The Yuan Dynasty (; pinyin: Yuáncháo; was a ruling dynasty founded by the Mongols, lasting officially from 1271 to 1368. In , the Yuan Dynasty followed the and preceded the Ming Dynasty. It was also a khanate of the Mongol Empire, considered one of the four major divisions of the empire. The dynasty was established by Kublai Khan, although Kublai Khan had his grandfather Genghis Khan placed on the official record as the founder of the dynasty or Taizu . While the emperors of the Yuan Dynasty ruled as Emperor of China, Kublai Khan had also claimed the title of , i.e. supremacy over the other Mongol khanates ; however this claim was only really recognized by the Il-Khanids.
Kublai Khan and Ariq Böke
In 1259 the Great Khan M& died while Kublai Khan, his brother, was campaigning against the and Ariq B&, his other brother commanded the Mongol homelands. After Möngke's demise, Ariq Böke decided to attempt to make himself Khan. Hearing of this, Kublai aborted his Chinese expedition and had himself elected as Khan in April of 1260. Still, Ariq Böke had his supporters and was elected as a rival khan to Kublai at Karakorum, then the capital of Mongol Empire. The brothers then engaged in a series of battles, ending with Ariq Böke's capture in 1264. Kublai held him prisoner until he died two years later. The khans of the Golden Horde and of the Chagatai Khanate did not recognize Kublai Khan as the Great Khan. The conflict between Kublai Khan and the khanates in Central Asia led by Kaidu had lasted for a few decades, until the beginning of the 14th century, when both of them had died. , another brother of Kublai khan, ruled his Ilkhanate and paid homage to the Great Khan but actually established a separate khanate, and after 's enthronement in 1295, Kublai's successor sent him a Chinese seal reading "王府定國理民之寶" in Chinese script, which formally gave him the authority to establish a country and govern its people. The other khanates made peace with the Yuan in 1304 and paid tributes afterwards till mid 14th century, but the four major successor khanates never came again under one rule.
Rule of Kublai Khan
After winning the war against Ariq Böke, Kublai Khan began his reign over his khanate with great aspirations and self-confidence — in 1266 he ordered the construction of his new capital at the modern city of Beijing. The city had been called Zhongdu during the , and in 1272 it came to be known as in Chinese, Daidu to the Mongols, and Khanbalikh to the Turks. Kublai began his drive against the who were finally defeated in 1279. In 1271 he established the Yuan Dynasty, which would proceed to be the first non-Han dynasty to rule all of China. Its official title, Da Yuan , originates from ''I Ching'', "大哉乾元" . Yuan is the first dynasty in China to use Da in its official title.
In 1272, Dadu officially became the capital of the Yuan Dynasty. In 1279, Guangzhou was conquered by the Yuan army led by the Chinese general Zhang Hongfan in Battle of Yamen, which marks the end of the Southern Song and the onset of China under the Yuan. During Kublai Khan's reign he was put under pressure by many of his advisers to further expand the sphere of influence of the Yuan through the traditional tributary system. However, the attempts to establish such tributary relationships were rebuffed and expeditions to , , , and , would all later fail. Nevertheless, and Champa later recognized the supremacy of the Yuan.
Kublai Khan's early rule involved widespread plunder. As if expecting to lose the country, the Mongols attempted to remove as much money and resources as was possible. The Mongol conquest never affected China's trade with other countries. In fact the Yuan Dynasty strongly supported the Silk Road trade network, allowing the transfer of Chinese technologies to the west. Though many reforms were made during Kublai Khan's life, and despite his notable warming to the populace, the Yuan was a relatively short lived dynasty.
Kublai Khan began to serve as a true emperor, reforming much of China and its institutions, a process that would take decades to complete. For example, he consolidated his rule by centralizing the government of China — making himself an . He reformed many other governmental and economic institutions, especially the tax system. Although the Yuan rulers sought to govern China through traditional institutions, using Han Chinese bureaucrats, they were not up to the task initially. The Hans were discriminated against politically. Almost all important central posts were monopolized by Mongols, who also preferred employing non-Hans from other parts of the Mongol domain in those positions for which no Mongol could be found. Hans were more often employed in non-Chinese regions of the empire. In essence, society was divided into four classes in order of privilege: Mongols, "Color-eyed" , Han , and Southerners . During his lifetime, Kublai Khan built the capital of the Yuan, , which is present-day Beijing, and made the summer capital. He also improved the agriculture of China, extending the Grand Canal, highways and public granaries. Marco Polo described his rule as benevolent: relieving the populace of taxes in times of hardship; building hospitals and orphanages; distributing food among the abjectly poor. He also promoted science and religion.
He issued paper banknotes in 1273. The Yuan bureaucrats made paper bills from the mulberry bark paper. Yuan was the first dynasty in China to use paper currency completely as the circulating medium.
Like other emperors of non-Han dynasties, Kublai Khan considered himself a legitimate Chinese emperor. While he had claimed nominal supremacy over the rest of the Mongol Empire, his interest was clearly in China, along with the areas in its traditional tributary system. From the beginning of his reign, the other three khanates of the Mongol Empire became de facto independent and only one recognized him as Khagan. By the time of Kublai Khan’s death in 1294, the Mongol Empire had broken up into four separate khanates, with Yuan Dynasty being one of them.
