|This article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2013)|
|Khanate directly ruled by Khagans of the Mongol Empire[Note 1]
Conquest Dynasty in China
Yuan dynasty in 1294
|Religion||Buddhism (Tibetan Buddhism as de facto state religion)
Chinese folk religion
|Historical era||Postclassical Era|
|-||Genghis Khan founds Mongol Empire||Spring, 1206|
|-||Formal proclamation of the Yuan dynasty||18 December 1271|
|-||Battle of Xiangyang||1268-1273|
|-||Conquest of Southern Song||4 February 1276|
|-||Battle of Yamen||19 March 1279|
|-||Fall of Khanbaliq||14 September 1368|
|-||Formation of Post-Imperial Mongolia||1368-1388|
|-||1310||14,000,000 km² (5,405,430 sq mi)|
|Currency||Predominantly Paper Currency (Chao), with a small amount of Chinese cash in use|
|Today part of|| Bhutan
|Mongolian Cyrillic||Их Юань улс|
|History of China|
|Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BCE|
|Xia dynasty c. 2070 – c. 1600 BCE|
|Shang dynasty c. 1600 – c. 1046 BCE|
|Zhou dynasty c. 1046 – 256 BCE|
|Spring and Autumn|
|Qin dynasty 221–206 BCE|
|Han dynasty 206 BCE – 220 CE|
|Three Kingdoms 220–280|
|Wei, Shu and Wu|
|Jin dynasty 265–420|
|Eastern Jin||Sixteen Kingdoms|
|Southern and Northern Dynasties
|Sui dynasty 581–618|
|Tang dynasty 618–907|
|(Wu Zhou interregnum 690–705)|
|Five Dynasties and
|Northern Song||W. Xia|
|Yuan dynasty 1271–1368|
|Ming dynasty 1368–1644|
|Qing dynasty 1644–1911|
|Republic of China 1912–1949|
China on Taiwan
|History of Mongolia|
The Yuan dynasty (Chinese: 元朝; pinyin: Yuán Cháo), officially the Great Yuan (Chinese: 大元; pinyin: Dà Yuán; Mongolian script: ᠶᠡᠬᠡ ᠦᠨ ᠤᠯᠤᠰ; Mongolian Cyrillic: Их Юань Улс) or the Great Yuan Great Mongol State (Mongolian script: , Dai Ön Yeke Mongghul Ulus, or in short, Ikh Yuanʹ Üls/Yekhe Yuan Ulus) was the empire established by Kublai Khan, leader of the Mongolian Borjigin clan. Although the Mongols had ruled territories which included today's northern China for decades, it was not until 1271 that Kublai Khan officially proclaimed the dynasty in the traditional Chinese style. His realm was by this point isolated from the other khanates and controlled only most of present-day China and its surrounding areas including modern Mongolia. It was the first foreign dynasty to rule all of China and lasted until 1368, after which its Genghisid rulers returned to Mongolia homeland and continued to rule Mongolia, known as the Post-Imperial Mongolia. Almost none of the Mongolian Emperors of the Yuan mastered the Chinese language, using instead their native language and Mongolian and 'Phags-pa script.
The Yuan is considered both a successor to the Mongol Empire and as an imperial Chinese dynasty. In official Chinese histories, the Yuan dynasty bore the Mandate of Heaven, following the Song dynasty and preceding the Ming dynasty. Although the dynasty was established by Kublai Khan, he placed his grandfather Genghis Khan on the imperial records as the official founder of the dynasty as Taizu.
In addition to Emperor of China, Kublai Khan also claimed the title of Great Khan, supreme over the other successor khanates: the Chagatai, the Golden Horde, and the Ilkhanate. As such, the Great Yuan Empire was also sometimes referred to as the Empire of the Great Khan. However, although this claim of the emperors of the Yuan dynasty was at times recognized by the western khans, their subservience was merely nominal and they each continued their own separate development.
- 1 Name
- 2 History
- 2.1 Kublai Khan's rise
- 2.2 Rule of Kublai Khan
- 2.3 Successors after Kublai
- 2.4 Decline of the empire
- 3 Impact
- 4 Government
- 5 Society
- 6 Administrative divisions
- 7 Gallery
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
In 1271 Kublai Khan imposed the name Great Yuan (Chinese: 大元; pinyin: Dà Yuán; Wade–Giles: Ta-Yüan), establishing the Yuan dynasty. "Dà Yuán" (大元) is from the sentence "大哉乾元" (dà zai Qián Yuán / "Great is Qián, the Primal") in the Commentaries on the Classic of Changes (I Ching) section regarding Qián (乾). The counterpart in Mongolian language was Ikh Yuanʹ Üls/Yekhe Yuan Ulus, or Dai Ön Yeke Mongghul Ulus in full, meaning Great Yuan Great Mongol State.
Kublai Khan's rise
Genghis Khan united the Mongol and Turkic tribes of the steppes and became Great Khan in 1206. He and his successors expanded the Mongol empire across Asia. Under the reign of Genghis' third son, Ögedei Khan, the Mongols destroyed the weakened Jin dynasty in 1234, conquering most of northern China. Ögedei offered his nephew Kublai a position in Xingzhou, Hebei. Kublai was unable to read Chinese, but had several Han Chinese teachers attached to him since his early years by his mother Sorghaghtani. He sought the counsel of Chinese Buddhist and Confucian advisers. Möngke Khan succeeded Ögedei's son, Güyük, as Great Khan in 1251. He granted his brother Kublai control over Mongol held territories in China. Kublai built schools for Confucian scholars, issued paper money, revived Chinese rituals, and endorsed policies that stimulated agricultural and commercial growth. He made the city of Kaiping in Inner Mongolia, later renamed Shangdu, his capital.
