Kublai Khan, who died on this day 725 years ago, is recognized as one who realized the enriching value of trade, and who implemented policies that massively extended and expanded it. The grandson of Genghis Khan, he completed the conquest of all of China and became the first ruler of the Yuan dynasty.
Formerly separate and isolated cultures were drawn into a continental system that had the re-established Silk Road as its primary transport route. This made for greater safety and security for traders and travellers, and reduced the frequency of tribute payments.
Caravans took Chinese silks, and from the Spice Islands conveyed pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to the West. Along the way were picked up Indian fabrics and precious stones, and carpets from Persia. From Europe in the opposite direction went such wares as fine linens, horses and silver to both the near and far Easts. Each side encountered new goods, as did nations along the route, and new markets were developed. The increased volume of trade enriched those who participated in it, and saw the expansion of many of the cities involved.
Kublai Khan was, in effect, an early globalist. He established an extensive Maritime Silk Road, with Chinese vessels plying for trade across the Indian Ocean, and thence to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. They ventured to Eastern Africa, and there is even evidence that they may have reached South America.
Of course, along with the traded goods went ideas and people, mingling with and learning from each other. The Yuan paper money, made from the bark of mulberry trees, and backed initially by silver, copper and coin, was one example. It facilitated and reduced the costs of trade.
We remember Kublai Khan for many things, including his unsuccessful attempt to invade Japan, and perhaps for the stately pleasure dome that he decreed in Xanadu. But on this anniversary of his death we should remember the legacy of his commitment to trade, and his inspired efforts to make it safer and easier. China's new Silk Road today is a direct descendent of his own. He recognized what many leaders today do not seem to understand, that a wide and expansive trade generates prosperity in its wake, a prosperity that uplifts the lives of peoples.