Were there nomad soldiers in the Mongolian army when they invaded Japan twice?

Junko Miyawaki-Okada

Were there nomad soldiers in the Mongolian army when they invaded Japan twice?

(63rd Annual Meeting, Ulaanbaatar 2021)

Khubilai Khan, the Shih-tsu of the former Yüan Dynasty of China established by the Mongolians, invaded Japan twice during the Kamakura Period in the thirteenth century. The issue I wish to present forward is whether the ancestors of today’s Mongolians, who were nomads living in the Mongolian Plateau, could have actually crossed the Korean peninsula where it was not possible for them to even graze sheep and then float on the sea in a boat to reach Japan.

The first Mongolian invasion of Japan in 1274 was led by a captain general known as Hindu, who led an army of agricultural soldiers who resided in present-day North Korea. However, in the Yüan shih biographies, which contains a list of some 800 retainers, the name Hindu does not appear. Since Hindu was neither a senior statesman under Khubilai Khan nor related to him, it is highly unlikely that he was a chief of the nomad tribe.

The deputy captain general was a second-generation Korean known as Hong Chao-ka who was born in present day Liaoyang, China. His father, Hong bog-won, joined the Mongolian army when it first invaded Korea in 1231. The Mongolians invaded Korea six times and emigrated a total of 600,000 people to Liaodong. Hong was made in charge of governing the Koreans there under the Mongolian control. As his son was the deputy captain general when the Mongolians invaded Japan, one can assume that the army he led was comprised mostly of emigrated Koreans.

In 1281, when the Mongolians invaded Japan for the second time, they split into two armies. The “east road army,” that crossed the Korean peninsula, was led by the same captain generals as the first invasion. The other army, “the southern army”, was led by captain generals Fan Wen-hu, a Chinese, and Atahai, a Mongolian. However, the 100,000-men army of Nan-Sung, which was destroyed by Mongolians, was highly unlikely comprised of nomad soldiers.

I believe that the reason why the military expedition to Japan led by Khubilai failed was probably due to the fact that this invasion was not the like the way nomads would besiege an enemy in the grasslands, which they were skillful at, as was in the case of the war led by the resident of Liaodong, Korea, and South China.