Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mongol Conquest of China

Fig.1: Genghis knows how to grow a playoff beard.
The Mongols did a lot of conquesting in the 13th century. By 1279, their empire consisted of nations such as Russia, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and the all-important "Stans" of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Stan Lee, the Stanley Cup (fig.1), and the wealthy banking conglomerate of Standard Chartered (stock name STAN on the London Exchange). But perhaps the jewel of their empire was a little-known place called China. The ethnic Chinese had ruled China for several millennia, ever since the people who ruled China suddenly realized they were ethnic Chinese. The Mongol invasions from 1206 to their final victory in 1279 changed all that, establishing the precedent that non-Chinese conquerors would follow in the Manchu, the Europeans, the Japanese, and those filthy stinking Communists. Ug, they're the worst.

As if the Mongols needed it, China certainly made it a little easy for them. The area we know as China was divided between three dynasties: the Song, the Jin, and the Xi Xia. The Song Dynasty was what I guess you could snobbishly call the real Chinese kingdom, as they were that ethnic Chinese thing and had once ruled over the entire land. This changed with the rise of the Jin Dynasty in the 12th century, ruled by Jurchens from the north that weren't quite fond of sharing, and their lack of preschool-taught manners allowed them to take over the Song capital of Kaifeng in 1127. This forced the Song to flee to the unpleasant south, where people watched car racing and played banjo music all day long. The Song's hatred for the Jin led them to seek an alliance with the Mongols of all people, which is almost like Batman hiring the Joker to take care of a simple rodent problem in the Batcave. Then there was the Xi Xia Dynasty. But who really cares about them? They were bush league compared to the Song and Jin. Their territory was barely larger than Liechtenstein, and really all they did was mooch off of profits from the Silk Road that ran through it.  Plus their name sounds like "seesaw," which everyone knows is the worst toy on the playground. What a bunch of lame-o's! But just like seasoned high school bullies, the Mongols knew to pick on the weakling first.

Fig.2: China on the eve of the Mongol invasions, 
with the Xi Xia Dynasty looking really dumb
 over there in the corner.
The first ever Mongol raids by Temujin (stage name: MC Genghis Khan) were against the Xi Xia beginning in 1206. The Xi Xia could have fought hard and tried to defeat them, which would have immediately put an end to all the Mongol conquests over the next century and saved countless lives, but no: the Xi Xia had to wilt like the daisies that they were and surrender just three years later. Simply useless. Maybe because Genghis felt sorry for them, he didn't completely take over the Xi Xia, but just asked to be called Emperor over them, be paid a tribute every year, and have Xi Xia kindergarteners construct adorable portraits of Genghis doing manly things out of fingerpaint or macaroni. He mainly wanted it as a stepping stone for his real target: the Jin Dynasty. In 1210, the Jin dared to ask for the submission of the Mongols, as if they were little wussies like the Xi Xia or something. Reportedly, Genghis spat on the ground when asked to submit, which could be taken as an act of defiance, but really Genghis had a softball game later on and started early with the chewing tobacco. But of course the Jin took that as a declaration of war, and the Mongols had no choice but to fight.

Believe it or not, the Mongols sucked at first against the Jin. Sure they won some victories on the field, but they couldn't lay siege to a walled city to save their lives! It was almost embarrassing how they tried attacking the wall with their swords screaming, "I hate you!" at it over and over again until they started crying right there on the spot. Luckily for them, they made some friends from Persia who would invent for them high-powered trebuchets that could hurl large rocks as far as 300 meters and make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs! Just like that, the Mongols went from worst to first in siege technology, which they would successfully use in all of their conquests. (True story: Genghis would thank his Persian inventors by using those trebuchets to destroy multiple cities during his invasion of Persia just ten years later. What a boss.) It was during that time that the Song Dynasty allied with the Mongols, hoping they could give Jin the wet willies while Genghis dished out the wedgies. Unfortunately for Genghis, the Jin wouldn't go down easy, and he would die in 1227 before they would fall. Graciously, his dying wish of taking over the Xi Xia once and for all was granted that year, so thanks to him we can forget about the blight of insignificance that dynasty temporarily brought to Chinese history.

