In 1260, in Land of the Blue Sky (Mongolia) and Land of the Red Dragon (China), a new sort of Mongolian raised to power by the name of Shih-Tsu, later known as Qubilai Khan. Qubilai was a man of many faces, on the one hand, he seemed civilised despite descending from a people known for being barbaric. The most notable thing about Qubilai was his upbringing in the Nestorian church which promoted religious tolerance. The notion of tolerance he utilised magnificently by not only accepting Christian doctrine but also promoting Neo-Confucianist values.
One of the ground stones of Confucianism is that of unity and harmony which was things the peasants were searching desperately for during the chaotic rule of the Sung.
Thus, the blossoming new ruler immediately surrounded himself with Tibetan monks, where the most notable was ‘Phags-pa. some scholars estimate that the number of monks was at 500,000 and must have steadily increased during the end of Mongol rule. The reason, Qubilai did this was because these monks welcomed these neo-Confucianist beliefs plus he needed a reason for the commoners to rally behind him.
Soon after his take-over he gained the title of ‘Son of heaven,’ thus the true Emperor of China proper. At first the Mandarin class was critical of this supposed ‘barbarian,’ but in time they warmed up to him, while the peasants rallied behind him from the get-go. When it came to language, the Mongols insisted that Mongolian should be the lingua franca while the Chinese themselves mad vary little effort to learn it.
On the contrary, Qubilai himself did not learn Chinese either. This refusal to learn each other’s language meant the Chinese scholarly work flourished with fairly little influence from the Mongols. When it came to shake-ups in governmental agencies, including agriculture, education and redistribution of land, he kept most of the advisors within these fields since he had no idea of how the system worked. So, in order to utilise this system as best as possible he felt he needed individuals who knew how it worked. And, the Mandarin administrators came to the rescue since the Mongols had no prior experience with bureaucracy. In order for them to trust him, he made them recreated their identity by reclaiming them as Mongolians and thus loyal to the new ruler. He may have proclaimed them as fellow Mongolians, but this did not mean that he trusted them. Some scholars argue that:
“·brought violence and destruction to all aspects of Chinese civilisation,” and that they were “insensitive to Chinese values, distrustful of Chinese influence and inept heads of Chinese government”
This quote may suggest that the Mongols were barbarians and really did not care for their subjects. But here Qubilai himself challenges the stereotype while also playing a bit into it. First and foremost, he was certainly critical of his Chinese advisors so much so that he often sent ‘spies’ out to investigate whether or not the provinces governed by Chinese bureaucrats were governed properly. If not, his Mongol spies would act on behalf of the Emperor. Although this may be true, he did rule China according to Chines principle. For instance, at Peking’s, modern-day Beijing, he built an ancestral hall that could rival that of the previous dynasties. In this hall he placed the writings of the Mongol ancestors.
Additionally, he ordered for a temple to be constructed in honour of Confucius and the hall of this magnificent place of worship nine Sung scholars got awarded a place of honour as well. Besides this, he lived up to the most important principle of all namely that of the learned man since he took a great interest in education. Across the country, the Confucian colleges were restored to their former glory and in some cases even expanded. Under the keen eye of his successors, the competitive civil service examination was taken up once more.