Kublai Khan

Kublai was born in Mongolia in 1215. The name Khan is a title and shows someone is chief of a tribe, so Kublai was not born with this name.

He was the grandson of Genghis Khan, the first chief of all of Mongolia.

As a child, Kublai travelled around with his father Tolui Khan and his grandfather while they conquered Northern China and Central Asia.

When Kublai grew older, Genghis named him khan of a small area in north China, which he ruled. Kublai spent his free time studying Chinese history, culture and Confucianism.

Khan of Northern China

When Genghis Khan died, Kublai’s eldest brother Mongke became the Great Khan – khan of the Mongol empire.

Kublai was made ruler of all northern China. Here he increased crop production and improved the welfare of the people.

For this he received respect from the Chinese people and government.

In 1253, Mongke ordered Kublai to conquer southern China and end the Song dynasty. Kublai set of with his army at once.

During the war, Kublai found out that Mongke had died. He made a treaty with the Song family where the Song would pay him 200,000 silks each year and in return there would be peace.

Kublai was next in line to become emperor, or the Great Khan. However, by the time Kublai returned to northern China, his brother Ariq Boke had seized the title, supported by many of his family.

Kublai’s claim was supported by those in northern China. He also proclaimed himself Great Khan on 15 April 1260. This started a civil war.

Great Khan

After 4 years of war, Kublai Khan became Great Khan, starting the Yuan dynasty in 1271 – the only foreign dynasty to rule China.

He went back on his treaty with the Song dynasty and captured most of southern China.

The Songs resisted for years but the family was eventually found and killed, ending the dynasty. By 1276, Kublai had control of all of China.

Kublai Khan

Kublai wanted the Mongols to stay in power. He created a social system where the Mongols were the most important people.

Next came people from Central Asia, then northern Chinese, and lastly southern Chinese as the least important.

The less important you were, the stricter the laws you had to obey. This caused a lot of hatred towards the Mongols.

To help rule the empire, Kublai combined the Mongolia and Chinese governments, putting people from different countries in each.

He wanted to learn about running a large government from China. Kublai built a second palace in the southern city of Xanadu, built infrastructure, created new trade routes and brought in new, foreign ideas.

Kublai died in 1294 aged 79. His daughter married and became Queen of Korea. His grandson Temur became emperor and Great Khan.

Kublai Khan on a hunting expedition


  • Kublai was the grandson of the conqueror Genghis Khan.
  • Kublai was made khan (chief) of northern China by his brother, Mongke Khan.
  • Mongke Khan ordered Kublai to conquer southern China and the Song dynasty.
  • The Song dynasty gave Kublai 200,000 silks per year to leave them in peace.
  • Ariq Boke stole the title of Great Khan from Kublai, sparking a civil war.
  • Kublai Khan became Great Khan and Yuan Emperor in 1271.
  • In 1276, Kublai Khan overthrew the Song dynasty and ruled all of China.
  • Kublai created a social scale with Mongols at the top and Chinese at the bottom.

Young Kublai Khan


  • What did the title of Great Khan mean?
    The title holder was chief of all the Mongol empire (Mongolia, China and central Asia).
  • Why did Kublai’s Chinese subjects like him?
    He increased how much crop they made and helped the people improve their lifestyles.
  • How did Kublai become Great Khan?
    His brother, Ariq Boke, claimed the title so Kublai started a civil war and defeated Ariq.
  • What did Kublai’s social caste system do?
    It made Mongols the most important, powerful people and gave them lax laws. The southern Chinese people were the least important.