Northern Yuan dynasty

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Northern Yuan dynasty
ᠬᠦᠮᠠᠷᠳᠦ ᠥᠨ ᠥᠯᠥᠰ
Ikh Mongol Uls
Nomadic empire





The Northern Yuan at its greatest extent
Capital Shangdu (1368–69)
Yingchang (1369–70)
Karakorum (1371–88)
Languages Mongolian language
Religion Shamanism, later Buddhism
Government Hereditary monarchy
Khagan For the full list of Mongol khans, see List of Mongol rulers.
Legislature Yassa
Customary rules[1]
Historical era Late middle ages
 •  Expulsion of the Mongols from China to Mongolia September 1368
 •  The murder of Togus Temur marked the rise of the Oirats. 1388
 •  Dayan Khan reunited the entire Mongol nation. 1483–1510
 •  The death of the last Emperor Ligdan. 1634
 •  Disestablished 1635
 •  1550[2] 5,000,000 km² (1,930,511 sq mi)
Today part of  Mongolia

The Northern Yuan dynasty, or simply the Northern Yuan, refers to the Mongol regime based in Mongolia homeland after the fall of the Yuan dynasty in China in 1368, until the emergence of the Qing dynasty founded by the Manchus in the 17th century. The Northern Yuan dynasty began with the end of Mongol rule in China and retreat of the Mongols to the Mongolian steppe, and this period was marked by factional struggles and the often only nominal role of the Great Khan.

Dayan Khan and Mandukhai Khatun reunited the entire Mongol nation in the 15th century.[3] However, the former's distribution of his empire among his sons and relatives as fiefs caused the decentralization of the imperial rule.[4] Despite this decentralization there was a remarkable concord within the Dayan Khanid aristocracy and intra-Chinggisid civil war remained unknown until the reign of Ligdan Khan (1604–34),[5] who saw much of his power weakened in his quarrels with the Mongol tribes and was defeated by the Manchus. The last sixty years of this period are marked by intensive penetration of Tibetan Buddhism into Mongolian society.


The period is known by various names, including the Northern Yuan dynasty,[6] or simply the Northern Yuan, although it sometimes refers to the period before 1388, when Toghus Temur was murdered near the Tuul River.[7] The term "Northern Yuan" is derived from the corresponding term (北元) in the Chinese language. The Mongols held the name "Great Yuan" in the early period of this dynasty as in the earlier Yuan dynasty, but they stopped claiming the title Great Yuan since the 15th century except during the reigns of for example Dayan Khan. However, in the English language the term "Northern Yuan (dynasty)" is still used to cover the whole period for historiography reasons. Apart from the name "Great Yuan" in the early period, the Mongols called their nation Ikh Mongol Uls, meaning the "Great Mongol State". It is also referred to as the Post-Imperial Mongolia, Mongol Khaganate, Mongolian Khaganate, Mongol Khanate or Mongolian Khanate[8] in some modern sources,[9] although most of these English terms can also refer to the Mongol Empire or the Yuan dynasty in the 13th and the 14th centuries. In Mongolian chronicles this period is also known as The Forty and the Four, meaning forty tumen eastern Mongols (Eastern Mongolia) and four tumen Western Mongols.[10] Furthermore, Mongolian historiography also use the term "Period of political disunion" and "Period of small khagans" etc.


Retreating to Mongolia (1368–1388)[edit]

