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Taifun: Khubilai Khan Invades Japan by Sea

Why had a man born to the horse taken to the sea? This is the story told in "Taifun".

Khubilai Khan was the grandson of Chinggis Khan, and he was born in the steppes outside the Great Wall.

From being a minor prince in a minor branch of the imperial family. he rose to occupy the Dragon Throne of China. He unified China for the first time in four hundred years. His court was international, modelled on the court of the Tang Dynasty, China's Golden Age. He even had a European at court, Marco Polo, who spoke the languages of the court and was Khubilai Khan's confidante and spy.

Khubilai ruled in benevolence, modeling his rule on the sage-kings from the Chinese classics. He modeled himself on the greatest of Chinese emperors, Taizung of the Tang Dynasty.

Later in life, he wished to have Japan submit to the Dragon Throne and acknowledge him as the Son of Heaven. China had ascended to its former glory, as the center of civilization. The Japanese had submitted to Taizung and they could submit to him. But the boy Shogun refused.

Marco Polo tried to convince the Supreme Khan that this was unnecessary, a folly. The Minister of the Treasury, a Muslim from Central Asia, tried to persuade him that the gigantic projects of civil engineering, were bankrupting the treasury. Khubilai was determined that he would be as great as the Tang Emperor.

He failed and tried again. When the Mongol fleet went down, the myth of the "kamikaze", the Divine Wind was born. The Sun Goddess protected the Land of the Rising Sun from its enemies.

This was the great lesson. Glory turned to nothing. Khubilai became King Lear, a man undone. It is a study in the greatest of Buddhist teachings, that of impermanence.

The myth of the Divine Wind endured in the minds of the Japanese, even down to World War II. The suicide pilots who attacked Pearl Harbor were called "kamikaze."

Khubilai Khan's invasion of Japan has been documented by present-day marine archaeologists who have found the hulls of ships that sailed from Korea in the fourteenth century. They have discovered metal artifacts from these vessels. A museum stands on one of the islands of Japan, in memory of the failed invasions.

This is a story from history, but it resonates with meaning down to the present day.


Advance praise for Taifun: Khubilai Khan Invades Japan by Sea


Diane Wolff's work is a powerful reminder that those who want to see the future must first understand the past.  Taifun is the prelude to the modern world.  Although set nearly eight centuries ago, her book reveals how modern Asia developed and in particular how the complicated relationship between China and Japan was shaped.  Her unique analysis of Khubilai Khan reveals him as a skilled strategist and tactician of a kind so rare in the past but sorely missing in the modern world.  


Jack Weatherfor

Author of Genghis Khan and The Making of the Modern World