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Chinese History - 1271-1368 AD - Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty

China History Map - Yuan (Mongol) Temujin, better known as Genghis Khan, was the son of a chieftain of the Nirun Mongols, and was born in 1155. After a long struggle he made himself chief of this tribe, overcame his most important rival, Ong Khan, in 1203, and was elected chief of all the Mongol tribes. His possessions were situated in Karakorum, from whence lie advanced to the conquest of the world, overcoming the Uigurians in 1209, the Kharismians in 1220, and defeating the Eussians, who were in alliance with the Kumaris, on the Kalka in 1223. He died on the mountain Lu pan shan, in Kansu, while upon an expedition against the Tanguts in 1227, the year of the downfall of the western Hsia dynasty. His influence upon China was merely indirect, through his expulsion of the Kin dynasty. His imperial title, and his Chinese name Tai tszu, which he bore after 1206, are no doubt honorable additions of a later period.

After his son To Lei (Tuli; 1227-1229) had ruled for a short period he was succeeded by his third son, Ogotai Khan (Wokuo tai; in Chinese, Tai Tsung), 12291241. Under his rule the Mongols destroyed the Kin dynasty, and became the immediate neighbours of China. Upon the west also the Mongol kingdom was rapidly extended; their expeditions against North Russia as far as the district of Novgorod (1237-1238), against South Russia as far as Volhynia and Podolia (1240), against Poland, Silesia, and Moravia (1240-1241), against Hungary (12411242),spread the terror of the Mongol arms far and wide throughout Eastern Europe, and also brought the existence of China to the knowledge of the West The three great kingdoms founded in Asia, Persia, Turkestan, and that of the Golden Horde on the Volga, recognized, though perhaps only nominally, the supremacy of China, - a submission later renewed to Timur the conqueror of India. The rulers of the three kingdoms received yearly subsidies from China, whence also they acquired their appointment and their royal seals. Prisoners of war formed the body-guards of the Chinese emperor, a Russian guard, for example, being formed in 1330. Numerous embassies also brought tribute from the subject princes.

After the death of Ogotai, his wife, Nai Ma chen, the sixth queen, undertook the government during the minority of her eldest son, Kuyuk Khan (Kuei yu; in Chinese, Ting Tsung), who ascended the throne in 1246; however, he died in 1248. The empress Wo wu li hai mi shi in Karakorum undertook the regency until the coming of age of Mangu Khan, the son of Tu li (Meng Ko; in Chinese, Hsien Tsung; 1251-1259); he spent most of his time in his summer capital of Shang tu (Xanadu) hi Southeast Mongolia, where he died. His reign was almost entirely occupied with wars against the southern Sung dynasty, which was ultimately destroyed in 1279 under the rule of his younger brother, Kublai Khan (Hu pi lie; in Chinese, Shi Tsu; 1260-1294).

The first war of Kublai was directed against the pretender within his own nation, Arikbuga (Alipuko), who revolted against him in Karakorum, but was defeated in 1261, and forced to flight and submission in 1264. In the same year Peking was declared the capital of the country, under the name of Chung tu (central residence), and in 1271 Kublai adopted the title of the Yuan dynasty for his family. When China fell to the Mongols, it became part of a vast empire that stretched northward into Siberia and westward to Europe's Danube. As Kublai Khan completed his conquest of China, he moved his capital to Dadu, today's Peking. Adopting China's traditions, Kublai declared himself the Emperor Shih-tsu and his dynasty the Yan. Mongol rule fell heavy upon the conquered. The examination system was scrapped, and no Chinese could occupy any key bureaucratic position. The native people were relegated to a position beneath not only the Mongols but any foreigner. Peasants suffered most. Many were pressed into military service or forced labor. Others were stripped of their land so that the Emperor could grant it to those he favored. And Kublai was hungry for more land. His armies conquered Korea, Vietnam, Burma and twice tried to conquer Japan only to have the Mongol fleets destroyed by "divine winds" of typhoons.

The Mongols, who had already subdued Korea, made this country the base of operations for an attempt (which was defeated by the Japanese) to establish themselves in Kyushu. Negotiations were carried on by Japan with the idea of ultimate subjection, but led to no result, and a great fleet sent out by Kublai against Japan in 1281 was almost entirely destroyed by a fearful storm. In spite of this failure, Kublai maintained peace and order throughout the twelve provinces into which the empire was divided, and under his administration every possible consideration was given to Chinese customs. The great "Imperial Canal," which had already been begun under the dynasties of the Sui, Sung, and the Kin, was extended and completed, and the nation developed advantageously in other directions.

As in other periods of alien dynastic rule of China, 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 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. Lamaism (Tibetan Buddhism) flourished, although native Taoism endured Mongol persecutions. 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 Mongols in the hope of maintaining order over Han society. Advances were realized in the fields of travel literature, cartography and geography, and scientific education. Certain key Chinese innovations, such as printing techniques, porcelain production, playing cards, and medical literature, were introduced in Europe, while the production of thin glass and cloisonne became popular in China.

