China's Story - William Griffis

China Invaded by the Mongols

The great northern region beyond the Chinese wall is the nursery of many nations. These built up no civilizations of their own. Issuing forth, from time to time, as clouds of horsemen and conquering hordes, they seemed, while ravaging the abodes of luxury, to be only destroyers. Yet these emigrant peoples infused fresh blood into old communities. Bringing in new ideas of freedom and toleration, they added new vigor to humanity.

Looking from the point of view of A.D. 1000, one could hardly believe that, out of this mysterious north, despite the many and long struggles of the Chinese with Tartar tribes, there would emerge another body of men that should completely subdue not only China, but nearly all Asia and a large part of Europe.

We have heard of the Kin tribe of Tartars before. In 1125, after overcoming their former rulers, they made themselves independent. Their chief took the title of Grand Khan and founded a dynasty named the Kin, or Golden. In battle they put in the forefront their heaviest men and horses, clad in the stoutest armor, the warriors being armed with pikes for charging and short swords for close combat. In each company of fifty, twenty soldiers were at the front, while thirty more lightly armed men were kept in the rear, until the heavily equipped warriors had made their attack. Then the light cavalry rushed forward, shot their arrows, threw their javelins, and rode away swiftly, making way for fresh reinforcements. This method, repeated several times, completely broke up the ranks of the opponents by throwing their soldiers into confusion. Then the whole body of Tartars charged, plying pike and sword. They usually won by the rout and massacre of their enemies.

Tempted south by the love of conquest and the riches of the empire, they captured in A.D. 1125 the capital Kai Feng. They forced the Chinese to promise an indemnity of five million ounces of gold, fifty million ounces of silver, ten thousand oxen, ten thousand horses, and one million pieces of silk, to recognize the victor's title of Khan, or emperor, to cede a large part of northern China, and to give up the emperor's brother as a hostage.

No sooner had these northern horsemen turned their backs than the Chinese, repenting of their promise, began to raise an army to resist the Kins. When they heard of this, the northern hordes quickly reappeared and increased the punishment of the Chinese. They demanded more land and provinces, carried the imperial family away into captivity, compelled the promise of one hundred thousand ounces of gold, two hundred thousand ounces of silver, and ten million pieces of silk. We do not know that the promise of such an enormous indemnity was fulfilled. Worse than all, they appointed one of their own nominees to rule over the Chinese Empire, but as their own vassal.

All the northern provinces were now under the control of the Kin Tartars, who, however, were unable to complete their conquest of that part of China south of the Yellow River, for the Chinese fought with the energy of despair. The Southern Sung (1127-1333), as their dynasty was called, made a new seat of government at Nanking.

The word for capital is "king," or first city; Nan-king means southern capital and Peking northern capital. This king, pronounced kio in Japanese, is the kio in Tokio and Kioto. The word nankeen, or Chinese cloth, for summer wear, is only another form of Nanking, where much of it was formerly made.

Brave and skillful generals led the southerners in the struggle, which was now for the rich province of Honan, whose northern boundary is the great, wide Yellow River. This, like the Rhine in Roman days, was the dividing line between civilization and northern barbarism. The Tartars, being from the desert and unaccustomed to navigate or to fight on water, were unable to cross this river, while many of the Chinese were adroit boat-men and could fight on deck. Hence the river remained a barrier against further invasion. Had the emperor possessed more courage, he might have driven the Tartars out of China. The last words of one of his generals were, "Cross the river," meaning that the emperor should abandon Nanking and advance northward.

The Tartars were able to make even more progress on their right wing. They passed into Shantung, which means "the mountains east," and devastated the rich country. On land these warriors in the saddle usually beat the Chinese, but on water they were themselves badly handled. Now these Kin Tartars were to find an enemy in their rear also, that was to conquer them and then advance to the conquest of the whole empire. At these we shall glance.

Near the head waters of the Amoor River, south-east of Lake Baikal, lived a tribe of horsemen whose ensign was an ox-tail. They called themselves Brave Men, or Mongols. Other tribes joined their confederacy until, in 1135, filled with the lust of conquest, they began fighting with the Kin Tartars. Their chief, Kabul, assumed the title Grand Khan. His banner was a cluster of ox-tails.

About 1162 there was born the great hero known in history as Genghis Khan. It is said that when thirteen years old, at his mother's prompting, this son of Kabul became head of the Mongols. Genghis means the Greatest of the Great. He moved with a mighty host southward and beyond the Great Wall, occupying several of the northern provinces. In 1213 he despatched three great expeditions eastward, all of which were successful. The ox-tail banner was carried to the sea near the modern Wei Hai Wei.

Some Japanese scholars claim that Yezukai, or Genghis Khan, was no other than the Japanese field-marshal and hero, Yoshitsuné, whose name in Chinese is Gengi Ké, and who fled across the Yezo Kai, or northern sea of Tartary. Some Chinese authors also accept this plausible theory. In 1905 a Japanese officer found at Mukden the reputed tomb of Yoshitsuné.

When this great wave of humanity on horseback moved toward the setting sun and over the Himalaya Mountains, it struck Russia during the time of her feudal system. There was then no national unity, but many semi-independent states existed, nominally under a Czar, but almost always at war with one another. At this time they were much weakened in resources. When the Muscovites set their hastily collected forces in battle against the Mongols, their rout was rapid and complete, and the Czar's empire was put under tribute.

