Qaidu – Kublai Conflicts

After the period of Great Mongol Empire of expansion and conquering of foreign lands from 1206 to 1294 C.E. was the breaking up of the united Mongol Empire into four separate Khanates: Golden Hordes in the Northeast, Yuan Dynasty or Great Khanate in China, Ilkhanate in the Southeast and Persia, and the Chagatai Khanate in Central Asia. The Qaidu-Kublai conflicts happened around 1294, the time of transformation from unity to separation, where Qaidu acted as a factor which speeded this division of power. By studying the Qaidu-Kublai Conflicts, the validity of a part of inner Mongol conflict during this period of time could be examined.

       Qaidu was the leader of the House of Ogedei of Kublai’s time, who was unwilling to obey the power of Great Khan. Conflicts broke out between the Chagatai Khanate and Yuan Dynasty under the leadership of Qaidu and Kublai respectively. These conflicts, from 1266 to Qaidu’s death in 1301, were recorded by sources of variable origins: the Chinese source Yuan Shih, Marco Polo’s Description of the World, and French sources examined by Paul Pelliot in his Notes on Marco Polo, etc. These conflicts marked beginning of the split of Mongol Empire’s four khanates, which still remained separate after Kublai’s successor, Temur Khan, made peace between them.


       Qaidu was the son of Qasin, grandson of Ogedei, and therefore the nephew of Kublai, or the “Great Khan” (Pelliot 125). Marco Polo referred to him as the “neveu” (nephew or grandson) of Kublai which, according to Pelliot, was a mistake. His father Qasi, the fifth son of Ogedei, was born in 1210, which indicates Qaidu’s birth date to be not long before 1230, taking into Rashid al-Din’s account of him dying very old in 1301 (1303 according to Morgan), having participated in 41 pitched battles (Polo 396). He ruled and lived in the region of Qayaliq, at Balqas Lake’s east to Ili River north under the house of Ogedei (Pelliot 126).


       Kublai was the fourth son of Tolui, brother of the second Mongol Empire Khan Ogedei (Pelliot 566). He was born on September 23, 1215, in agreement with Marco Polo’s calculations of Chinese moons, and died on February 18, 1294 (Pelliot 567). Despite the traditional elective policy of choosing the new khan, Kublai declared himself as the Khan after Mongke’s rule of 1251 to 1259 (Pelliot 126).


In the Kublai-Boke conflict, Qaidu sided with Aria-Boke as the position of Kublai as the Great Khan was not secured by the Mongolian traditional election process, but claimed by himself, and that Qaidu was a supporter of the traditionalist view of Mongols, which was Boke a representative of, preferencing the nomadic style of life (Morgan Loc.1257). He was further irritated by Kublai after the defeat of Boke in 1264, that Kublai sent his entrusted prince Baraq for communication with Hulegu on Qaidu’s Chagatai appanage (Pelliot 126).

Chagatai Khanate Map 1290

Barisitz S. (2017) From the Migration Period to the Pinnacle of Nomadic Power: The Mongol Eurasian Empire. In: Central Asia and the Silk Road. Studies in Economic History.

At first, Kublai tried to dissolve the conflict to make peace with the four khanates, so he gave Tsai-chou蔡州 to Qaidu’s house of Ogedei in 1265 as he distributes four cities to the princes (Song 6). However, it was not enough for Qaidu to be satisfied, as his target was the position of Kublai, and since then conflicts began.

In Polo’s description, he waged a war of 100,000 men immediately after that, against two of Khubiai’s brothers (Polo 194). However, this record should be doubted in validity since the relationships Marco Polo claimed were incorrect, that Kublai was born to Chagatai and was cousin of Qaidu, while in fact he was the son of Tolui, and Qaidu’s father was his cousin.

In 1271, Kublai sent his son Nomogan, Pei-Ping-wang in 1266, to conquer the Ili region previously belonging to Qaidu (Song 63). Marco Polo’s description gave that “two years later”, or in year 1668, Nomogan arrived at Qaraqorum (Polo 195). Then Qaidu marked the beginning of open war in 1275 by besieging Uighur idiqut’s capital Qara-hoco(火州 in Yuan Shih 122) with Dua and Busma leading a troop of over 100,000 (Pelliot 127). Therefore, the Uighur fell to Qaidu as it was abandoned by Kublai due to its long distance from capital Beijing (Morgan Loc.1267).

The battles continued since, and regardless of Kublai’s death in 1294, would not end until Qaidu’s death in 1301. Kublai’s grandson Kokcu, who had been sent by the successor of Kublai Tamur Khan in 1299 as commander to battle against Qaidu, reached at Altai (“金山南北” in Yuan Shih) in January 1301大德五年 and waged the final battle in September at Hala-hata (Pelliot 128).


       The conflict between Qaidu and Kublai was mentioned in primary sources, Marco Polo’s Description of the World from the view of a traveler and Yuan Shih by Song Lian from the Chinese perspective, and also examined in various secondary sources. Though detailed battles involved varied in date and place names across different sources, it should be confirmed that, since the major events have agreed, such conflict truly existed, and contributed as a beginning of Mongol internal conflicts in the period of Four Khanates.