The first records of travel by Westerners date from this time. Until the Mongols arrived, China was, in the words of one historian, "as familiar to the West as the other side of the moon, except that the moon was an established fact." Yet amid the misery of Mongol rule the West first learned of this ancient and civilized China. Because it was made a part of the vast Mongol empire, news of it spread to Europe. When two Italian merchants arrived in Cathay (as the Europeans called China) in 1268, word began to pour forth. Fame came to one of their sons, Marco Polo, who first appeared in Kublai's court in 1275. Marco Polo visited the court of the Grand Khan between 1275 and 1292 with his two uncles, Nicolo and Maffeo, spent some time in different parts of the empire, and acquired much information upon its riches and treasures ("Marco Millione "). Upon returning to Italy, his tale was recorded by a friend. Reprinted, it spread through Europe causing a sensation as it went. His accounts led indirectly to the discovery of America, as Columbus set out "to sail westward to the east;" that is, to discover Manzi or Southern China. Still, the West was another four hundred years from getting to know China well.

As the empire neared its end, epidemics (contemporaneous with the Black Death in Europe) swept the land. Severe weather battered and scorched those who did not succumb to disease, and poor government following Kublai's death yielded to widespread gangsterism. Timur (Tie murh; in Chinese, Cheng Tsung; 1295-1307), the successor of Kublai, reintroduced the veneration of Kung fu tsze, whose doctrines had been tolerated, but not respected, by his predecessors. His example was followed by the succeeding rulers, who evinced keen interest in the classical literature, though they did not thereby gain the affection of their subjects.

Upon the whole, the Mongol rulers seem to have governed wisely; they invariably showed themselves anxious to lessen the burdens upon the people, but the remembrance of the fear inspired by the Mongol invasions had not as yet been obliterated. Any convulsion of nature which ravaged the country was considered by the learned classes and the common people to be a heaven-sent punishment. In court life eunuchs were also influential. The emperor Shotepala (Ying Tsung) was murdered in 1323 by his chamberlain, Tie shi; but those family dissensions which had so largely contributed to the downfall of earlier dynasties were almost unknown. The first instance of such outbreaks occurred in 1328, after the death of the emperor Yesun Timur (Tai ting Ti). Wen Tsung, or Tup Timur, a son of Kaisun (Hai shan, Wu Tsung; 1308-1311), got possession of the throne, and drove out Asu chipa (Achakpa), a son of Yesun Timur, who had also assumed the imperial title within Shang tu. The elder brother, Ho shi la (Ming Tsung), was recognised in 1328 by Tup Timur as the legal heir, and ascended the throne in Mongolia, but died in 1329 on a visit to a younger brother, who is supposed to have poisoned him. Wen Tsung then ruled until 1332, and died in Shang tu.

I-lin-chi-pan, a son of Ho-shi-la, who was but seven years of age, was set upon the throne, and died in the same year; he was succeeded by his eldest brother, To-huan Tie-murh (Shun Ti; 1333-1368), the last ruler of the Mongolian dynasty. The reign of Shun Ti was opened by a series of earthquakes, showers of blood, and other phenomena, which, together with the failure in the harvest and an outbreak of floods, threw the nation into a state of disquietude. Much dissatisfaction was also caused by the issue of a decree for the undertaking of works upon the banks of the Hoang Ho, in the course of which taxation was necessarily increased. In 1348 the first disturbances broke out. In 1351 an opposition emperor, Hsu Shou hui, was set up in Hupei, and another emperor, Chang Shi cheng, in Kiangsu in 1353. In 1360 Hsu Shou hui was deposed by Chen Yo liang, who styled himself emperor of Han, while Chang Shi cheng proclaimed himself king of Wu in 1363, and was deposed by Chu Yuan chang in 1367. In 1355 Han Lin erh proclaimed himself emperor of Sung in Ngan-hwei; and in 1363 Ming yu chen proclaimed himself emperor of Hsia in Szechwan.

The most important of all these pretenders was Chu Yuan chang; he had been born of poor parents, and after becoming a Buddhist priest had entered the service of Kwo Tze King, who had made himself prince of Chu yang in Ngan-hwei in the year 1353. After the death of his father-in-law, Chu conquered Nanking at the head of a division of the forces collected by the former, and made himself king of Wu in 1367; he tnen became the chief opponent of the Mongols. In 1368 he assumed the imperial title, with the dynastic name of Ming; in the same year his generals conquered Peking, whence the last Mongol emperor, Shun Ti, fled, passing through the Nanking Pass into those same steppes whence his forefathers had once set out for the invasion of China.

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Page last modified: 02-07-2012 18:29:06 ZULU