A Mongol, who lived in the saddle, horse and man seeming like one animal, hated cities and would have nothing to do with roofs or walls. Coming out of the broad steppes and living continually in the open air, the horsemen felt as if they would be stifled within doors, and they feared any and every high structure. So they leveled to the ground the Russian towns and villages, churches and farmhouses, making large areas of the country a waste.

The son of Genghis Khan, named Ogotai, continued the work begun by his father. He completely subdued the Kin Tartars and ended their dynasty of nine emperors, which had ruled half of the Chinese Empire one hundred and eighteen years. Then moving with a still larger army into Europe, he penetrated to the very heart of the continent, destroying Moscow, Kief, and other Russian cities, committing terrible atrocities and slaughtering the inhabitants almost as numerously as the Romans did our ancestors in Gaul and Germany. The Mongols invaded Hungary and Poland, razing Pesth, Cracow, and other cities to the ground, but when in Silesia, bearing, in 1241, that Ogotai was dead, the Mongol generals returned with their hordes to the capital at Karakorum.

At the same time the Pope of Rome sent two envoys, Carpini and Benedict, with a letter urging upon Ogotai's successor more humanity in war, to which the Mongol ruler civilly replied. Returning, these two scholars brought to medieval Europe the first knowledge of the Chinese as being a nation more highly civilized than any at that time existing in Europe. The ruins of the Mongol capital still litter the ground near the Orkhan River.

Meanwhile, in southern China, the Sung Emperor, in order to drive out the Kin Tartars, made alliance with the Mongols. The allies succeeded, but the old story of the badger inviting the porcupine into his hole was retold. After quarreling over the spoils, the Chinese attempted again to occupy the province of Honan, but the Mongols ordered them out. The latter soon found what kind of allies they had invited to aid them. When Mangu became Khan in 1253, he and his brother Kublai planned the complete conquest of China. Kublai, who was elected Grand Khan on the death of his brother, fixed his capital at or near the modern Peking. About Cambulac, on the city of the Khan, some of us have heard through the poetry of Coleridge.

The Chinese were still defiant, but the Mongols, being as ready to adopt modern improvements as are the Japanese, employed foreign experts, teachers, and advisers with new machinery and methods. To the siege of cities they brought engines of war made in Persia, which could throw stones and logs of wood weighing over a hundred pounds. Using these catapults, the General Bayan captured city after city, until finally the ox-tail banners were planted on the seashore below Canton. After fifty years of battle and warfare, in which both the courage and the tenacity of the Chinese were conspicuous, the Mongol conquest of China was completed and the Yuan, or Original, dynasty was founded. Like our barbarian ancestors, who destroyed the Roman Empire and occupied its area, the Mongol Tartars were now about to be powerfully influenced by the civilization they had apparently destroyed. Though Kublai was not actually seated on the throne of China until 1260, the Yuan dynasty is reckoned as lasting from A.D. 1206 to 1333.

There was yet much land to be occupied to the east and south, so Kublai looked across the sea to Japan. The Japanese sent back the envoys from Kublai Khan with an answer of defiance. When others came later, their heads were cut off. The Koreans were quickly won over. Then, with a combined fleet made up from the three peoples, Mongols, Chinese, and Koreans, an attempt was made to invade Japan.

When the Mongol armada, equipped with war-machines and even cannon which the Italian Polos had taught the Mongols to make, arrived off Kiushiu, it was scattered by tempests. The Mongol cavalry was repulsed on land by archery of the Japanese. Then the latter, venturing out in their little boats with swords and grappling-irons, leaped on the big ships and fought the Mongols hand to hand. As usual, the Tartars failed in battles on the water. The lives of the Koreans and Chinese who surrendered were spared.

To this day in Japan the civil ruler and the captains who defeated the Mongols enjoy posthumous honors. After the destruction of the Russian armada, or Baltic fleet, by Admiral Togo in 1905, very near the place where the Mongol armada came to its end, the victors on land and sea, headed by the Mikado, were present at a great celebration in honor of Hojo, the governor who roused the nation to resist the invaders of A.D. 1281.

Something like the same lack of success befell the Mongols when they invaded Annam and attempted Cambodia. They found that the work of war in steaming bamboo jungles and teak forests, or on the plains under the almost vertical rays of the sun, was not so easy as fighting on the northern plains and frozen rivers. They were so greatly weakened by heat and sickness that they retired from Cambodia and left Annam a semi-independent state. All this region of peninsular Asia is popularly known as Cochin China. It is interesting as the original home of our barnyard fowls, the cock and hen.

It was not necessarily the plan of the Mongol Emperor to make war upon all nations, but those near the frontiers, or even within reach, were expected to pay tribute and acknowledge themselves vassals of the great Khan. If they did not, they were invaded and subjugated. In the case of Burma, after the first refusal, the usual invasion was made. This time the Mongol veterans found a new war animal. Elephants charged on them, overwhelming both men and horses, while the Burmans discharged their darts and arrows with skill and effect. The Mongols were driven back and their tactics made worthless. So they tried a new plan by bringing forward their most skilled archers, who aimed at the eyes, trunks, and other tender parts of the big brutes. These, maddened and unmanageable, carried confusion into the ranks of the Burmans. Then charging with their horsemen, the Mongols won victory and Burma became a vassal state.

Meanwhile the great empire kept expanding until it was the largest in area and population known in history, stretching as it did from the Black to the Yellow Sea and from the steppes of Mongolia to the Indian Ocean, within which space was a vast variety of nations, tribes, and peoples.