The forces of the Chinese Han Dynasty were successful in repelling the Mongol forces on two main fronts during the period of 1234-1279 CE, through a combination of military successes, diplomatic maneuverings, and shrewd strategies.
At the core of Han resistance was the strategic role played by the bureaucratic, administrative and military officials of the Han government, especially the General Zhang Shijie. He developed a strategy of using defensive fortifications, aided by siege equipment such as catapults and trebuchets, to prevent the Mongols from advancing further into China. He employed scorched earth tactics, burning crops and destroying local water sources as well as attacking Mongol supply lines. He also ordered his troops to use psychological tactics designed to demoralize and confuse the enemy.
In 1257, the Mongols launched an attack on the city of Xiangyang in central China. Zhang led a four-month-long defense of Xiangyang against the Mongol forces, which proved successful and ended with the signing of a peace treaty between the two sides.
In the north, the Han court sent General Yang Gongren to confront the Mongols, who had been sweeping south across the Great Wall of China. Yang employed the use of guerrilla warfare tactics, engaging in battles at night with surprise attacks on the unsuspecting Mongols.
In 1279, the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan sent an army of more than one hundred thousand troops to attack the Song capital of Hangzhou in southeast China. In response, the Han court sent three generals –Liu Yourong, Liu Heima, and Zhang Shijie – to confront the Mongols. The generals recognized that they could not defeat the Mongols in open battle, and instead devised a strategy of guerrilla warfare to harass and undermine the Mongol forces. They used hit-and-run tactics and ambushes, employing spies to gather intelligence about the Mongols’ movements and tactics.
The Han troops were successful in disorganizing the Mongols, causing them to eventually retreat. This marked the end of the Mongol invasions of China, although they were not completely driven out of the country until 1286.
The Han forces had successfully repelled the Mongol invaders, but it was a costly victory in terms of life and resources. Historians estimate that more than two million Chinese men and women had died fighting the Mongols, and the process of rebuilding the cities destroyed by war took nearly a century. The Han Dynasty may have defeated the forces of Genghis Khan, but its people paid a heavy price for their victory.