Many Han Chinese and Khitan defected to the Mongols to fight against the Jin. Two Han Chinese leaders, Shi Tianze, Liu Heima (劉黑馬, Liu Ni), and the Khitan Xiao Zhala defected and commanded the 3 Tumens in the Mongol army. Liu Heima and Shi Tianze served Ogödei Khan. Liu Heima and Shi Tianxiang led armies against Western Xia for the Mongols. There were 4 Han Tumens and 3 Khitan Tumens, with each Tumen consisting of 10,000 troops.
Shi Tianze was a Han Chinese who lived in the Jin dynasty (1115–1234). Interethnic marriage between Han and Jurchen became common at this time. His father was Shi Bingzhi (史秉直, Shih Ping-chih). Shi Bingzhi was married to a Jurchen woman (surname Na-ho) and a Han Chinese woman (surname Chang), it is unknown which of them was Shi Tianze's mother. Shi Tianze was married to two Jurchen women, a Han Chinese woman, and a Korean woman, and his son Shi Gang was born to one of his Jurchen wives. His Jurchen wive's surnames were Mo-nien and Na-ho, his Koan wife's surname was Li, and his Han Chinese wife's surname was Shi. Shi Tianze defected to the Mongol Empire's forces upon their invasion of the Jin dynasty. His son Shi Gang married married a Kerait woman, the Kerait were Mongolified Turkic people and considered as part of the "Mongol nation".
The Yuan dynasty created a "Han Army" (漢軍) out of defected Jin troops and and army of defected Song troops called the "Newly Submitted Army" (新附軍).
Möngke Khan commenced a military campaign against the Chinese Song Dynasty in southern China. He died in 1259 without a successor. Kublai returned from fighting the Song in 1260 when he learned that his brother, Ariq Böke, was challenging his claim to the throne. Kublai convened a kurultai in the Chinese city of Kaiping that elected him Great Khan. A rival kurultai in Mongolia proclaimed Ariq Böke Great Khan, beginning a civil war. Kublai Khan depended on the cooperation of his Chinese subjects to ensure that his army received ample resources. He bolstered his popularity among his subjects by modeling his government on the bureaucracy of traditional Chinese dynasties and adopting the Chinese era name of Zhongtong. Ariq Böke was hampered by inadequate supplies and surrendered in 1264. The three other Mongol khanates recognized Kublai as Great Khan, but were functionally autonomous. Civil strife had permanently ended the unity of the Mongol Empire.
Rule of Kublai Khan
Instability troubled the early years of Kublai Khan's reign. Ogedei's grandson Kaidu refused to submit to Kublai and threatened the western frontier of Kublai's domain. The hostile but weakened Song dynasty remained an obstacle in the south. Kublai secured the northeast border in 1259 by installing the hostage prince Wonjong as the ruler of Korea, making it a Mongol tributary state. Kublai was also threatened by domestic unrest. Li Tan, the son-in-law of a powerful official, instigated a revolt against Mongol rule in 1262. After successfully suppressing the revolt, Kublai curbed the influence of the Han Chinese advisers in his court. He feared that his dependence on Chinese officials left him vulnerable to future revolts and defections to the Song.
Kublai's government after 1262 was a compromise between preserving Mongol interests in China and satisfying the demands of his Chinese subjects. He instituted the reforms proposed by his Chinese advisers by centralizing the bureaucracy, expanding the circulation of paper money, and maintaining the traditional monopolies on salt and iron. He restored the Imperial Secretariat and left the local administrative structure of past Chinese dynasties unchanged. However, Kublai rejected plans to revive the Confucian imperial examinations and divided Yuan society into three, later four, classes with the Han Chinese occupying the lowest rank. Kublai's Chinese advisers still wielded significant power in the government, but their official rank was nebulous.
Founding the dynasty
Kublai readied the move from the Mongol capital from Karakorum in Mongolia to Khanbaliq in 1264, by constructing a new city near the former Jurchen capital Zhongdu, now modern Beijing, in 1266. In 1271, Kublai Khan formally claimed the Mandate of Heaven and declared that 1272 was the first year of the Great Yuan (Chinese: 大元) in the style of a traditional Chinese dynasty. The name of the dynasty originated from the I Ching and describes the "origin of the universe" or a "primal force". Kublai proclaimed Khanbaliq the "Great Capital" or Daidu (Dadu, Chinese: 大都 in Chinese) of the dynasty. The era name was changed to Zhiyuan to herald a new era of Chinese history. The adoption of a dynastic name legitimized Mongol rule by integrating the government into the narrative of traditional Chinese political succession. Khublai evoked his public image as a sage emperor by following the rituals of Confucian propriety and ancestor veneration, while simultaneously retaining his roots as a leader from the steppes.
Kublai Khan promoted commercial, scientific, and cultural growth. He supported the merchants of the Silk Road trade network by protecting the Mongol postal system, constructing infrastructure, providing loans that financed trade caravans, and encouraging the circulation of paper banknotes (鈔, Chao). Pax Mongolica, Mongol peace, enabled the spread of technologies, commodities, and culture between China and the West. Kublai expanded the Grand Canal from southern China to Daidu in the north. Mongol rule was cosmopolitan under Kublai Khan. He welcomed foreign visitors to his court, such as the Venetian merchant Marco Polo, who wrote the most influential European account of Yuan China. Marco Polo's travels would later inspire many others like Christopher Columbus to chart a passage to the Far East in search of its legendary wealth.