The Mongols under Kublai Khan (r. 1260–94) of the Mongol Empire (1206–1368), a grandson of Genghis Khan (r. 1206–27), had conquered all of China by eliminating the Southern Song dynasty in 1276 and destroyed the last Chinese resistance in 1279. The Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) ruled all of China for about a century. However, the Mongols dominated North China for more than 140 years, starting from the time when the Jurchen Jin dynasty was annihilated. Nevertheless, when the Han Chinese people in the countryside suffered from frequent natural disasters such as droughts, floods and the ensuing famines since the late 1340s, and the government's lack of effective policy led to a loss of the support from people. In 1351, the Red Turban Rebellion started and grew into a nationwide turmoil. Eventually, Zhu Yuanzhang, a Chinese peasant established the Ming dynasty in South China, and sent an army toward the Yuan capital Khanbaliq or Dadu (present-day Beijing) in 1368. Toghon Temür (r. 1333–70), the last ruler of the Yuan, fled north to Shangdu (located in present-day Inner Mongolia) from Dadu in 1368 after the approach of the forces of the Míng dynasty (1368–1644). He had tried to regain Dadu, but eventually failed; he died in Yingchang (located in present-day Inner Mongolia) two years later (1370). Yingchang was seized by the Ming shortly after his death.

The Yuan remnants retreated to Mongolia after the fall of Yingchang to the Ming dynasty in 1370, where the name Great Yuan was formally carried on, known as the Northern Yuan dynasty or simply Northern Yuan. The Genghisid rulers of the Northern Yuan also buttressed their claim on China,[11][12] and held tenaciously to the title of Emperor (or Great Khan) of the Great Yuan (Dai Yuwan Khaan, or 大元可汗)[13] to resist the Ming who had by this time become the real ruler of China. According to the traditional Chinese political orthodoxy, there could be only one legitimate dynasty whose rulers were blessed by Heaven to rule as Emperor of China (see Mandate of Heaven), so the Ming also denied the Yuan remnants' legitimacy as emperors of China, although the Ming did consider the previous Yuan which it had succeeded to be a legitimate dynasty.

The Ming army pursued the Mongol forces of the Northern Yuan into Mongolia in 1372, but were defeated by the latter under Ayushridar (r. 1370–78) and his general Köke Temür (d. 1375). In 1375, Naghachu, a Mongol official of Biligtu Khan (Ayushridara) in Liaoyang province invaded Liaodong with aims of restoring the Mongols to power. Although he continued to hold southern Manchuria, Naghachu finally surrendered to the Ming dynasty in 1387–88 after a successful diplomacy of the latter.[14] The Yuan loyalists under Kublaid prince Basalawarmi (the Prince of Liang) in Yunnan and Guizhou were also destroyed by the Ming in 1381-82.[15]

The Ming tried again towards the Northern Yuan in 1380, ultimately winning a decisive victory over Mongol forces around the Buir Lake region in 1388. About 70,000 Mongols were taken prisoner and the Mongol capital Karakorum was sacked and destroyed.[16] It effectively destroyed the power of the Khaan's Mongols for a long time, and allowed the Western Mongols to become supreme.[17]

Field guns and hand cannons were used by the Northern Yuan army.

Rise of the Oirats (1388–1478)[edit]

Location of the Oirats.
See also: Four Oirat

In 1388, the Northern Yuan throne was taken over by Yesüder, a descendant of Arik Böke (Tolui's son), instead of the descendants of Kublai Khan. After the death of his master Togus Temur (r. 1378–88), Gunashiri, a descendant of Chagatai Khan, founded his own small state called Kara Del in Hami.[18] The following century saw a succession of Chinggisid rulers, many of whom were mere figureheads put on the throne by those warlords who happened to be the most powerful. From the end of the 14th century there appear designations such as "period of small kings" (Бага хаадын үе) for this period in modern historiography.[19] On one side stood the Oirats (or Western Mongols) in the west against the Eastern Mongols[disambiguation needed]. While the Oirats drew their side to the descendants of Arik Boke and other princes, Arugtai of the Asud supported the old Yuan khans. Another force was the House of Ogedei who briefly attempted to reunite the Mongols under their rule.

The Mongols split into three main groups: western Mongols, the Mongol groups under the Uriankhai in northeast, and the Eastern Mongols between the two. The Uriankhai and some Borjigin princes surrendered to the Ming dynasty in the 1390s. The Ming divided them into Three Guards: Doyin, Tai'nin and Fuyu.

