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Natuna Issue: Lesson Learnt from Chinese-Mongol Invasion into Java in 1293


DEFENSE AND TECHNOLOGY -- The Mongol invasion of Java was a military effort made by Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty (one of the fragments of the Mongol Empire), to invade Java, an island in modern Indonesia. In 1293, he sent a large invasion fleet to Java with 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers. This was a punitive expedition against King Kertanegara of Singhasari, who had refused to pay tribute to the Yuan and maimed one of its ministers. However, it ended with failure for the Mongols.

Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty, the principal khanate of the Mongol Empire, had sent envoys to many states to ask them to put themselves under his protection and pay tribute. Men Shi or Meng-qi (孟琪), one of his ministers who was sent to Java, was not well received there. The king of Singhasari, Kertanagara, was offended by his proposal and branded his face with a hot iron as was done to common thieves, cut his ears, and scornfully sent him on his way.

Kublai Khan was shocked and ordered a punitive expedition against Kertanagara, whom he labeled a barbarian, in 1292. According to the Yuan shi, the history of the Yuan dynasty, 20,000-30,000 men were collected from Fujian, Jiangxi and Huguang in Southern China, along with 1,000 ships and enough provisions for a year. The officers were the Mongol Shi-bi, the Uyghur Ike Mese, and the Chinese Gaoxing. What kind of ships they used for the campaign is not mentioned in the Yuan shi, but they were apparently large since smaller boats had to be constructed for entering the rivers of Java.

Meanwhile, after defeating Srivijaya in Sumatra in 1290, Singhasari became the most powerful kingdom in the area. But Jayakatwang, the Adipati of Kediri, a vassal state of Singhasari, usurped and killed Kertanagara. Most of his relatives and former royal family members hated him. Kertanegara's son-in-law, Raden Wijaya, was pardoned by Jayakatwang with the aid of Madura's regent, Arya Wiraraja. Wijaya was then given the Tarik timberland. He opened that vast timberland and built a new village there. The village was named Majapahit, which was taken from maja fruit that had a bitter taste in that timberland (maja is the fruit name and pahit means bitter).

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