The Yuan Dynasty is the country’s first foreign-led dynasty. This was between the Song and Ming dynasties. Kublai Khan, a leader of the Mongol Empire, created the dynasty. It fell into rebellion after losing touch with its Mongolian roots.
Yuan China was the most vital element of the vast Mongolian Empire. It stretched all the way to the west from Poland to Hungary, to Russia and northern Syria. The emperors of the dynasty were also Great Kahns of the Mongol Empire.
They controlled the Mongol home and had authority over the Khan’s from the Golden Horde. Other places they had authority over were the Chagatai Khanate and Ilkhanate.Read the full story
The Rule of Kublai Khan
In the year 1260, Tiemuzhen’s grandson, Kublai Khan, rose up the throne. In 1271, he established the Yuan Dynasty with Yuandadu as the capital. This is today’s Beijing.
Then Yuan’s territory expanded to the following places. These included Mongolia and Siberia, the South Sea, Yunnan Province, and even in Tibet. It also reached the eastern part of Xinjiang Province, and the Stanovoi Range. The total land area of the country was over 4.6 million square miles.
Kublai Khan promoted scientific, commercial, and cultural growth. He advocated merchants from the Silk Road trade network. He did this by protecting the Mongol postal system. He also advocated them by providing loans, and even encouraged paper bank notes.
In the beginning of the dynasty, the Mongols continued to issue coins. Yet under Kulug Khan, these were replaced by paper money instead. Under Toghon Temur, the Yuan government attempted to reintroduce copper coins for circulation.
Pax Mongolica allowed the spread of commodities, technologies, and culture between China and the west. Kublai bolstered the Grand Canal from south China to Daidu in the north. Mongol rule had a cultured feel under Kublai Khan. He accepted foreign visitors to the court such as the merchant named Marco Polo.
He wrote a very authoritative European account of Yuan China. His travels later inspired others such as Christopher Columbus. He charted a passage to the Far East to search for the legendary wealth.
The Government during the Yuan Dynasty
The Mongol dynasty had a change of name and took Yuan in 1271. It proceeded in setting up a Chinese-like administration featuring a centralized bureaucracy. This also had a rationalized tax system and political subdivisions.
Yuan was the first dynasty to make Beijing its capital. They moved it from Karakorum, today’s Mongolia, in the year 1267. It remodeled the Grand Canal and put postal stations and roads in good order.
Yuan’s rule corresponded with new cultural feats, including the progress of novels as a literary form. The vast size of the dynasty resulted in more extensive foreign trade and intercourse. This was something that can’t be compared to other periods of the past.
Following the Dali conquest in 1253, the previous ruling Duan dynasty took the role of Maharajah. The local chieftains received the title Tusi. This allowed them to be recognizable as imperial officials. The Ming, Yuan, and Qing governments recognized them.
Succession for the Yuan was a difficult issue. This later caused much strife and internal struggle. This emerged as early as the end of Kublai Khan’s rule.read more
Kulug Khan or Emperor Wuzong took the throne after the death of Temur Khan. Compared to his predecessor, he discontinued Kublai’s work. He rejected his objectives. Instead, Kulug introduced a policy called “New Deals” which focused on monetary amendments.
In his short reign, the government succumbed into financial issues because of Kulug’s bad decisions. By the time of his death, the country was in huge debt. This left the empire facing popular discontent.read more
Ayurbarwada Buyantu Khan
The fourth Yuan emperor was Buyantu Khan, a competent emperor of that time. He was the first emperor to support and embrace Chinese culture after the rule of Kublai. However, it did disappoint some of the Mongol elites.
He came up with a lot of reforms. Some of these include the withdrawal of the Department of State Affairs. This resulted in the killing of five of the top ranking officials.
Starting in the year 1313, the classic imperial tests were revived. These were for prospective officials who tested their knowledge on important historical works. He codified almost the entire law, as well as translating or publishing a few Chinese works and books.read more
Yesun Temur and Gegeen Khan
Emperor Gegeen Khan was the son of Ayurbarwada. He was also a successor who ruled for only two years. He continued his father’s works and policies of reforming the government. This was based on Confucian concepts. He had some assistance from his appointed grant chancellor named Baiju.
During Baiju’s reign, the comprehensive institutions of the Great Yuan was promulgated. This consisted of a wide collection of regulations and codes of the Yuan.
Before the rule of Yesun Temur, China had been free of rebellions after the rule of Kublai. Yet the dynasty’s control began to break down into the regions occupied by ethnic minorities. The occurrence of these uprisings triggered the financial difficulties of the government.
This urged the government to take new measures to increase revenue. It included selling offices and even curtailing the expenses on some items.read more
“I am the punishment of God…If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”
~ Genghis Khan
Jayaatu Khan Tugh Temur
When Yesun Temur died in the 1328, Tugh Temur summoned to Khanbaliq by El Temur, the Qipchaq commander. With the support from elites from the North, Tugh Temur won the civil war against Ragibagh. This was a war called the War of the Two Capitals.
Since bureaucracy was dominated by El Temur, Tugh Temur was instead known for his cultural contribution. He embraced a lot of measures that honored Confucianism. He also promoted cultural values of the Chinese.
The most solid effort in patronizing Chinese learning was establishing the Academy of the Pavilion of the Star of Literature.
After Tugh Temur’s death in 1332, the 13-year-old Toghun Temur was summoned back. He returned to Guang Xi and succeeded to the throne. Toghun was the last of 9 successors of Kublai.
His first administration displayed fresh and enthusiastic spirit. He shared some positive and new directions to the central government.
