Portrait of Chabi by Araniko (14th century). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Katia Wright

Empress Chabi was wife of Kublai (or Qubilai) Grand Khan of the Mongols, and the first Mongol empress of China. The date of her birth is unknown, though likely to have been in the 1220s, as her marriage and the subsequent birth of her first son, Dorji, took place in 1240. It is not known how many children Chabi bore Kublai, though some sources have suggested up to nine. Though she was not Kublai’s first wife, she enjoyed his favour and served as his chief wife and unofficial advisor.

Chabi was an incredibly active consort and sealed the popularity of the Kongirad (Qonggirat) consorts amongst the Genghisid (Chinggisid) Khans for years to come. She was politically astute, sending Kublai well timed warnings before he descended into civil war with his brother Ariq Boke, and lobbied on governmental disputes such as opposing the exploitation of farmers in Northern China and encouraging kinder treatment for the Song royal women after their capture in 1279. Chabi influenced both religion and culture: promoting Buddhism at the royal court and supporting the Tibetan Buddhist leader Phang Pa Lama; as well as patronising important artists such as the Nepalese A-ni-ko and impacting fashion through her designs of uniform and military material.

Chabi died in 1281, when she was in her fifties. Despite choosing a successor for her husband, her cousin Nambi, Kublai was devastated by the death of his favourite wife. The death of Chabi’s second son, Crown Prince Jingim, four years later, was another great personal and dynastic loss for Kublai who never fully recovered despite the efforts of his new empress, Nambi. Chabi has been portrayed by Joan Chen in Netflix’s Marco Polo.

Photo of Joan Chen as Empress Chabi in Marco Polo (2014). Image Credit: Netflix.

Recommended Reading

Anne F. Broadbridge, Women and the Making of the Mongol Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018)

Jack Weatherford, The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued his Empire (New York: Broadway Books, 2010).

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