Periods of conflict with the Ming dynasty intermingled with periods of peaceful relations with border trade. In 1402, Örüg Temür Khan (Guilichi) abolished the name Great Yuan;[20] he was however defeated by Öljei Temür Khan (Bunyashiri, r. 1403–12), the protege of Tamerlane (d. 1405) in 1403. Most of the Mongol noblemen under Arugtai chingsang sided with Oljei Temur. Under Yongle (r. 1402–24) the Ming dynasty intervened aggressively against any overly powerful leader, exacerbating the Mongol-Oirat conflict. In 1409 Oljei Temur and Arugtai crushed a Ming army, so that Yongle personally attacked the two on the Kherlen River. After the death of Oljei Temur, the Oirats under their leader Bahamu (Mahmud) (d. 1417) enthroned an Arik-Bokid, Delbeg Khan in 1412. Although, the Ming encouraged the Oirats to fight against the Eastern Mongols, they withdrew their support when the Oirats became powerful. After 1417 Arugtai became dominant again, and Yongle campaigned against him in 1422 and 1423. Bahamu's successor Toghan pushed Arugtai east of the Greater Khingan range in 1433. The Oirats killed him in the west of Baotou the next year. Arugtai's ally Adai Khan (r. 1425–38) made a last stand in Ejene before he was murdered too.

Toghan died in the very year of his victory over Adai. His son Esen (r. 1438–54) brought the Oirats to the height of their power. Under his Chinggisid puppet khans, he drove back the Moghulistan monarchs and crushed the Three Guards, Kara Del and the Jurchen. In 1449 he captured the Ming's Zhengtong Emperor, bringing about a wholescale collapse of the Ming northern defence line.[21] Esen and his father ruled as taishis of Chinggisid khans but after executing the rebellious khan Tayisung (r. 1433–53) and his brother Agbarjin in 1453, Esen took the title khan himself.[22] He was, however, soon overthrown by his chingsang Alag. His death broke up the role of the Oirats until they revived in the early 17th century.

From Esen's death to 1481 different warlords of the Kharchin, the Belguteids and Ordos fought over succession and had their Chinggisid Khans enthroned. The Mongolian chroniclers call some of them the Uyghurs and they might have some ties with the Hami oasis.[23] During his reign, Manduulun Khan (1475–78) effectively won over most of the Mongol warlords before he died in 1478.

Restoration (1479–1600)[edit]

Second reunion[edit]

Manduul's (Manduulun) young khatun Mandukhai proclaimed a boy named Batumongke. The new khan, as a descendant of Genghis Khan, took the title Dayan meaning the "Great Yuan", with reference to the Yuan dynasty.[24] Mandukhai and Dayan Khan overthrew Oirat supremacy. At first the new rulers operated with the taishi system. The taishis mostly ruled the Yellow River Mongols. However, one of them killed Dayan Khan's son and revolted when Dayan Khan appointed his son, jinong Ulusbold, over them. Dayan Khan finally defeated the southwestern Mongols in 1510 with the assistance of his allies, Unebolad wang and the Four Oirats.[25] Making his another son jinong, he abolished old-Yuan court titles of taishi, chingsang, pingchan and chiyuan.

The Ming dynasty closed border-trade and killed his envoys. Dayan invaded China and subjugated the Three Guards, tributaries of the Ming. The Oirats assisted his campaign in China. The high point of Mongol power came again in 1517, when Dayan Khan moved on Beijing itself. The Mongolian armies raided the Ming dynasty not only in the north, but also in the hitherto quiet west. The Ming's Zhengde Emperor lost his protectorate Hami to the Turpans at the same time. In 1542 Dayan Khan defeated Chinese troops just before his death.[26] The Tümed Mongols ruled in the Ordos region and they gradually extended their domain into northeastern Qinghai.[27]

By that time, the Northern Yuan stretched from the Siberian tundra and Lake Baikal in the north, across the Gobi, to the edge of the Yellow River and south of it into the Ordos. The lands extended from the forests of Manchuria in the East past the Altai Mountains and out onto the steppes of Central Asia.[28]

Administrative divisions[edit]

The Tumens of Mongolia Proper and relict states of the Mongol Empire by 1500

Dayan Khan reorganized the Eastern Mongols into 6 tümens (literally "ten thousand") as follows.