Military conquests and campaigns
After strengthening his government in northern China, Kublai pursued an expansionist policy in line with the tradition of Mongol and Chinese imperialism. He renewed a massive drive against the Song dynasty to the south. Kublai besieged Xiangyang between 1268 and 1273, the last obstacle in his way to capture the rich Yangzi River basin. An unsuccessful naval expedition was undertaken against Japan in 1274. Kublai captured the Song capital of Hangzhou in 1276, the wealthiest city of China. Song loyalists escaped from the capital and enthroned a young child as Emperor Bing of Song. The Mongols defeated the loyalists at the battle of Yamen in 1279. The last Song emperor drowned, bringing an end to the Song dynasty. The conquest of the Song reunited northern and southern China for the first time in three hundred years.
Kublai's government faced financial difficulties after 1279. Wars and construction projects had drained the Mongol treasury. Efforts to raise and collect tax revenues were plagued by corruption and political scandals. Mishandled military expeditions followed the financial problems. Kublai's second invasion of Japan in 1281 failed because of an inauspicious typhoon. Kublai botched his campaigns against Annam, Champa, and Java, but won a Pyrrhic victory against Burma. The expeditions were hampered by disease, an inhospitable climate, and a tropical terrain unsuitable for the mounted warfare of the Mongols. Annam, Burma, and Champa recognized Mongol hegemony and established tributary relations with the Yuan dynasty.
Internal strife threatened Kublai within his empire. Kublai Khan suppressed rebellions challenging his rule in Tibet and the northeast. His favorite wife died in 1281 and so did his chosen heir in 1285. Kublai grew despondent and retreated from his duties as emperor. He fell ill in 1293, and died on 18 February 1294.
Successors after Kublai
Following the conquest of Dali in 1253, the former ruling Duan dynasty were appointed as governors-general, recognized as imperial officials by the Yuan, Ming, and Qing-era governments, principally in the province of Yunnan. Succession for the Yuan dynasty, however, was an intractable problem, later causing much strife and internal struggle. This emerged as early as the end of Kublai's reign. Kublai originally named his eldest son, Zhenjin, as the Crown Prince, but he died before Kublai in 1285. Thus, Zhenjin's third son, with the support of his mother Kökejin and the minister Bayan, succeeded the throne and ruled as Temür Khan, or Emperor Chengzong, from 1294 to 1307. Temür Khan decided to maintain and continue much of the work begun by his grandfather. He also made peace with the western Mongol khanates as well as neighboring countries such as Vietnam, which recognized his nominal suzerainty and paid tributes for a few decades. However, the corruption in the Yuan dynasty began during the reign of Temür Khan.
Külüg Khan (Emperor Wuzong) came to the throne after the death of Temür Khan. Unlike his predecessor, he did not continue Kublai's work, largely rejecting his objectives. Most significantly he introduced a policy called "New Deals", focused on monetary reforms. During his short reign (1307–11), the government fell into financial difficulties, partly due to bad decisions made by Külüg. By the time he died, China was in severe debt and the Yuan court faced popular discontent.
The fourth Yuan emperor, Buyantu Khan (Ayurbarwada) was a competent emperor. He was the first among the Yuan emperors who actively supported and adopted the mainstream Chinese culture after the reign of Kublai, to the discontent of some Mongol elite. He had been mentored by Li Meng, a Confucian academic. He made many reforms, including the liquidation of the Department of State Affairs (Chinese: 尚書省), which resulted in the execution of five of the highest-ranking officials. Starting in 1313 the traditional imperial examinations were reintroduced for prospective officials, testing their knowledge on significant historical works. Also, he codified much of the law, as well as publishing or translating a number of Chinese books and works.
Gegeen Khan and Yesün Temür
Emperor Gegeen Khan, Ayurbarwada's son and successor, ruled for only two years, from 1321 to 1323. He continued his father's policies to reform the government based on the Confucian principles, with the help of his newly appointed grand chancellor Baiju. During his reign, the Da Yuan Tong Zhi (Chinese: 大元通制, "the comprehensive institutions of the Great Yuan"), a huge collection of codes and regulations of the Yuan dynasty begun by his father, was formally promulgated. Gegeen was assassinated in a coup involving five princes from a rival faction, perhaps steppe elite opposed to Confucian reforms. They placed Yesün Temür (or Taidingdi) on the throne, and, after an unsuccessful attempt to calm the princes, he also succumbed to regicide.
Before Yesün Temür's reign, China had been relatively free from popular rebellions after the reign of Kublai. Yuan control, however, began to break down in those regions inhabited by ethnic minorities. The occurrence of these revolts and the subsequent suppression aggravated the financial difficulties of the Yuan government. The government had to adopt some measure to increase revenue, such as selling offices, as well as curtailing its spending on some items.
When Yesün Temür died in Shangdu in 1328, Tugh Temür was recalled to Khanbaliq by the Qipchaq commander El Temür. He was installed as the emperor (Emperor Wenzong) in Khanbaliq while Yesün Temür's son Ragibagh succeeded to the throne in Shangdu with the support of Yesün Temür's favorite retainer Dawlat Shah. Gaining support from princes and officers in Northern China and some other parts of the dynasty, Khanbaliq-based Tugh Temür eventually won the civil war against Ragibagh in 1329. Afterwards, Tugh Temür abdicated in favour of his brother Kusala who was backed by Chagatai Khan Eljigidey and announced Khanbaliq's intent to welcome him. However, Kusala suddenly died only four days after a banquet with Tugh Temür. He was supposedly killed with poison by El Temür, and Tugh Temür then remounted the throne. Tugh Temür also managed to send delegates to the western Mongol khanates such as Golden Horde and Ilkhanate to be accepted as the suzerain of Mongol world. However, he was mainly a puppet of the powerful official El Temür during his latter three-year reign. El Temür purged pro-Kusala officials and brought power to warlords, whose despotic rule clearly marked the decline of the dynasty.