One successful project was to complete the history of the Jin, Liao, and Song Dynasties. He was able to complete this in the year 1345.
Yet he soon resigned and gave up his rule but with the approval of Toghun Temur. This was the end of his first administration and was not summoned back until the year 1349.
Cultural Achievements of the Yuan DynastyThe Great Yuan Dynasty
In the previous eras of the Tang and Song, an encouraged craft by the state was art. During the Yuan, artists sought out inspiration from traditions and within themselves. This was most prominent for the native Chinese who refused to serve the conquerors.
These artists sought in their works, a theme displaying their proclaimed ideal times. It was common for them to depict scenes from the Tang, Song, and Bei periods. Famous artists created their ideal literati paintings which valued personal expression and erudition.
These artists were Zhao Mengfu, Ni Zan, Huang Gongwang, Wu Zhen, and Wang Meng. They also focused on simple and stark forms like wood, leaves, and more.
On calligraphy, they often had long inscriptions on the artwork themselves. From the new direction of classic Chinese in pictorial art, there was a subtle rebirth of Buddhist art as well. Backed by Mongols, it was part of an effort to build their authority over the Chinese.
Influence of Buddhism
Buddhism had extensive influence to the government. With that, China was influenced by the Tibetan-rite Tantric form of Buddhism. Muslims of the Yuan introduced medicine, clothing, and diet from the Middle East. Crops like carrots, eggplants, cotton, and sugar were popularized during this period.
Introduction of Western Musical Instruments
Western musical instruments appeared to cultivate Chinese performing arts. This stage dates the conversion to Islam by the Muslims of Central Asia, and Chinese in the north and southwest. Roman Catholicism and Nestorianism enjoyed a period of toleration during this time.
Buddhism flourished while Taoism experienced some persecutions. This was due to the fact that the Yuan government favored Buddhism than Taoism. Confucian government practices and examinations were soon reinstated by the Yuan court. This was in the hopes of retaining order throughout the Han society.
There were some realized advances in the field of literature, geography, and travel. These also included cartography and scientific education.
Signs of Trouble
By 1340, Yuan’s economy was crumbling. Here, the Chinese were disappointed with their leadership. Signs of unrest appeared across China, yet other troubling signs were also seen.
In the same year, earthquakes and other phenomena occurred. This was simultaneous to the flooding of the Yellow River. There were destruction of infrastructural projects. This increased the river’s irrigation.
In Chinese tradition, flooding of the Yellow River meant that the emperor lost the Mandate of Heaven. Dynasties often fell with such interpreted signs. It meant that the ruler lost this cosmic privilege.
As a result, peasant rebellions emerged across China and it was a sign for the Yuan dynasty to end.
Decline of the Yuan Dynasty
Their last few years was completely marked by struggle, bitterness, and famine. In time, Kublai’s successors lost all their influence on other Mongol lands. As for Mongols beyond the Middle Kingdom, they considered the Yuan as “too Chinese”. Also, they soon lost their influence on China which was a big downfall to the dynasty.
As for the later Yuan emperors, their rule was short and marked by rivalries and intrigue. Disinterested in the administration, they were divided from both the army and populace. China then was torn between unrest and dissension.
The situation caused outlaws to ravage China. This was without any interference from their army.
Red Turban Rebellion
From 1340 onward, people from the countryside endured occasional natural disasters. These were usually floods, droughts, and famine. Due to the government’s lack of effective policy, further diminished the people’s support.
In 1351, the rebellion of the Red Turbans began and turned into a nationwide rebellion. In 1354, Toghtogha commanded a large army to quell the rebels. Yet due to fear of betrayal, Toghun Temur immediately dismissed Toghtogha.
This restored the power to Toghun. Yet the central government still continued experiencing rapid weakening. Because of this, Toghun had to rely on the military power of the local warlords.
Later, he lost interest in politics and quit intervening in political issues. He headed north to Shangdu in the year 1368 after the approach of the Ming Dynasty’s forces. He attempted to regain Khanbaliq but failed, then died in Yingchang two years after. Yingchang was later occupied by the Ming and some royal families still live in Henan today.
Yingchang was seized by the Ming shortly after his death.
Basalawarmi’s Forces and the Fall of Yingchang
Basalawarmi was the prince of Liang who established a separate resistance. This was to the Ming Yunnan and Guizhou. Yet him and his forces faced defeat by the Ming in 1381.
By 1387, the remaining Yuan army under Naghachu surrendered to the Ming. The remnants of the Yuan Dynasty went back to Mongolia after Yungchang’s fall in 1370. Here, the name Great Yuan was carried on and known as the Northern Yuan Dynasty.
Impact of the Yuan Dynasty
A rich cultural difference appeared during the time. The main cultural accomplishments were the development of novel and drama. Also included is the increased usage of the written native language.
The political unity of Central Asia and China advocated trade between the West and East. The Mongol’s broad European and West-Asian contacts created a fair cultural exchange.
Other cultures and people in the Mongol World were influenced by the Chinese. It eased commerce and trade across Asia until its fall. The communication between the Yuan, its allies, and Persian subordinates, boosted this development.
There were a lot of Chinese products and innovations during this time. Such innovations were printing techniques, porcelain, purified saltpetre, and more. These were often exported to Europe and West Asia. In China, the production of cloisonne and thin glass became popular.
The Yuan applied the deep influence on the Ming Dynasty of the Chinese. Even the Ming Emperor very much adored the Mongol’s unification of China. This resulted to the empire adopting the garrison system.