Draft:The Influence Of The Mongol Rule On Classical China

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The Influence Of The Mongol Rule On Classical China All throughout history the classical China has continuously isolated itself from major outside influences. Its isolated location, seclusive policies and traditional values first established by Confucius are only a few causes for classical China’s long-lasting traditional ways of life. Nonetheless China was influenced by the rest of the world through trade and invasion. A great part of this influence came during the Yuan Dynasty, in which China was part of the Mongol Empire, the Mongols played a crucial role in increasing China’s trade, economy and bringing outside ideas into China (Rossabi). Ironically, the Mongols also played a great role in maintaining traditional values and respecting the culture of the land they had conquered. The arrival of the Mongols was both a combination of introduction to major outside influences as well as reinforcement of traditional values in classical China.

TANG AND SONG DYNASTIES The Tang and Song Dynasties were the two dynasties previous to the Mongol conquest of classical China. They are considered to be one of China’s “golden age” (Stearns 259). Trading not only increased internally but also around other Asian territories. The constructions of the Grand Canal and other canals, connected the northern part of the empire with the south in the most efficient way yet. Communication and control within the empire also increased due to the construction of these canals. China became stable enough that the Chinese were able to focus on the conquest of Korea and creation of Vietnam. Traditional Chinese values were strengthened, woman were meant to stay at home and dedicate their lives to the raising of the children. Confucian values remained very well alive in these dynasties, patriarchal ruling of houses remained as well. Foot binding began in upper class woman but soon became popular along all social classes (Stearns 272).

THE RISE OF THE MONGOLS AND THE CONQUEST OF CHINA The Mongols were at first a series of nomadic groups situated to the north of China, in the area of modern day Mongolia. It was only when Chinggis Khan was able to unify these group that the Mongols Empire was formed becoming a major threat to the Eastern world and a bridge to the Western world. In 1206, the Mongols overthrew Muhammad Shah, the ruler of Khwarazm and thus began the Mongol Empire. The Mongols are considered by many historians as the exception to many of the conquest patterns previously used (Green). They were ferocious warriors, it is said that resistant populations were completely annihilated. The Mongols would make skull pyramids outside conquered towns in order to spread fear around surrounding areas. The Mongols were also quite innovative, they devised a whole arsenal of siege weapons which included explosive balls, bamboo rockets, battering rams, etc. Mobility was also one of the great advantages that helped the Mongol Empire become one of the most extensive in history. The Mongol soldiers “trained from youth not only to ride but also to hunt and fight, they were physically though, mobile and accustomed to killing and death” (Stearns 306). Mongol soldiers had an average of 3 to 4 horses per person, making long distance travel more efficient since the warrior could travel fast and change horses along the way. Mongolians also developed a “circle” technique in which they would attack their enemies from all around. All Mongol horses were also equipped with a 5 part armor and a stirrup, this gave the soldiers the ability to turn their upper body, allowing them to shoot arrows backwards. Mongols would allow previous rulers the option to surrender without a fight, if this was not the case, townspeople were usually slaughtered to death unmercifully, sold into slavery, women were raped, and all homes, stores and temples burned. Chinggis Khan first conquest was the Xia Xia kingdom in northern China. The ruler was then forced to declare himself a vassal of the khagan and pay a hefty tribute. By 1279, the Song dynasty had been completely destroyed and the Mongols controlled all of China and a great part of the Eastern World (see map).


Trade in China was massively expanded. The Mongol Empire is known to be a bridge between east and west. The Mongol previous nomadic culture was used as the foundation system for their trading routes and the system within them. The Silk Road was restored during the Mongol Rule, becoming the world’s most influential route at that time. Genghis Khan and his successors promoted trade and travel along the vast empire. The Silk Road was also incredibly safe, it contained rest stations were along the route to prevent tired merchants from being robbed. “The Pony Express,” a mail service system, was also established in the Silk Road further encouraging communication between the Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. This mail service was operated with the same system with which the Mongols conquered their land, by continuously replacing their horse for further speed and efficiency. These secured trade routes increased the wealth of merchants and of China’s overall economy. Gunpowder, silk, buddhist religious objects, and paper were exported from China all the way to India, the Middle East and Europe (Stevenson 312). Chinese art developed in the Song Dynasty, especially porcelain (Stevenson 312), was also traded in the Silk Road, evidently proving that classical Chinese values, such as art did remain even during the Mongol conquest. In return, the Silk Road introduced rugs, textiles, honey and even sugar cane to China. In order to produce enough goods to trade, Mongols helped peasants by organizing a “cooperative rural organization” (Rossabi). They would group an average of about 50 households under one village leader. These organizations were meant to stimulate agricultural production by having the leader serve as a guide through every part of the agricultural process (Rossabi). This could include planting trees, harvesting, flood control, silk production etc. These systems lead to a great increase in agricultural production for trading and for personal subsistence. The surplus of food would be of great help in the future dynasty.