Due to the fact that the bureaucracy was dominated by El Temür, Tugh Temür is known for his cultural contribution instead. He adopted many measures honoring Confucianism and promoting Chinese cultural values. His most concrete effort to patronize Chinese learning was founding the Academy of the Pavilion of the Star of Literature (Chinese: 奎章閣學士院), first established in the spring of 1329 and designed to undertake "a number of tasks relating to the transmission of Confucian high culture to the Mongolian imperial establishment". The academy was responsible for compiling and publishing a number of books, but its most important achievement was its compilation of a vast institutional compendium named Jingshi Dadian (Chinese: 經世大典). Tugh Temür supported Zhu Xi's Neo-Confucianism and also devoted himself in Buddhism.
After the death of Tugh Temür in 1332 and subsequent death of Rinchinbal (Emperor Ningzong) the same year, the 13-year-old Toghun Temür (Emperor Huizong), the last of the nine successors of Kublai Khan, was summoned back from Guangxi and succeeded to the throne. After El Temür's death, Bayan became as powerful an official as El Temür had been in the beginning of his long reign. As Toghun Temür grew, he came to disapprove of Bayan's autocratic rule. In 1340 he allied himself with Bayan's nephew Toqto'a, who was in discord with Bayan, and banished Bayan by coup. With the dismissal of Bayan, Toghtogha seized the power of the court. His first administration clearly exhibited fresh new spirit. He also gave a few early signs of a new and positive direction in central government. One of his successful projects was to finish the long-stalled official histories of the Liao, Jin, and Song dynasties, which were eventually completed in 1345. Yet, Toghtogha resigned his office with the approval of Toghun Temür, marking the end of his first administration, and he was not called back until 1349.
Decline of the empire
The final years of the Yuan dynasty were marked by struggle, famine, and bitterness among the populace. In time, Kublai Khan's successors lost all influence on other Mongol lands across Asia, while the Mongols beyond the Middle Kingdom saw them as too Chinese. Gradually, they lost influence in China as well. The reigns of the later Yuan emperors were short and marked by intrigues and rivalries. Uninterested in administration, they were separated from both the army and the populace, and China was torn by dissension and unrest. Outlaws ravaged the country without interference from the weakening Yuan armies.
From the late 1340s onwards, people in the countryside suffered from frequent natural disasters such as droughts, floods and the resulting famines, and the government's lack of effective policy led to a loss of popular support. In 1351, the Red Turban Rebellion started and grew into a nationwide uprising. In 1354, when Toghtogha led a large army to crush the Red Turban rebels, Toghun Temür suddenly dismissed him for fear of betrayal. This resulted in Toghun Temür's restoration of power on the one hand and a rapid weakening of the central government on the other. He had no choice but to rely on local warlords' military power, and gradually lost his interest in politics and ceased to intervene in political struggles. He fled north to Xanadu from Khanbaliq (present-day Beijing) in 1368 after the approach of the forces of the Míng dynasty (1368–1644), founded by Zhu Yuanzhang in the south. He had tried to regain Khanbaliq, which 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. Some royal family members still lived in Henan today.
The Prince of Liang, Basalawarmi established a separate pocket of resistance to the Ming in Yunnan and Guizhou, but his forces were decisively defeated by the Ming in 1381. By 1387 the remaining Yuan forces in Manchuria under Nahacu had also surrendered to the Ming dynasty. The Yuan remnants retreated to Mongolia after the fall of Yingchang to the Ming in 1370, where the name Great Yuan (大元) was formally carried on, and is known as the Post-Imperial Mongolia or the Northern Yuan dynasty.
A rich cultural diversity developed during the Yuan dynasty. The major cultural achievements were the development of drama and the novel and the increased use of the written vernacular. The political unity of China and much of central Asia promoted trade between East and West. The Mongols' extensive West Asian and European contacts produced a fair amount of cultural exchange. The other cultures and peoples in the Mongol World Empire also very much influenced China. It had significantly eased trade and commerce across Asia until its decline; the communications between Yuan dynasty and its ally and subordinate in Persia, the Ilkhanate, encouraged this development. Buddhism had a great influence in the Yuan government, and the Tibetan-rite Tantric Buddhism had significantly influenced China during this period. The Muslims of the Yuan dynasty introduced Middle Eastern cartography, astronomy, medicine, clothing, and diet in East Asia. Eastern crops such as carrots, turnips, new varieties of lemons, eggplants, and melons, high-quality granulated sugar, and cotton were all either introduced or successfully popularized during the Yuan dynasty.
Western musical instruments were introduced to enrich Chinese performing arts. From this period dates the conversion to Islam, by Muslims of Central Asia, of growing numbers of Chinese in the northwest and southwest. Nestorianism and Roman Catholicism also enjoyed a period of toleration. Buddhism (especially Tibetan Buddhism) flourished, although Taoism endured certain persecutions in favor of Buddhism from the Yuan government. Confucian governmental practices and examinations based on the Classics, which had fallen into disuse in north China during the period of disunity, were reinstated by the Yuan court, probably in the hope of maintaining order over Han society. Advances were realized in the fields of travel literature, cartography, geography, and scientific education.
Certain Chinese innovations and products, such as purified saltpetre, printing techniques, porcelain, playing cards and medical literature, were exported to Europe and Western Asia, while the production of thin glass and cloisonné became popular in China. The Yuan exercised a profound influence on the Chinese Ming dynasty. The Ming Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang (1368–97) admired the Mongols' unification of China and adopted its garrison system.
