History of Yuan Dynasty 1279–1368
Before the Yuan dynasty, Han people ruled China. Han refers to the majority ethnic group in China. At least from the Han dynasty onward, Mongols from the north tried to invade China repeatedly. They finally succeeded and established the Yuan dynasty in 1279. The founder was Hubilie, the grandson of Genghis Khan. Yuan was very strong militarily. Genghis Khan built a Mongolian empire, which extended all the way to Europe. In ruling China, the Mongolians absorbed the culture of the Han Chinese.
In studying Chinese history, Chinese children in later periods were told that the Han Chinese culture was so resilient that although invaders could conquer and rule China, they had to learn the Han culture and rule by adopting the Han way of life.
Genghis Khan launched long-running wars on the surrounding areas. By the middle period of the thirteenth century, the Mongols had conquered North China, Central Asia and Russia and even reached the Indian River Valley to the south. The ambitious Genghis Khan set about expanding his territory to the China mainland. In 1234, the Mongols overthrew the Jin Kingdom and opened the door to unifying the China mainland. In 1271, a grandson of Genghis Khan - Kublai Khan (Emperor Shizu) changed the dynasty title into Yuan, thus Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368) began with its capital at Dadu (present Beijing). Successfully, the Mongols conquered the Southern Song Dynasty in 1276 and finally set up a non-Han regime to rule over all of China. Historically, the Yuan Dynasty is a special period – the Mongolian interlude in Chinese history.
As the Yuan Dynasty possessed extensive territory including the present day Xinjiang, Tibet, Yunnan, most of the area of the present northeast China, Taiwan, the isles in the South China Sea, the Mongols managed to rule a complex group of peoples who inhabited the vast land. Due to the lack of the experience of administration, at first they used the Han political and cultural administration models. However, they created four social classes to discriminate against the Han. The first class was the Mongols themselves, who enjoyed the great privileges; the second was called the Semu people, who lived in the West Regions; the third class was made up of the Han people living in the North China; the last class called the Nan people living in the South China, who enjoyed the least privileges. This was a great obstacle to the amalgamation of different peoples and caused the later disintegration.
At the late period of the Yuan Dynasty, political corruption and the heavy economic burden of corvee caused a succession of peasant uprisings. In 1368, the leader of a Hongjin (red headband) peasant uprising Zhu Yuanzhang conquered Yuan's capital - Dadu - and ultimately frustrated Mongol troops. The Yuan Dynasty collapsed.