Merchants not only brought products along with them but also ideas. Muslim and Christian missionaries were very common in the Silk Road as well as Buddhist teachings. Kublai Khan, a Mongol ruler in China took advantage of the religious diversity that was available to him. Kublai’s court ruling was influenced was Buddhists, Nestorian Christians, Taoists, and Latin Christians. A great example of this was young Marco Polo who served as an administrator for 17 years under Kublai’s rule. It was also common to observe Muslim doctors, Middle East scholars correct the Chinese calendar as well as Persian Astronomers, all making an influence on the once untouchable classical China. 

THE MONGOL CULTURE AND INFLUENCE The Mongol Empire was a combination of different cultures, languages, religions etc. As stated before, the Mongols were the exception to many aspects of conquest. They were not looking to convert anyone or to change anyone’s ideas. In fact, Mongol rulers usually ended up converted to the most influential religion in the region which they ruled. It is important to clarify, some Mongols were religiously converted but not culturally. No Chinese was allowed to learn Mongolian or Mongol script which “was used for records and correspondence at the upper levels of imperial government.” (Stearns 315) Marriage between a Mongol and a Chinese was seen as completely impermissible to the eyes of both cultures. Friendship between both cultures was discouraged and even the military was kept separate. One of China’s most liberal leader on this issue was Kublai, who promoted some Mongol adoption to the Chinese culture, he was never supported by the other Mongols. In order to successfully control such a vast territory, the Mongols created a system in which they placed or kept the territory's former ruler. This can be compared to feudalism where these rulers would be the vassals. In some cases like in northern China, the vassal could mostly rule as it previously did only it would have to pay a tribute to the Mongols. Kublai Khan was one of the most influential leaders in what used to be the Yuan Dynasty. He established a new hierarchical system in which Mongols were at the top, Asian nomadics and Muslim advisors were on the second level, below came the north Chinese, and finally the ethnic Chinese and southern minorities. Tatu became the capital of the dynasty (modern-day Beijing). Kublai Khan’s dynasty was a perfect example of synchronicity, were Mongol ideals were adapted into Chinese traditional systems. For example, Chinese music was allowed in this ruler’s court, still there were some restrictions, for example, the civil service exam was not applied during this dynasty. Women’s role and rights in society were extremely different between both cultures and unfortunately neither the Silk Road nor Mongol influence was able to change classical Chinese culture in favor of woman. For starters, foot binding was not practiced by the Mongols but there was no law which prohibited it, therefore this process continued among Chinese women. Mongol women rights were also very different to those of the Chinese. Mongol woman had rights to property and control within the household; they also had the freedom to go to town or to the countryside without having a man with them. They were also allowed to ride horses, hunt and sometimes choose their own husband. Mongolian woman also proved to have a great deal of political power. Kublai Khan’s wife, Chabi, is said to be one of her husband’s confidants on diplomatic and political matters. During the Mongol ruling, China was bombarded with new ideas, products and religions. It was governed by Mongols and although their culture was respected, it was not fully implemented. China’s agricultural systems changes, its trading expanded massively, science was improved and yet many aspects of the Chinese classical culture remained. Women’s rights barely changed, Confucian values still were the basis of Chinese life and although attempts to convert people were made through the Silk Road, China was able to, even under Mongol rule, maintain most of its classical Chinese culture.


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Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia. The Mongol Conquests; TimeFrame AD 1200-1300. (Virginia, 1999). Print. Armstrong, Mont. Daniel, David. Kanarek, Abby. Freer, Alexandra. Cracking the AP World History Exam, 2014 Edition. Princeton Review. Random House Publishing (Massachusetts, 2014). Print. Hausdorf, Hartwig (1998). The Chinese Roswell: UFO Encounters in the Far East from Ancient Times to the Present. New Paradigm. Print. Stearns, Peter N.. World civilizations: the global experience. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Longman, 2011. Print.

Online Rossabi, M., & Educators, A. f. (2004, January 1). The Mongols in World History. . Web. Retrieved May 26, 2014, from http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/mongols/index.html "Foot binding - New World Encyclopedia." 2007. Web. 26 May. 2014 <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Foot_binding> Green, John, dir. Wait For It...The Mongols!: Crash Course World History. Web. 26 May. 2014 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szxPar0BcMo>