History of Yuan Dynasty 1279–1368

Before the Yuan Dynasty, Han people ruled China. Han refers to the majority ethnic group in China. Since the Han Dynasty, Mongolian from the north had 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. (Map of Yuan Dynasty)

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 Red Turban rebellion, Zhu Yuanzhang conquered Yuan's capital, Dadu, and ultimately frustrated Mongol troops. The Yuan Dynasty collapsed.

Official language used in Yuan Dynasty

Mongolian and Middle Chinese

List of Yuan Dynasty Emperors

Borjigin Kublai Khan (1260-1294)
Borjigin Temur Oljeytu Khan (1294-1307)
Borjigin Qayshan Guluk (1308-1311)
Borjigin Ayurparibhadra (1311-1320)
Borjigin Suddhipala Gegeen (1321-1323)
Borjigin Yesun-Temur (1323-1328)
Borjigin Arigaba (1328)
Borjigin Jijaghatu Toq-Temur (1328-1329 and 1329-1332)
Borjigin Qoshila Qutuqtu (1329)
Borjigin Irinchibal (1332)
Borjigin Toghan-Temur (1333-1370)

Yuan Dynasty clothing

Men in Yuan Dynasty liked to grow plaited hair and wear earring. They wore wide-brimmed rain hat in summer, while wore fur coat, leather boot and leather hat in winter. Women in Yuan Dynasty wore robe, pant and used a band to tie on waist.

Learn more about Chinese history, please visit History of China

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Central Academy of Fine Arts
Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University