The first recorded travels by Europeans to China and back date from this time. The most famous traveler of the period was the Venetian Marco Polo, whose account of his trip to "Cambaluc," the capital of the Great Khan, and of life there astounded the people of Europe. The account of his travels, Il milione (or, The Million, known in English as the Travels of Marco Polo), appeared about the year 1299. Some argue the accuracy of Marco Polo's accounts due to the lack of mentioning the Great Wall of China, tea houses, which would have been a prominent sight since Europeans had yet to adopt a tea culture, as well the practice of foot binding by the women in capital of the Great Khan. Some suggest that Marco Polo acquired much of his knowledge through contact with Persian traders since many of the places he named were in Persian.
The Yuan undertook extensive public works, and of Kublai Khan's top engineers and scientists, was the astronomer Guo Shoujing who was tasked with many public works projects and helped the Yuan reform the lunisolar calendar to provide an accuracy of 365.2425 days out of the year, which was only 26 seconds off the modern Gregorian calendar's measurement. Road and water communications were reorganized and improved. To provide against possible famines, granaries were ordered built throughout the empire. The city of Beijing was rebuilt with new palace grounds that included artificial lakes, hills and mountains, and parks. During the Yuan period, Beijing became the terminus of the Grand Canal of China, which was completely renovated. These commercially oriented improvements encouraged overland and maritime commerce throughout Asia and facilitated direct Chinese contacts with Europe. Chinese travelers to the West were able to provide assistance in such areas as hydraulic engineering. Contacts with the West also brought the introduction to China of a major food crop, sorghum, along with other foreign food products and methods of preparation.
The Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) was the first time that non-native Chinese people ruled all of China. In the historiography of Mongolia, it is generally considered to be the continuation of the Mongol Empire. Mongols are widely known to worship the Eternal Heaven, and according to the traditional Mongolian ideology Yuan is considered to be "the beginning of an infinite number of beings, the foundation of peace and happiness, state power, the dream of many peoples, besides it there is nothing great or precious" which conquered the whole China. In traditional historiography of China on the other hand, the Yuan dynasty is usually considered to be the legitimate dynasty between the Song dynasty and the Ming dynasty. Note, however, Yuan dynasty is traditionally often extended to cover the Mongol Empire before Kublai Khan's formal establishment of the Yuan in 1271, partly because Kublai had his grandfather Genghis Khan placed on the official record as the founder of the dynasty or Taizu (Chinese: 太祖). Despite the traditional historiography as well as the official views (including the government of the Ming dynasty which overthrew the Yuan dynasty), there also exist Chinese people[who?] who did not consider the Yuan dynasty as a legitimate dynasty of China, but a period of foreign domination. The latter believe that Han Chinese were treated as second-class citizens, and China stagnated economically and scientifically.
The structure of the Yuan government took shape during the reign of Kublai Khan (1260–1294). While some changes took place such as the functions of certain institutions, the essential components of the government bureaucracy remained intact from the beginning to the end of the dynasty in 1368.
The system of bureaucracy created by Kublai Khan reflected various cultures in the empire, including that of the Han Chinese, Khitans, Jurchens, Mongols and Tibetan Buddhists. While the official terminology of the institutions may indicate the government structure was almost purely that of native Chinese dynasties, the Yuan bureaucracy actually consisted of a mix of elements from different cultures. The Chinese-style elements of the bureaucracy mainly came from the native Tang, Song, as well as Khitan Liao and Jurchen Jin dynasties. Chinese advisers such as Liu Bingzhong and Yao Shu gave strong influence to Kublai's early court, and the central government administration was established within the first decade of Kublai's reign. This government adopted the traditional Chinese tripartite division of authority among civil, military, and censorial offices, including the Central Secretariat (Chinese: 中書省) to manage civil affairs, the Privy Council (Chinese: 樞密院) to manage military affairs, and the Censorate (Chinese: 御史臺) to conduct internal surveillance and inspection. The actual functions of both central and local government institutions however showed a major overlap between the civil and military jurisdictions, due to the Mongol traditional reliance on military institutions and offices as the core of governance. Nevertheless, such a civilian bureaucracy, with the Central Secretariat as the top institution that was (directly or indirectly) responsible for most other governmental agencies (such as the traditional Chinese-style Six Ministries), was created in China. At various times another central government institution called the Department of State Affairs (Chinese: 尚書省) mainly dealt with finance was established (such as during the reign of Külüg Khan or Emperor Wuzong), but usually became abandoned shortly afterwards.
While the existence of these central government departments and the Six Ministries (which had been introduced since the Sui and Tang dynasties) gave a Sinicized image in the Yuan administration, the actual functions of these ministries also reflected how Mongolian priorities and policies reshape and redirect those institutions. For example, the authority of the Yuan legal system, the Ministry of Justice did not extend to legal cases involving Mongols and Semuren, where there were separate courts of justice for them. Cases involving members of more than one ethnic group were decided by a mixed board consisting of Chinese and Mongols. Another example was the insignificance of the Ministry of War compared with native Chinese dynasties, as the real military authority in Yuan times resided in the Privy Council.
Since its invention in 1269, the 'Phags-pa script, a unified script for spelling Mongolian' Tibetan, and Chinese languages, was preserved in the court until the end of the dynasty. Most of the Emperors could not master written Chinese, but they could generally converse well in the language. The Mongol custom of long standing quda/marriage alliance with Mongol clans, the Onggirat and the Ikeres, kept the imperial blood purely Mongol until the reign of Tugh Temur whose mother was a Tangut concubine. The Mongol Emperors had built large palaces and pavilions, but some still continued to live as nomads at times. Nevertheless, a few other Yuan emperors actively sponsored cultural activities; an example is Tugh Temur (Emperor Wenzong), who wrote poetry, painted, read Chinese classical texts, and ordered compilation of books.
