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Yelü Chucai
Yelu Chucai (ROTK12TB)
Issue
Yelü Tao 耶律鑄
Full name
Family name: Yelü 耶律

Given name: Chucai 楚材 Courtesy name: Jìnqīng 晉卿

Posthumous name
Prince of Guangling 廣寧王

Wenzhen 文正

Father Yelü Lü 耶律履
Mother Lady Yang
Born 24 July 1190

YanjingJin Dynasty

Died 20 June 1244 (aged 53)

KarakorumYuan DynastyMongol Empire

Yelü Chucai (Yeh-lu Chu-tsaiChinese: 耶律楚材; pinyinYēlǜ ChǔcáiWade–Giles: Yeh1-lü4 Ch'u3-ts'ai2Mongolian: Urtu Saqal, 吾圖撒合里, "long beard"; the components of his name also variously spelt Yeh-LuYe LiuYeliuChutsaiCh'u-Ts'ai, etc.) (July 24, 1190 - June 20, 1244 was a statesman of Khitan ethnicity with royal family lineage to the Liao Dynasty, and became a vigorous adviser and administrator of the early Mongol Empire in the Confucian tradition. He was the first of Genghis Khan's retainers to suggest the policy of Mongol conquests, and he also introduced many administrative reforms in North China during the reign of Genghis Khan and his successor Ögedei.

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Yelü Chucai was a confucian scholar who was born close to Beijing, during the Jin Dynasty. Well versed in Buddhist scriptures and a practitioner in Daoism, Yelü Chucai had become best known for his service as the chief adviser to Genghis Khan. Yelü Chucai's father Yelu Lu, served with the Jurchen Jin Dynasty, which defeated the Liao Dynasty in 1125, and it was the unified Mongolian army under Genghis Khan that began a war of conquest against the Jin Dynasty in 1211. Both Jurchen and Khitan rebels joined the Mongols in the fight against the Jin Dynasty, and Yelü Chucai joined Genghis Khan's administration in the year 1218 at the age of 28. In death, Yelü Chucai was honored with a tomb beside Beijing's Kunming Lake, later moved to the gardens of the Summer Palace.

The Khitans and Mongols, as well as the Southern Song, were united by their common enemy of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty. It is shown in the well-known words pronounced by Genghis Khan, at the end of July, when he met Yelü Chucai for the first time at his ordos in the Sāri Steppe (west of the great bend of the Kerulen River): "Liao and Jin have been enemies for generations; I have taken revenge for you." To which Yelü Chucai replied, "My father and grandfather have both served the Jin respectfully. How can I, as a subject and a son, be so insincere at heart as to consider my sovereign and my father as enemies?" The Mongol is said to have been impressed by this frank reply, as well as by Yelü Chucai’s looks (he was a very tall man with a magnificent beard reaching to his waist) and sonorous voice. He gave him the nickname "Urtu Saqal" (Long Beard) and placed him in his retinue as an adviser. Because he was experienced in writing and knew the laws of other settled societies, Yelü Chucai was useful to the Empire.

He did his best to convince the Mongols to tax rather than slaughter conquered peoples. In Grousset's Empire of the steppes, it is reported that Ögedei would tease him, saying "Are you going to weep for the people again?". The wise chancellor had great words to temper the barbaric leanings of Mongol methodology, stating to Genghis Khan's son and successor to the throne; that empires may be conquered on horseback, but could not be ruled on horseback. Yelü Chucai used his office to spare other fellow confucian scholars from punishment and mistreatment by Mongol rulers. He also helped them gain office as bureaucrats and tutors to the Mongol princes.

While Northern China was capitulating under the Mongol onslaught, Yelü Chucai instituted several administrative reforms, like separating civil and military powers and introducing numerous taxes and levies. In response to the tough resistance the Mongol army faced while trying to conquer the Jurchen Jin's southern capital of Kaifeng, some Mongol officers in high command recommended the complete razing of Kaifeng and the deaths of all its occupants. But Yelü Chucai convinced Genghis Khan to rule and tax the people, and make use of their extraordinary talents instead of killing all of them in order to further their own riches. He was six-foot eight-inches tall and had a waist-length beard. He is buried in Kunming Lake and there was a temple to his memory in Beijing. Yelü Chucai was the last recorded person to be able to speak the Khitan language and read and write the Khitan scripts.

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