They functioned both as military units and as tribal administrative bodies who hoped to receive taijis, descended from Dayan Khan. Northern Khalkha people and Uriyankhan were attached to the South Khalkha of eastern Inner Mongolia and Doyin Uriyangkhan of the Three Guards, respectively. After the rebellion of the northern Uriankhai people, they were conquered in 1538 and mostly annexed by the northern Khalkha. However, his decision to divide the Six tumens to his sons, or taijis, and local tabunangs-sons in law of the taijis created a decentralized system of Borjigin rule that secured domestic peace and outward expansion for a century. Despite this decentralization there was a remarkable concord within the Dayan Khanid aristocracy.

Last reunion[edit]

By 1540 new regional circles of Chingisid taijis and local tabunangs (imperial son-in law) of the taijis emerged in all the former Dayan Khanid domains. The Khagan and the jinong (crown prince) had titular authority over the three right wing tumens. Darayisung Gödeng Khan/Daraisun Guden khagan (r. 1547–57) had to grant titles of khans to his cousins Altan, ruling the Tumed and Bayaskhul, ruling the Kharchin. The decentralized peace among the Mongols was based on religious and cultural unity created by Chinggisid cults.

Temple at Erdene Zuu monastery established by Abtai Khan in the Khalkha heartland in the 16th century.
"Tsogt Taij's White House (White Castle)" was built in 1601.

A series of smallpox epidemics and lack of trade forced the Mongols to repeatedly plunder the districts of China. In 1571 the Ming opened trade with the 3 Right Wing Tumens. The large-scale conversion to Buddhism in the Three Right Wing Tumens from 1575 on, built on the amity of the Chinggisids. Tümen Jasagtu Khan appointed a Tibetan Buddhist chaplain of the Karma-pa order. In 1580 northern Khalkha proclaimed their leading Dayan Khanid prince, Abtai Khan, khan. Representatives from all Mongols, including Oirats, constituted the court of Tümen Jasagtu Khan who had conquered Koko Nur and codified a new law.[30]

By the end of the 16th century, the Three Guards lost their existence as a distinct group. Their Fuyu was absorbed by the Khorchin after they had moved to the Nonni River. Two other, Doyin and Tai'nin, were absorbed by the Five Khalkhas.[31]

Fall (1600–1635)[edit]

In the 17th century, the Mongols came under the influence of the Manchus, who founded the Qing dynasty. The princes of Khorchin, Jarud and southern Khalkha Mongols made a formal alliance with the Manchus from 1612 to 1624.[32] Resenting this suborning of his subjects, Ligdan Khan, the last Khagan[33] in Chahar, unsuccessfully attacked them in 1625. He appointed his officials over the tumens and formed an elite military band to coerce opposition. The massive rebellion broke out in 1628. The Chahar under Ligdan defeated their combined armies and the Manchu auxiliary at Zhaocheng but fled a large Manchu punitive expedition. Only Tsogt Taiji (1581–1637) supported the Great Khan whilst other nobles of Khalkha remained neutral and inactive. Ligdan died on his way to Tibet to punish the dGe-lugs-pa order in 1634. His son, Ejei Khan, surrendered to the Manchus and was said to give the imperial seal of the Yuan rulers to Qing emperor Huang Taiji the next year (February 1635), ending the Northern Yuan.[34]

After the death of Dayan Khan most of Mongolia came under the rule of descendents of his youngest son, Gersendze Huangtaizi (Gersenz huntaij). By the early 17th century these formed four Khanates, from west to east:

  • The Altan Khans of Khotogoids in the far west, founded by Sholoi Ubashi,great grandson of Geresandza.
  • The Dzasagtu Khans, khanate founded by Laikhor-khan, a cousin of the Altan Khan.
  • The Tushetu Khans at Ulaanbaatar founded by Abatai, another grandson. This was the senior branch.
  • The Sechen Khans at the eastern end of modern Mongolia, founded by Sholoi, a great-grandson.

