Exploring the World of the Great Kublai Khan

National Palace Museum, Taipei

Kublai Khan as the First Yuan Emperor
For some three decades until his death in 1294, the grandson of the famed Mongol warlord Chingiz, or Genghis, ruled over much of what is today China. Kublai Khan spent most of his reign expanding his domain and vanquishing pretenders to his throne — in the process, historians say, he laid the foundations of the modern Chinese state. The empire of his Yuan dynasty was said to be a continent unto itself, its cities teeming with gold and the chatter of people from countless lands. The myth of his power was irrepressible. Once, while at the sidelines of a battle the emperor was sure to win, the voyaging Italian merchant Marco Polo saw "the Kaan" on a hill, surveying his massed legions from a perch atop a wooden tower. The tower was mounted on the backs of "four well-trained elephants."

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