By the late 13th century, the great Mongol Empire held the whip hand from the fringes of Europe to the Sea of Japan. Genghis Khan and his successor-sons had mastered like none before the ruthless science of conquest. Brilliant horsemen, expert archers, geniuses at siegecraft, the Mongol armies were an inexorable tide, destined to carve out the largest contiguous land empire in world history. But along their southeastern marches there remained another empire—dazzling, more ancient, tantalizingly coveted—that so far had eluded their grasp: China.
There, the Song Dynasty had ruled since 960, overseeing an age that witnessed a flowering of art and science. Song Dynasty China’s achievements included impressive strides forward in the naval realm: Paddle-wheeled warships, bedecked with trebuchets capable of catapulting incendiary payloads, plied the pirate-infested southern coast and the great inland river-highways. Song China’s advanced culture boasted a concomitantly advanced navy.
Thomas J. Craughwell, The Rise and Fall of the Second Largest Empire in History: How Genghis Khan’s Mongols Almost Conquered the World (Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2010), 224–47.
Lo-Jung Pan, China as a Sea Power, 1127–1368, Bruce A. Elleman, ed. (Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2012), 211–46.
Stephen Turnbull, Fighting Ships of the Far East (1): China and Southeast Asia, 202 BC–AD 1419 (Oxford, UK: Osprey, 2002), 4–9, 14–36.
James Waterson, Defending Heaven: China’s Mongol Wars, 1209–1370 (London: Frontline Books, 2013), 224–36.