Early rulers after Kublai
Succession was a problem for the Yuan Dynasty, later causing much strife and internal struggle. This emerged as early as the end of Kublai's reign. His original choice was his son, Zhenjin — but he died before Kublai in 1285. Thus, Zhenjin's son ruled as for approximately 10 years following Kublai's death . Chengzong decided to maintain and continue much of the work begun by his grandfather. However, the corruption in the Yuan Dynasty began during the reign of Chengzong.
became Emperor of China after the death of Chengzong. Unlike his predecessor, he did not continue Kublai's work, but largely rejected it. During his short reign , China fell into financial difficulties, partly due to bad decisions made by Wuzong. By the time he died, China was in severe debt and the Yuan Dynasty faced popular discontent.
The fourth Yuan emperor, is seen as the last competent emperor. He stood out among the Mongol rulers of China as an adopter of mainstream , 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 , which resulted in the execution of 5 of the highest ranking officials. Starting in 1313 imperial examinations were reintroduced for prospective officials, testing their knowledge on significant historical works. Also, he codified much of the law.
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 . 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.
Western musical instruments were introduced to enrich the 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 flourished, although Taoism endured certain persecutions in favor of Buddhism from the Yuan government. Confucian governmental practices and examinations based on the , 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 first recorded travels by Europeans to China and back date from this time. The most famous traveler of the period was the 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'' , appeared about the year 1299.
The Yuan undertook extensive public works. Road and water communications were reorganized and improved. To provide against possible famines, 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 last years of the Yuan Dynasty were marked by struggle, famine, and bitterness among the populace. The dynasty was, significantly, one of the shortest-lived dynasties in the history of China, covering just a century, 1271 to 1368. 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 were marked by intrigues and rivalries. Uninterested in administration, they were separated from both the army and the populace. China was torn by dissension and unrest; outlaws ravaged the country without interference from the weakening Yuan armies.
ruled for just two years ; his rule ended in a coup at the hands of five princes. They placed on the throne, and, after an unsuccessful attempt to calm the princes, he also succumbed to regicide. The last of the nine successors of Kublai Khan, , fled north to Shangdu from Dadu in 1368 after the approach of the forces of the Míng Dynasty , founded by Zhu Yuanzhang in the south. He had tried to regain Dadu, which eventually failed; he died in Yingchang two years later . Yingchang was seized by the Ming shortly after his death.
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.
The Yuan remnants retreated to Mongolia after the fall of Yingchang to the Ming in 1370, where the Yuan Dynasty was formally carried on. It was called the Northern Yuan by Chinese and Mongols. According to Chinese political orthodoxy, there could be only one legitimate dynasty, and so the Ming and the Northern Yuan denied each other's legitimacy, although the Ming did consider the previous Yuan which it had succeeded a legitimate dynasty. Chinese historians generally regard the Míng Dynasty as the legitimate dynasty.
The Ming army pursued the Northern Yuan forces into Mongolia in 1372, but were defeated by the latter under and Kokhtemur. They tried again in 1380, ultimately winning a decisive victory over Northern Yuan in 1388. About 70,000 Mongols were taken prisoner, and was sacked in 1380. Eight years later, the Northern Yuan throne was taken over by , a descendant of , instead of the descendants of Kublai Khan. The following centuries 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. Periods of conflict with the Ming Dynasty intermingled with periods of peaceful relations with border trade. In 1402, & abolished the name Yuan Dynasty; he was however defeated by & in 1403.
In the 17th century, the Mongols came under the influence of the Manchu. In 1634, Ligdan Khan, last Mongol khan of the Borjigin dynasty, died on his way to Tibet. His son, Ejei Khan, surrendered to the Manchu and gave the great seal of the Yuan Emperor to its ruler, Hong Taiji. As a result, Hong Taiji established the Qing Dynasty as the successor of the Yuan Dynasty in 1636.
The territory of the Yuan Dynasty was divided into the Central Region and places under control of various provinces or the Xuanzheng Institute .
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 the Secretariat at Dadu; similarly, another top-level administrative department called the Xuanzheng Institute governed the whole of modern-day Tibet and a south-east part of Turkestan.
There were 11 provinces in Yuan Dynasty.
#Gansu Province with Zhangye District as its capital. Under this came the whole of present-day Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region , south-eastern Gansu, and part of north-eastern Amdo.
#Henan Jiangbei Province with Kaifeng District as its capital. Under this came the Henan areas to the south of the Yellow River, Jiangsu, Fujian and the north-eastern part of Jiangxi.
#Huguang Province with Wuhan of the present-day Hubei Province as its capital. Under this came a part of south-east Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi, most of Guizhou, and parts of south-western Guangdong.
#Jiangxi Province with Nanchang as its capital. Under this came Jiangxi and Guangdong.
#Liaoyang Province with present-day Liaoyang District in Liaoning Province as its capital. Under this came north-east China and the northern part of Korea.
#Lingbei Province with Karakoram as its capital. Under this province came the present-day Mongolia, northern Inner Mongolia and southern Siberia.
#Shaanxi Province with Xi'an as its capital. 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 Amdo.
#Sichuan Province with Chengdu at its capital. Under this came most of Sichuan and parts of south-western Shaanxi.
#Yunnan Province with Kunming as its capital. Under this came Yunnan and parts of western Guizhou.
#Zhejiang Province with Hangzhou as its capital. 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.
#Zhendong Province with Kaesong of present-day Korea as its capital. It was a special institution originally set up to deal with the war with Japan, with the king of Goryeo as its head.
Below the level of the province, the largest political division was the circuit , followed by prefectures operating under a prefect and subprefectures under a subprefect. The lowest political division was the county overseen by a magistrate. This government structure at the provincial level was later copied by the and dynasties.