Mengke and the War in China
Except for the descendants of Ogedei and Chagadai, most of
the royal princes thought that Batu should be elected khan. By
this time, however, Batu had decided that he preferred the
steppes of the Volga to the steppes of Mongolia. He declined the
offer and nominated Mengke, the eldest son of Tului (who had died
in 1233), unquestionably one of the most gifted descendants of
Chinggis. Mengke's nomination was confirmed by a kuriltai
in 1251. He executed several of Ogedei's sons who had opposed his
election and quickly restored to Mongol rule the vigor that had
been lacking since the death of Chinggis.
Taking seriously the legacy of world conquest, Mengke decided
to place primary emphasis on completing the conquest of Asia,
particularly China; Europe was to be dealt with later. Because
the Song had had the benefit of a lull of nearly ten years in
which to recover and to reorganize, conquering Asia had become
more difficult than it would have been earlier. Mengke himself
took command, but he also placed great responsibility on his
younger brother, Khubilai. Another brother, Hulegu, was sent to
Iran to renew the expansion of Mongol control in Southwest Asia.
Mengke encouraged Batu to raid Central Europe, but did not send
him additional resources. Thus, although Batu's armies raided
deep into Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia, and again overran
Serbia and Bulgaria, these campaigns were not so important as the
ones being undertaken in Southeast Asia and Southwest Asia.
Mengke also made some major administrative changes in the
khanates established by the will of Chinggis. He disinherited the
surviving sons of Ogedei, arranging that he and Khubilai would
inherit the lands of East Asia. He also placed a limit on the
domains of the successors of Chagadai; these were to end along
the Oxus River and the Hindu Kush, instead of extending
indefinitely to the southwest. Southwest Asia was to be the
inheritance of Mengke's brother, Hulegu, the first of the Ilkhans
("subservient khans") or Mongol rulers of Iran
(see The Ilkhans
, this ch.).
Mengke prosecuted the war in China with intensity and skill.
His principal assistant was Khubilai, who was appointed viceroy
in China. In 1252 and 1253, Khubilai conquered Nanchao (modern
Yunnan). Tonkin (as northern Vietnam was known) then was invaded
and pacified. The conquest ended with the fall of Hanoi in 1257.
Song resistance in southern China was based upon determined
defense of its well-fortified, well-provisioned cities. The
Chinese empire began to crumble, however, under the impact of a
series of brilliant campaigns, personally directed by Mengke
between 1257 and 1259. His sudden death from dysentery in August
1259, however, caused another lull in the war with China and put
a stop to advances in West Asia.
Data as of June 1989