employment of engineers to engaged in mining operations, to build siege engines and artillery, and to concoct and use incendiary and explosive devices. For instance, Hulagu, who led Mongol forces into the Middle East during the second wave of the invasions in 1250, had with him a thousand squads of engineers, evidently of north Han Chinese (or perhaps Khitan) provenance.
This called for the employment of engineers to engaged in mining operations, to build siege engines and artillery, and to concoct and use incendiary and explosive devices. For instance, Hulagu, who led Mongol forces into the Middle East during the second wave of the invasions in 1250, had with him a thousand squads of engineers, evidently of north Chinese (or perhaps Khitan) provenance.
In A.D. 1232 an army of 30,000 Mongol warriors invaded the Chinese city of Kai-fung-fu, where the Chinese fought back with fire arrows ... Mongol leaders learned from their enemies and found ways to make fire arrows even more deadly as their invasion spread toward Europe. On Christmas Day 1241 Mongol troops used fire arrows to capture the city of Budapest in Hungary, and in 1258 to capture the city of Baghdad in what's now Iraq.
Moreover, many Chinese were in the first wave of the Mongolian conquest of Iran and Iraq – a Han general, Guo Kan, was first governor of Baghdad after its capture in ad 1258. As the Mongols had a habit of destroying irrigation and
The name of this Chinese general was Kuo K'an (Mongol, Kuka Ilka). He commanded the right flank of the Mongol army in its advance on Baghdad and remained in charge of the city after its surrender. His life in Chinese has been preserved
Chinese influences soon made themselves strongly felt in Hulagu's dominions. A Han general was made the first governor of Baghdad,5 and Chinese engineers were employed to improve the irrigation of the Tigris-Euphrates basin
The first governor of Baghdad under the new regime was Guo Kan, a Han general who had commanded the Mongols' right flank in the siege of Baghdad. Irrigation works in the Tigris-Euphrates basin were improved by Chinese engineers(Original from the University of Michigan)
For his part Kublai dedicated himself totally to the task, but it was still to be the Mongol's thoughest war. The Sung Chinese showed themselves to be the most resilient of foes. Southern China was not only densely populated and full of strongly walled cities. It was also a land of mountain ranges and wide fast-flowing
Unquestionably in the Chinese the Mongols encountered more stubborn opposition and better defense than any of their other opponents in Europe and Asia had shown. They needed every military artifice known at that time, for they had to fight in terrain that was difficult for their horses, in regions infested with diseases fatal to large numbers of their forces, and in boats to which they were not accustomed.