Kublai and his successors kept a Tibetan lama of the Sakya order at court. Mongol patronage of Buddhism resulted in a number of monuments of Buddhist art. Mongolian Buddhist translations, almost all from Tibetan originals, began on a large scale after 1300. Many Mongols of the upper class such as the Jalayir and the Oronar nobles delighted in patronizing Confucian scholars and institutions. A considerable number of Confucian and Chinese historical works were translated into Mongolian language.
The average Mongol garrison family of the Yuan dynasty seems to have lived a life of decaying rural leisure, with income from the harvests of their Chinese tenants eaten up by costs of equipping and dispatching men for their tours of duty. The Mongols practiced debt slavery and by 1290 in all parts of the Mongol Empire Mongol commoners were selling their children into slavery. Seeing this as damaging the Mongol nation, Kublai forbade the sale abroad of the Mongols in 1291, and likewise Ilkhan Ghazan (1295–1304) in Persia budgeted funds to redeem Mongol slaves.
In the China of the Yuan, or Mongol era, various important developments in the arts occurred or continued in their development. These developments included the areas of painting, mathematics, calligraphy, poetry, and theater, with many great artists and writers being famous today. Due to the coming together of painting, poetry, and calligraphy at this time many of the artists practicing these different pursuits were the same individuals, though perhaps more famed for one area of their achievements than others. Often in terms of the further development of landscape painting as well as the classical joining together of the arts of painting, poetry, and calligraphy, the Song dynasty and the Yuan dynasty are linked together. In the area of Chinese painting during the Yuan dynasty there were many famous painters. In the area of calligraphy many of the great calligraphers were from the Yuan dynasty era. In Yuan poetry, the main development was the qu, which was used among other poetic forms by most of the famous Yuan poets. Many of the poets were also involved in the major developments in the theater during this time, and the other way around, with people important in the theater becoming famous through the development of the sanqu type of qu. One of the key factors in the mix of the zaju variety show was the incorporation of poetry both classical and of the newer qu form. One of the important cultural developments during the Yuan era was the consolidation of poetry, painting, and calligraphy into a unified piece of the type which tends to come to mind when people think of classical Chinese art. Another important aspect of Yuan times is the increasing incorporation of the then current, vernacular Chinese into both the qu form of poetry and the zaju variety show. Another important consideration regarding Yuan dynasty arts and culture is that so much of it has survived in China, relatively to works from the Tang dynasty and Song dynasty, which have often been better preserved in places such as the Shōsōin, in Japan.
Advances in polynomial algebra were made by mathematicians during the Yuan era. The mathematician Zhu Shijie (1249–1314) solved simultaneous equations with up to four unknowns using a rectangular array of coefficients, equivalent to modern matrices. Zhu used a method of elimination to reduce the simultaneous equations to a single equation with only one unknown. His method is described in the Jade Mirror of the Four Unknowns, written in 1303. The opening pages contain a diagram of Pascal's triangle. The summation of a finite arithmetic series is also covered in the book.
Guo Shoujing applied mathematics to the construction of calendars. He was one of the first mathematicians in China to work on spherical trigonometry. Gou derived a cubic interpolation formula for his astronomical calculations. His calendar, the Shoushi Li (授時暦) or Calendar for Fixing the Seasons, was disseminated in 1281 as the official calendar of the Yuan dynasty. The calendar may have been influenced solely by the work of Song dynasty astronomer Shen Kuo or possibly by the work of Arab astronomers. There are no explicit signs of Muslim influences in the Shoushi calendar, but Mongol rulers were known to be interested in Muslim calendars. Mathematical knowledge from the Middle East was introduced to China under the Mongols, and Muslim astronomers brought Arabic numerals to China in the 13th century.
The physicians of the Yuan court came from diverse cultures. Healers were divided into non-Mongol physicians called otachi and traditional Mongol shamans. The Mongols characterized otachi doctors by their use of herbal remedies, which was distinguished from the spiritual cures of Mongol shamanism. Physicians received official support from the Yuan government and were given special legal privileges. Kublai created the Imperial Academy of Medicine to manage medical treatises and the education of new doctors. Confucian scholars were attracted to the medical profession because it ensured a high income and medical ethics were compatible with Confucian virtues.
The Chinese medical tradition of the Yuan had "Four Great Schools" that the Yuan inherited from the Jin dynasty. All four schools were based on the same intellectual foundation, but advocated different theoretical approaches toward medicine. Under the Mongols, the practice of Chinese medicine spread to other parts of the empire. Chinese physicians were brought along military campaigns by the Mongols as they expanded towards the west. Chinese medical techniques such as acupuncture, moxibustion, pulse diagnosis, and various herbal drugs and elixirs were transmitted westward to the Middle East and the rest of the empire. Several medical advances were made in the Yuan period. The physician Wei Yilin (1277–1347) invented a suspension method for reducing dislocated joints, which he performed using anesthetics. The Mongol physician Hu Sihui described the importance of a healthy diet in a 1330 medical treatise.
Western medicine was also practiced in China by the Nestorian Christians of the Yuan court, where it was sometimes labeled as huihui or Muslim medicine. The Nestorian physician Jesus the Interpreter founded the Office of Western Medicine in 1263 during the reign of Kublai. Huihui doctors staffed at two imperial hospitals were responsible for treating the imperial family and members of the court. Chinese physicians opposed Western medicine because its humoral system contradicted the yin-yang and wuxing philosophy underlying traditional Chinese medicine. No Chinese translation of Western medical works is known, but it is possible that the Chinese had access to Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine.
