The Quriltai and the Mobile Capital of the Qa’an in the Mongol Empire
(62nd Meeting Friedensau, 2019)
This study examines Shangdu’s (or present-day Dolon in Inner Mongolia) political status compared to Dadu, or modern Beijing, which reveals Shangdu’s actual status and the Mongols’ perception of space. This paper offers a new perspective on the location of the Mongol’s political and economic center. This paper argues that this center lay in the Qa’an’s mobile capital—or ordu—and his summer capital Shangdu. It was not in Dadu even after 1260.
Politically, economically, and culturally, Shangdu held similar rank with Dadu and often surpassed it. Every summer, the Qa’an and royal families had to participate in the quriltai, or great assemblies, there. Sinocentric rites of coronation were simply momentary events in the quriltai, whose central rites were shaped by indigenous Mongol politics, economics, and culture.
Shangdu provided a historic, political and economic place where the Qa’an wielded real power he could use to run his empire. His ultimate reason for migrating to Shangdu, then, was not to escape the summer heat but actually to hold the quriltai there. The quriltai was supported by the Qa’an’s ordu, especially the sira ordu (golden tent). The quriltai exalted the tent’s group into the mobile capital (xingdu 行都). The Qa’an’s seasonal migration became thoroughly or partially reflected kingdoms such as the Ilkhanates and Goryŏ (or present-day Korea) under the Mongols throughout Central Eurasia.
Steppe sovereigns needed permanent cities, so Mongol princes in the sixteenth century “enjoyed the benefits of both urban and nomadic lifestyles.” Still, the felt-tent cities that created the mobile capital were the political and economic pivot of the Qa’an’s the Mongol empire.