Yuan Dynasty

The founding of the Yuan Dynasty

The ancestors of the Mongols had long lived in the area between the northern Daxing'an Mountains in the north and the eastern bank of the Argun River before the nationality moved west to the Mongolian Plateau, living a nomadic life during the period of the Tang Dynasty, and which wasn't called Mongols in the Tang, Song, Liao, Jin period. Together with other tribes, it was sometimes called Tartar. In 1204, Temüjin (1126-1127), a great Mongolian leader, united all the tribes of the Mongolian Plateau. Two years later, Temüjin, proclaimed Genghis Khan (Great Khan), established his own regime in the Gobi Desert, which was called the Great Mongolia. The Mongols kept expanding its territory; by the reign of Mongke Khan, it had successively defeated and subjugated the Western Liao, the Western Xia, the Jin, the Dali which in southern part of China and frequently attacked the Southern Song. After Mongke Khan died, Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, ascended the throne in Kaiping (Inner Mongolia) in 1260. In 1271, Kublai Khan renamed his dynasty the Great Yuan, which marked the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The next year he removed his capital to Dadu (now Beijing). In 1276, the Yuan army conquered Lin'an, capital of the Southern Song Dynasty, thus unifying China once more.

The Yuan Dynasty covered 98 years and survived 11 emperors. But if the years of the Great Mongolia were taken into account, the regime would have 15 emperors ruling for 163 years. The territory of the Yuan Dynasty extended to Siberia in the north, the South China Sea in the south, Tibet and Yunnan in the southwest, Xinjiang in the northwest, and the Erhuocike Sea in the northeast.
Political system of Yuan Dynasty

The military and political systems of the Yuan Dynasty were mainly based on those of previous dynasties. The central government comprised the Central Secretariat, Military Council, and the Censorate. Under the Central Secretariat were the Six Departments in charge of administrative affairs for the whole country. The Military Council was invested with the power to direct military activities, while the Censorate had the main duty of supervising officials. In various administrative regions, executive secretariats were set up as agencies of the Central Secretariat. Officials in the executive secretariats were directly appointed and dispatched by the emperor. However, these executive secretariats later became the highest standing administrative organs in certain regional areas. In addition to Fuli (the hinterland, including Hebei, Shandong and Shanxi) and the Bureau of Buddhist and Tibetan Affairs which was established to govern Tufan, the whole country was divided into ten provinces. They are Lingbei, Liaoyang, Henan, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and Huguang. The provinces possessed great power - besides governing all the lu, fu, zhou and xian (i.e., prefectures, counties, etc.), they also dealt with matters including revenue, land reclamation, water transportation, military service, etc. The establishment of the provincial system during the Yuan Dynasty was an important development of the power-centralising system since the Qin and the Han dynasties.

The military system of the Yuan was an embodiment of traditional Mongol system and the military system of the Central Plains. The Yuan Imperial Army which amounted to over 10,000 men was directly controlled by the emperor himself or his minister. The garrison consisted of more than 30 Wei. Each Wei had a commander under the leadership of the Military Council. Military forces stationed in other areas across the country were made up of Mongols, Han soldiers, and troops from newly conquered regions.
Economy of the Yuan Dynasty

The Yuan Dynasty united the northern and the southern part of China and brought together different nationalities from various regions, thus providing favorable conditions for social and economic development across the country. Agricultural was still the driving force of the economy. The Yuan exceeded the Southern Song in farming technology, arable land availability, grain output, water conservancy construction and the planting of cotton. In livestock husbandry, pastoral areas increased and stock-raising facilities improved. In handicrafts, as well as state-owned shops, there were private workshops that produced a greater and more diverse range of goods than in preceding dynasties and cotton spinning and felt making reached a higher level. Progress was also made in pottery making and printing. The postal system and transportation system were perfected and the opening of sea routes invigorated both domestic and international traffic channels. Flourishing commerce produced some bustling cities like Dadu, Hangzhou, Quanzhou, and Guangzhou. Foreign trade in the Yuan period reached Korea and Japan in the east, India and southeast of Asian countries in the south, Arabia and the Mediterranean countries in the southwest, and as far as Africa in the west. Chinese merchants could be found in East Asia, South Asia, West Asia, East Africa and continent of Europe which was linked up by land routes. Meanwhile, merchants from foreign countries came to China. To deal with foreign trades, the Yuan government successively set up some harbor administration centers in Quanzhou, Qingyuan (present-day Ningbo in Zhejiang), Shanghai, Ganpu (south of present-day Haiyan County in Zhejiang), Wenzhou, Guangzhou and Hangzhou. The Yuan regime adopted a policy of toleration towards all religions. Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity spread in Dadu. Many foreign emissaries, merchants, scientists and missionaries came to Dadu in succession and thus promoted economic and cultural exchanges between China and other countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. Macro Polo (1254-1324), an Italian who made extensive tours in China and lived for a ling time in Dadu and wrote a remarkable book entitled Journey to the East and Records of knowledge about the East.

Science and Culture of the Yuan Dynasty

The renewed national unification served to boost the economy, promote science and culture, improved the ties between various nationalities and increase contacts with foreign lands. Culture, art, science and technology also reached new heights in the Yuan period. While China was the most advanced country in the world in astronomy, its development in mathematics and medicine was also exceedingly remarkable. The writing of opera and novel flourished. The Yuan opera (qu), together with Tang poetry and Song lyrics (ci), was part of China's most valuable literary heritage. Guan Hanqing was the most famous writer in that period.

In the Yuan Dynasty, paintings by scholars and officials sprang up. Besides their pursuit of splendid and exquisite workmanship, and lifelike portrait, they put emphasis on the expression of personal feelings and emotional appeal in writing. Further combining of calligraphy with drawing, such paintings in the Yuan Dynasty required painters to have a good mastery of literature. It is the combination of poetry, calligraphy and drawing that makes Chinese paintings full of more literary taste. It was the great development in China’s painting history. And landscape painting was the most popular in the Yuan Dynasty.
In addition, outstanding achievements could be found in astronomy in the Yuan Dynasty. Guo Shoujing was a well-known scientist who was proficient in astronomy calendar making and water conservancy. He created more than ten kinds of astronomical equipments. The territory of the Yuan Dynasty was very large. Its created for the development of geography , Important accomplishments in geography included survey of the Constellation Sea which was the source of the Yellow River, Territorial Map was drawn and Unified Domain under the Yuan Regime compiled. Due to the extensive contacts with foreign countries in the Yuan Dynasty, there were other great works such as Local conditions and Customs of Cambodia and Records of Islands.

As cotton was planted widely, progress was made in cotton textile in Yuan Dynasty. Water-driven wpinning wheels were used in spinning, which was about four or five hundred years earlier than Europe. A woman weaver named Huang Daopo, turned put quilt covers with various designs and patterns, the colors being bright and pleasing and as beautiful as paintings.
The Agriculture Department of the Yuan Dynasty compiled Summary of Farming and Sericulture. The other agricultural encyclopedia of the Yuan Dynasty was the General Formula of Farming and Sericulture.

Decline of Yuan Dynasty

During the nine decades of Yuan rule, however, there were no ends to peasant insurrections. When the Ming troops conquered Dadu in the 28th year of Zhizheng (1368), Emperor Shun of the Yuan fled north and the Yuan Dynasty came to the end. The Yuan rulers and ministers, who survived in the northern Gobi Desert, still retained the regime's name, which was referred by the historians to as the Northern Yuan.