Printing and publishing
The Mongol rulers patronized the Yuan printing industry. Chinese printing technology was transferred to the Mongols through Kingdom of Qochoand Tibetan intermediaries. Some Yuan documents such as Wang Zhen's Nong Shu were printed with earthenware movable type, a technology invented in the 12th century. However, most published works were still produced through traditional block printing techniques. The publication of a Taoist text inscribed with the name of Töregene Khatun, Ögedei's wife, is one of the first printed works sponsored by the Mongols. In 1273, the Mongols created the Imperial Library Directorate, a government-sponsored printing office. The Yuan government established centers for printing throughout China. Local schools and government agencies were funded to support the publishing of books.
Private printing businesses also flourished under the Yuan. They published a diverse range of works, and printed educational, literary, medical, religious, and historical texts. The volume of printed materials was vast. In 1312, 1,000 copies of a Buddhist text commented by Cosgi Odsir were printed just within Beijing. By 1328, annual sales of printed calendars and almanacs reached over three million in the Yuan dynasty.
One of the more notable applications of printing technology was the chao, the paper money of the Yuan. Chao were made from the bark of mulberry trees. The Yuan government used woodblocks to print paper money, but switched to bronze plates in 1275. The Mongols experimented with establishing the Chinese-style paper monetary system in Mongol-controlled territories outside of China. The Yuan minister Bolad was sent to Iran, where he explained Yuan paper money to the Il-khanate court of Gaykhatu. The Il-khanate government issued paper money in 1294, but public distrust of the exotic new currency doomed the experiment.
Foreign observers took note of Yuan printing technology. Marco Polo documented the Yuan printing of paper money and almanac pamphlets called tacuini. The vizier Rashid-al-Din recognized that printing was a valuable technological breakthrough, and expressed regret that the Mongol experiment with printing paper money had failed in the Muslim world. Rashid-al-Din's view was not shared by other chroniclers in the Middle East, who were critical of the experiment's disruptive impact on the Il-khanate.
Politically, the system of government created by Kublai Khan was the product of a compromise between Mongolian patrimonial feudalism and the traditional Chinese autocratic-bureaucratic system. Nevertheless, socially the educated Chinese elite were in general not given the degree of esteem that they had been accorded previously under native Chinese dynasties. Although the traditional Chinese elite were not given their share of power, the Mongols and the Semuren (various allied groups from Central Asia and the western end of the empire) largely remained strangers to the mainstream Chinese culture, and this dichotomy gave the Yuan regime a somewhat strong "colonial" coloration. The unequal treatment is possibly due to the fear of transferring power to the ethnic Chinese under their rule. The Mongols and Semuren were given certain advantages in the dynasty, and this would last even after the restoration of the imperial examination in the early 14th century. In general there were very few North Chinese or Southerners reaching the highest-post in the government compared with the possibility that Persians did so in the Ilkhanate. Later the Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynasty had also mentioned about the discrimination existed during the Yuan dynasty. In response to an objection against the use of "barbarians" in his government, the Yongle Emperor answered: "... Discrimination was used by the Mongols during the Yuan dynasty, who employed only "Mongols and Tartars" and discarded northern and southern Chinese and this was precisely the cause that brought disaster upon them".
The Mongols had employed foreigners long before the reign of Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan dynasty. But during Kublai's reign a hierarchy of reliability was introduced in China. The population was divided into the following classes:
- Semu, consisting of non-Mongol foreigners from the west and of Central Asia like Buddhist Uyghurs from Turfan, Jews, Nestorian Christians, and Muslims from Central Asia
- "Han", or all subjects of the former Jin dynasty, including Han Chinese, Khitans, Jurchens in northern China, and other peoples like Koreans, and people in Sichuan and Yunnan (from the Kingdom of Dali).
- Southerners, or all subjects of the former Southern Song dynasty, including Han Chinese and minority native ethnic groups in southern China
Partner merchants and non-Mongol overseers were usually either immigrants or local ethnic groups. Thus, in China they were Uighurs, Turkestani and Persian Muslims, and Christians. Foreigners from outside the Mongol Empire entirely, such as the Polo family, were everywhere welcomed.
At the same time the Mongols imported Central Asian Muslims to serve as administrators in China, the Mongols also sent Han Chinese and Khitans from China to serve as administrators over the Muslim population in Bukhara in Central Asia, using foreigners to curtail the power of the local peoples of both lands.
Despite the high position given to Muslims, some policies of the Yuan Emperors severe discriminated against them, restricting Halal slaughter and other Islamic practices like circumcision, as well as Kosher butchering for Jews, forcing them to eat food the Mongol way. Toward the end, corruption and the persecution became so severe that Muslim Generals joined Han Chinese in rebelling against the Mongols. The Ming founder Zhu Yuanzhang had Muslim Generals like Lan Yu who rebelled against the Mongols and defeated them in combat. Some Muslim communities had a Chinese surname which meant "barracks" and could also mean "thanks". Many Hui Muslims claim this is because that they played an important role in overthrowing the Mongols and it was given in thanks by the Han Chinese for assisting them. The Muslims in the semu class also revolted against the Yuan dynasty in the Ispah Rebellion but the rebellion was crushed and the Muslims were massacred by the Yuan loyalist commander Chen Youding.
The historian Frederick W. Mote wrote that the usage of the term "social classes" for this system was misleading and that the position of people within the 4 class system was not an indication of their actual social power and wealth, but just entailed "degrees of privilege" to which they were entitled institutionally and legally so a person's standing within the classes was not a guarantee of their standing, since there were rich and well socially standing Chinese while there were less rich Mongol and Semu than there were Mongol and Semu who lived in poverty and were ill treated.