Fig.3: Meanwhile in the episode, 
Song Emperor Lizong auditioned 
to be Al Pacino's butt double.
The conquest of the Jin was completed in 1234 (the Count's favorite year) by Genghis' son, Ögedei. The Song helped immensely with the victory, and assumed they would be allowed to take back the cities, such as Kaifeng, that they felt rightfully belonged to them. But when Song officials returned, they found the Mongols occupying their favorite couch in the coffee shop! The Song asked the Mongols nicely for their hangout spot back, but the Mongols just laughed at them and stole their special hats. So Ross and Chandler...I mean, the Song attempted diplomatic avenues to attempt to resolve this misunderstanding, and when that didn't work, they went the more direct route and had Phoebe slit the throat of a Mongol ambassador. Bet you never saw that on syndication!

Thus began the four-decade-long war between the Mongols and the Song for supremacy throughout China. Part of the reason it took so long was that the Mongols were a little distracted in the beginning since, you know, they were taking over the rest of the world and such. Fighting went back and forth with one invading the other's territory then retreating like an intense game of Capture the Flag. Notably, the Song may have used gun-like weapons for the first time in history, as the records indicate the use of gunpowder to fire metal pieces through bamboo tubes. If the Song Dynasty held on, one can assume that all citizens would have been given the right to bare bamboo tubes, and lobbies such as the National Bamboo Tube Association (NBTA) would have fought hard to protect this inalienable right, despite the havoc that bamboo tubes may cause in the wrong hands.

Fig.4: If Kublai Khan had any lasting
impact, it was that his facial hair would
be imitated by officers in the American
Civil War. 
Finally, the war started going the Mongols' way upon the election of Genghis' grandson, Kublai (fig.4), as the Great Khan in 1260. He led an all-out assault on the Song that succeeded in the way that if you saw tens of thousands of Mongols coming at you, you'd give up and run away too. Song troubles were further compounded by the one millionth peasant rebellion in Chinese history (there were balloons and a banner celebrating it and everything), which sapped away money, resources, and precious bamboo tubes that could have been used against the Mongols. In 1271, Kublai Khan was so confident of a final victory against the Song that he proclaimed a new dynasty, the Yuan Dynasty, to replace the Song, just so that people wouldn't get separation anxiety that they didn't have a dynasty in their lives. This was a good move, since the Mongols would take the Song capital of Lin'an (present-day Hangzhou) in 1276, along with the child Emperor who apparently never learned the "Don't talk to Mongol strangers" lesson that we all were taught in first grade. The Song attempted one last stand in 1279 at the naval Battle of Yamen on the southern coast; the Mongols even allowed the Song to outnumber them 10 to 1 just to make it a little more interesting, but it still ended in a complete Yuan victory. Just like practically the rest of Asia, Eastern Europe, and three-quarters of the moon, China now belonged to the Mongols.

Kublai designed the Yuan Dynasty to look, feel, and taste just like a regular Chinese dynasty, even though it was made out of imitation Mongol ingredients. He styled himself as a Mongol Khan as well as a Chinese Emperor, and commissioned the building of a new capital for China called Dadu, which would later become the obscure town of Beijing. His lavish palace, Xanadu, would inspire a beautiful poem by Samuel Coleridge, a horrible movie with Olivia Newton-John, and (spoiler alert!) an extremely easy place to lose your precious sled. But after Kublai's death in 1294, the Yuan Dynasty, and the entire Mongol Empire itself, slowly crumbled away, and those ethnic Chinese were in control once again by 1368 under the Ming Dynasty. Nonetheless, the precedent was set that non-Chinese could take over China, which was good news for a bunch of invaders over the next six hundred years. If I was China, I'd look out for those dang New Zealanders. You just know they're plotting something...

Hey, you! You've got some free time on your hands! Read the next installment of my "Mongol Conquests of..." series with the Mongol Conquest of Central Asia! C'mon, don't give me that crap about "having a life!"

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