In the north, from 1583, Russian adventurers gained control of the forest tribes of Siberia but did not attempt to interfere with the numerous and warlike peoples south of the forests. They had some dealings with the Altan Khan who is said to have introduced them to Chinese tea.

To the east, in 1582–1626, Nurhaci unified the tribes of Manchuria. His son, Huang Taiji (1626–1643) consolidated the new state and incorporated parts of Inner Mongolia. At his death Dorgon became regent for his 6-year-old son and was in charge when the Manchus took Beijing and founded the Qing dynasty (1644).

To the west in Dzungaria, about 1600–1620 the Oirats became united under Khara Khula and formed the Dzungar Khanate.This unification was partly driven by their wars with the Altan Khans.

The Qing completely exterminated one branch (Ligdan Khan's descendants) of the Borjigids after an anti-Qing revolt in 1675 by Ejei's brother Abunai and Abunai's son Borni against the Qing.[35] The Qing Emperors then placed the Chahar Mongols under their direct rule.


In 1662 the Altan Khan attacked and put to death his eastern neighbor. This caused the senior Tushetu Khan to drive him out, but he was restored with Dzungar and Qing support. In 1682 he was captured by the next Dzashgtu Khan and his Khanate disappeared from history. The loss of the westernmost Khalkha Khanate opened the way for the Dzungars. In 1672 Galdan became Khan of the Dzungars. After conquering the northern Tarim Basin from Kashgar to Hami he began to dream of uniting the Mongols although as an Oirat Khan he was of non-Chingisid lineage unlike the Khans of the Khalkha Mongols.

The Dzungars in the Dzungar Khanate actively tried to resist the Manchu Qing dynasty. The Oirat Dzungar leader Erdeni Batur and Buddhist monk Zaya Pandita tried to form an alliance of Oirats and Khalkhas against the Qing and Russian Empire, drawing up a single legal code for all the Mongols, banning Shamanism, and declaring Tibetan Buddhism to be the sole religion of the Mongol peoples, by calling up a Kurultai (Congress) in 1640 which Dzungar Oirats, Khoshut Oirats from Qinghai (Kokonor), Torghut Oirats, Khalkha Mongols, and Tibetans attended.[36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49]

Galdan allied with the Zasagtu Khan against the Tushetu Khan, who in turn attacked the Dzashgtu Khan (who drowned while trying to escape) and then invaded Dzungar territory where he killed one of Galdan's brothers. Galdan responded (1688) by annihilating the Tushetu Khan's army near the Tarim River and plundering the tombs at Karakoram. The Tushetu Khan and the other Khalkha leaders fled to Hohhot at the northeast corner of the Ordos Loop and begged for Qing help. By 1690 Galdan controlled the whole Khalkha country as far as the edge of Manchuria and turned south toward Beijing. This direct threat to the Qing led the Kangxi Emperor (Enh-Amgalan khaan-in Mongolian) to block Galdan who withdrew to the northwest in late 1690. In May 1691 the Emperor held a Kurultai at Dolon Nor (Dolonnuur) where the Khalkha chiefs declared themselves vassals of the Qing Emperors. In 1695 Galdan moved east again. The Emperor sent a massive army and defeated him near Ulan Bator (at Jao Modo or Zuunmod on June 12, 1696). Galdan fled with a few followers and later died. Outer Mongolia was thus incorporated into the Qing Empire, and the Khalkha leaders returned to Outer Mongolia as Qing vassals. A Qing garrison was installed at Ulaanbaatar. The Qing forces occupied Hami but did not advance into Dzungaria. Oirats later expanded into Tibet and Kazakhstan and they tried to control all Mongols.

See also[edit]


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