The reason for the order of the classes and the reason why people were placed in a certain class was the date they surrendered to the Mongols, and had nothing to do with their ethnicity. The earlier they surrendered to the Mongols, the higher they were placed, the more the held out, the lower they were ranked. The Northern Chinese were ranked higher and Southern Chinese were ranked lower because southern China withstood and fought to the last before caving in. Major commerce during this era gave rise to favorable conditions for private southern Chinese manufacturers and merchants.
When the Mongols placed the Uighurs of the Kingdom of Qocho over the Koreans at the court the Korean King objected, then the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan rebuked the Korean King, saying that the Uighur King of Qocho was ranked higher than the Karluk Kara-Khanid ruler, who in turn was ranked higher than the Korean King, who was ranked last, because the Uighurs surrendered to the Mongols first, the Karluks surrendered after the Uighurs, and the Koreans surrendered last, and that the Uighurs surrendered peacefully without violently resisting.
Japanese historians like Uematsu, Sugiyama and Morita criticized the perception that a four class system existed under Mongol rule and Funada Yoshiyuki questioned the very existence of the Semu as a class.
The territory of the Yuan dynasty was divided into the Central Region (腹裏) and places under control of various Xing Zhongshusheng (行中書省 or 行省) or the Bureau of Buddhist and Tibetan Affairs (Xuanzheng Yuan).
The Central Region, consisting of present-day Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi, the south-eastern part of present-day Inner Mongolia and the Henan areas to the north of the Yellow River, was considered the most important region of the dynasty and directly governed by Zhongshusheng (中書省, "Secretariat") at Khanbaliq; similarly, another top-level administrative department called the Xuanzheng Yuan governed the whole of modern-day Tibet and a part of Kashmir.
Xing Zhongshusheng (行中書省, "branch Secretariat" or "en-route Secretariat"), or simply Xingsheng (行省), were provincial-level administrative organizations or institutions, sometimes roughly translated as "province", though they were not exactly provinces in modern sense. There were 11 Xingsheng in Yuan dynasty.
- Gansu Xingsheng (甘肅行省) with Zhangye District as its seat of government. Under this came most of present-day Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (originally the Tangut territory), south-eastern Gansu Province, and part of north-eastern Amdo.
- Henan Jiangbei Xingsheng (河南江北行省) with Kaifeng District as its seat of government. Under this came the Henan areas to the south of the Yellow River, north-east Hubei, Jiangsu, the north-eastern part of Jiangxi Province.
- Huguang Xingsheng (湖廣行省) with Wuhan of the present-day Hubei Province as its seat of government. Under this came a part of south-east Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi, most of Guizhou, and parts of south-western Guangdong Province.
- Jiangxi Xingsheng (江西行省) with Nanchang as its seat of government. Under this came part of present-day Jiangxi and Guangdong Province.
- Jiangzhe Xingsheng (江浙行省) with Hangzhou as its seat of government. Under this came Jiangsu and Anhui areas to the south of the Yangtze River, Zhejiang, Fujian, and a small area in the north-east of Jiangxi Province.
- Liaoyang Xingsheng (遼陽行省) with present-day Liaoyang District in Liaoning Province as its seat of government. Under this came north-east China, the northern part of Korea and the southern part of the Russian Far East.
- Lingbei Xingsheng (嶺北行省) with Karakorum as its seat of government. Under this province came the present-day Mongolia, northern Inner Mongolia and parts of Siberia.
- Shaanxi Xingsheng (陝西行省) with Xi'an as its seat of government. Under this came the majority of present-day Shaanxi Province, the south-western part of Inner Mongolia, south-eastern Gansu, north-western Sichuan, and a small part of Qinghai.
- Sichuan Xingsheng (四川行省) with Chengdu at its seat of government. Under this came most of present-day Sichuan Province and parts of south-western Shaanxi.
- Yunnan Xingsheng (雲南行省) with Kunming as its seat of government. Under this came present-day Yunnan Province, parts of western Guizhou and north-eastern part of Burma.
- Zhengdong Xingsheng (征東行省) with Kaesong of present-day Korea as its seat. It was a special institution set up when Kublai Khan attempted to invade Japan in 1281, with the king of Goryeo as its head. The setting of this Xingsheng was considerably different from all other Xingsheng, and unlike other Xingsheng, Zhengdong (征東), literally "Conquer East" or "Eastern Expedition", was not a geographic name, and this institution was also referred to as "Japanese Expedition Xingsheng" (征日本行省) or just "Japan Xingsheng" (日本行省). It was abolished when the invasion of Japan had failed, though set up again later.
Below the level of Xingsheng, the largest political division was the circuit (道), followed by prefectures (府) operating under a prefect and subprefectures (州) under a subprefect. The lowest political division was the county (縣) overseen by a magistrate. This government structure at the provincial level was later copied by the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Magic square in Arabic numerals (Yuan dynasty)
smelting machines (Yuan dynasty)
Yuan painting (Zhao Mengfu)
Chuangzi Nu (Yuan dynasty)
Yuan painting of a legendary figure riding on a dragon.
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- Yuan dynasty family tree
- List of Mongolian monarchs
- List of medieval Mongolian tribes and clans
- Mongol Empire
- Jun ware
- Jurchen Jin dynasty
- Song dynasty
- Ming dynasty
- Western Xia
- History of Mongolia
- List of Mongol Khans
- Mongol invasions
- Europeans in Medieval China
- Islam during the Yuan dynasty
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- Owen, Stephen, "The Yuan and Ming Dynasties," in Stephen Owen, ed. An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997. p. 723-743 (Archive).
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