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The Yuan Dynasty was a period of time when China was under the rule of the Mongol Empire. The Yuan ruled China from 1279 to 1368. It was followed by the Ming Dynasty.
The Chinese had fought with the Mongol tribes of the north for hundreds of years. When the Mongols united under the leadership of Genghis Khan
, they swept across northern China destroying many cities along the way. The Mongols and the Chinese continued to fight for many years until Kublai Khan
Kublai Khan by Anige of Nepal
Under Kublai Khan, the Mongols first allied with the Southern Song Chinese to defeat the Jin Chinese of the north. Then they turned on the Southern Song. Kublai eventually conquered much of China and established his own Chinese dynasty called the Yuan Dynasty.
Note: Kublai Khan declared the Yuan Dynasty in 1271, but the Song weren't fully defeated until 1279. Both dates are often used by historians as the start of the Yuan Dynasty.
Kublai Khan Rules
Kublai Khan took on much of the culture of the Chinese. He soon realized that, although the Mongols were great warriors, they didn't know how to run a large empire. Kublai used Chinese officials to run the government, but he kept a close eye on them, never quite trusting his former enemy.
Kublai encouraged trade and communications with lands beyond China. He brought in people from all around the world. One of his famous visitors was Marco Polo from Europe. Kublai also permitted freedom of religion including Confucianism, Islam, and Buddhism.
In order to keep control of his Chinese subjects, Kublai instituted social classes based on race. The Mongols made up the highest class and were always given preference over other races. Below the Mongols were the non-Chinese races such as Muslims and the Turks. At the bottom were the Chinese with the people of the Southern Song considered the lowest class.
Parts of the Chinese culture continued to flourish during the Yuan Dynasty. The Yuan rulers encouraged advancement in technology and transportation. They also encouraged arts such as ceramics, painting, and drama.
In some ways the Mongols became more like the Chinese over time. They were a small percentage of the overall population. Many Mongols, however, attempted to retain their own culture. They continued to live in tents, drink fermented milk, and only married other Mongols.
Downfall of the Yuan
The Yuan Dynasty was the shortest lived of all the major Chinese Dynasties. After Kublai Khan's death, the dynasty began to weaken. The heirs of Kublai began to fight over power and the government became corrupt. Chinese rebel groups began to form to fight against the Mongol rule. In 1368, a Buddhist monk named Zhu Yuanzhang led the rebels to overthrow the Yuan. He then established the Ming Dynasty.
Interesting Facts about the Yuan Dynasty
- The word "yuan" means "origin of the universe."
- The social classes were dictated by the order that people groups were conquered by the Mongols. The Southern Song Chinese were the last to be conquered, so they were at the bottom.
- The Yuan introduced paper money throughout all of China. The money later experienced high inflation.
- Today, the "yuan" is the basic unit of money in China.
- The capital city was Dadu. Today, the city is called Beijing and is the current capital city of China.
- Kublai also had a "summer" capital city in Mongolia called Shangdu. It is sometimes called Xanadu.
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