Muqali (1170 – 1223) was born into a clan of hereditary serfs, whom Genghis Khan freed after conquering their tribe and absorbing it into his nascent Mongol nation. From his humble origins, Muqali rose to become one of Genghis’ main generals and played a leading role in defeating the Jin Dynasty and conquering northern China.
Muqali had a major part in the Battle of Yehuling in 1211, a multi-staged months long campaign that pitted 80,000 Mongol invaders against a combined defensive force of 950,000 guarding mountain passes and fortifications along a 300 km frontier. It culminated in a decisive victory over the Jin, with over half the defenders killed, followed by the Jin emperor’s assassination by one of his generals, and paved the way for the dynasty’s demise and the Mongols’ conquest of northern China. During the battle, Muqali distinguished himself and cemented his place in Genghis’ favor by successfully leading a cavalry charge over mountainous terrain to seize a vital pass.
When war broke out with the Khwarezmian Empire in 1218, Genghis took most of the Mongols as he headed west to conquer Khwarezm. He named Muqali his viceroy in China, gave him a royal title, showered him with more lavish praise and gifts than he had given any of his other generals, and left him behind with 20,000 men to keep the Jin in check until Genghis’ return.
In the Khan’s absence, Muqali exceeded expectations, and not only held off the Jin whose armies still numbered in the hundreds of thousands but went on the offensive against an enemy that outnumbered him by more than 10:1. He repeatedly wrong-footed the Jin and kept them off balance by feints, rapidity of action and aggressiveness, and attacks from unexpected directions. By the time Genghis returned in 1222, Muqali had conquered most of northern China. He died of illness the following year, while besieging a Jin fortress.