Kublai Khan (kōō´blī kän), 1215–94, Mongol emperor, founder of the Yüan dynasty of China. From 1251 to 1259 he led military campaigns in S China. He succeeded (1260) his brother Mongke (Mangu) as khan of the empire that their grandfather Jenghiz Khan had founded. The empire reached its greatest territorial extent with Kublai's final defeat (1279) of the Sung dynasty of China; however, his campaigns against Japan (see kamikaze), Myanmar, Vietnam, and Indonesia failed. Kublai's rule as the overlord of the Mongol empire was nominal except in Mongolia and China. He recruited men of all nations for his civil service, but only Mongols were permitted to hold the highest government posts. He promoted economic prosperity by rebuilding the Grand Canal, repairing public granaries, and extending highways. He fostered Chinese scholarship and arts. Although he favored Tibetan Buddhism (Lamaism), other religions (except Taoism) were tolerated. Kublai encouraged foreign commerce, and his magnificent capital at Cambuluc (now Beijing) was visited by several Europeans, notably Marco Polo, who described it. It was long thought to be the city Xanadu, featured in Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan. Kublai's name is also spelled Khubilai, Kubilai, Koublai, and Kubla.
See J. J. Saunders, The History of the Mongol Conquests (1971); M. Rossabi, Khubilai Khan (1988).