Previous History: The Rise of the Mongol Empire -
Khubilai Khan, the Conquest of China, and the Foundation of the Yuan Dynasty -
Mongol Rule over China -
The End of Mongol Rule -
The Northern Yuan
The so-called "Mongols" are actually a heterogenous group of different nomad peoples of Turkic and "Tartar" origin. The word "Mongol" is derived from the name of a tribe called Manghol. Although the cultural stage of these ethnical groups was quite different, they had a common language that allowed a unification under the hand of the strongest clan. The strongest ethnics were the
Tatar, socially divided into aristocracy, common people, slaves and prisoners of war. Except animism, the higher religions of Nestorian Christianity, Manicheism and Buddhism had won followers among the "Mongols". The economical base of these nomad people was cattle-breeding, hunting and the trade with different Inner Asian kingdoms and the empires of China (Jin 金 and Southern Song 南宋).
The unifier of the nomad peoples, Činggis Qan (Genghis Khan, Gengghis Khan, Chinggis Khan), was a vasall of the Kereyid people that was employed by the Jin rulers to subdue the Kereyid Tatars. By 1206 Chinggis could defeat his opponents and unified the Mongol people under his rule as Great Khan (qan, or qaghan, qaγan, Chin. kèhán (!) 可汗). Chinggis used the knowledge of the Uighurs - that had reached a higher cultural stage than the nomad steppe peoples - to crush the empires in northern China, the Western Xia (Xixia 西夏) and Jin. These empires were intended to play the role of an economic and military base for the intrusions into the rest of China. The capital of the early Mongol empire was Karakorum (Qara-qorum, Karakhorum, "Halahelin 哈剌和林", short: Helin 和林) at the Orkhon River. His campaigns against the Jin empire had begun in 1211, the Central Capital 中都 (modern Beijing) fell in 1215, an the Mongols installed a military government. In 1217 a large campaign, consisting of the armies of different tribes and peoples of the grasslands north of the Gobi desert (a region called mobei 漠北 "north of the desert"), Khitan, Jurchen and submittive Chinese was launched against the Central Plain 中原, the heartland of northern China, under the leadership of general Muqali (Mukhali, "Muhuali 木華黎"). The Mongols were also supported by members of the gentry of the Jin empire who saw their chance by breaking away from the Jin rulers, like Zhang Rou 張柔, Yan Shi 嚴實, Zhang Rong 張榮, Li Quan 李全 and his son Li Tan 李璮, and collaborated with the conquerors.
A political balance between Persia and the new Mongol empire was not very easy, and some difficulties between these two empires lead to the first Mongol expedition to the west: northern Persia and southern Russia became part of a huge steppe empire.
Chinggis died in 1227 just when the Tangut empire of Western Xia had submitted to the Great Khan.
Chinggis' son Öködei (Ögedei, "Wokuotai 窩闊台"), elected Great Khan during the state assembly, khuriltai ("hulitai 忽里台"), in 1229, started to fulfill the left heritage of the first Great Khan: the conquest of China. In three great armies, the Mongols advanced, Öködei himself commanding the center line, Temüge-otčigin ("Tiemuge Wochijin" 鐵木哥斡赤斤") commanding the eastern line, and Tölüi (Tolui, "Tuolei 拖雷") the right army, entering Jin territory from the Han River 漢水 valley. The Mongol armies united, but general Subotai ("Subutai 速不台") was not able to take the besieged Jin capital Kaifeng 開封 (Bianliang 汴梁, modern Kaifeng/Henan). Only in the next year, when Emperor Jin Aizong 金哀宗 had fled, the capital fell by treason. The Mongols then besieged the city of Caizhou 蔡州 (modern Xincai 新蔡/Henan) where the emperor had fled to, and sent to the Southern Song court with the proposal to attack the last Jin bastion in a concertated campaign. Eventually, the Song general Meng Gong 孟珙 fielded his army, marched north and helped the Mongols to break the fortress in early 1234. Shortly before, Mongol armies had conquered the Jin satellite state of Dongzhen 東真 and a great part of Korea. Chinggis' grandson Batu ("Badu 拔都"; by the Europeans called "Bathy rex Tartarorum") conquered a great part of the Russian principalities, the Turk Kipchaks and the Volga and Kama Bulgars, and the Mongol hords terrified the eastern European states. Only shortly after the destruction of the Jin empire, Öködei sent his sons "Kuochu 闊出" and "Kuoduan 闊端" to begin with the conquest of Song China - ally of yesteray, enemy of today. Öködei had a Khitan advisor named Yelü Chucai 耶律楚材 that compelled the Great Khan to make use of the traditional Chinese taxation method in northern China. Instead of plundering and enslaving the peasantry, argumented Yelü Chucai, a regular taxation would bring much more profit in the long run. The local adminitration in northern China - and later in the south - was taken over whithout making personal changes, but every Chinese or Jurchen official was superseded by a Mongol or Central Asian controller named daruhachi ("daluhuachi 達魯花赤"). Household registers were retained and adjusted in 1235, as base for the taxation. To make adminitration easier, five households were obliged to pay a collective cloth material tax (wuhu si 五戶絲). For their merit during the conquest, the Mongol nobility, princes and chieftains, were rewarded with large fiefs in the north China plain. The Central Asian merchants of Turkic, Uighur or Persian origin were given special rights and monopolies in the trade. Furthermore, they were given the exclusive right to collect taxes and to monopolize important branches of the economy and sales revenues. Generals or potentates of the Jin empire who quickly submitted to the Mongols and joined their cause were rewarded with the title of hereditary lord (shihou 世侯).
The sudden death of Öködei in 1241 forced the Mongol troops to withdraw for the election of the new khan, that eventually should be Güyük ("Guiyou 貴由"), Öködei's son, installed in 1246. Between 1241 and 1246 Khan Widow Naimaĵin Töregene ("Naimazhen Tuoliegena 乃馬真脫列哥那") acted as regent of the Mongol homeland. Güyük's reign experienced the first split of the great Mongol empire, as Batu, khan of the Golden Horde in the far west, was no friend of him. Only Gügük's sudden death in 1248 could prevent a military confrontation between Mongols and Mongols. Oγul Qaimiš ("Wowuli Haimishi 斡兀立海迷失"), widow of Gügük, took over regency until the new Great Khan should be elected. Batu proposed to elect the Möngke (Mongka; "Mengge 蒙哥"), son of Tolui, youngest son of Chinggis, and forced his election during a one-sided state assembly in that the supporters of the Čagatai and Öködei lines did not participate.
Only in 1251, after the other Chingisids, sons and grandsons, had resisted the second time to participate in an election of Möngke, he made himself Great Khan. Möngke was not willing to tolerate differences among the descendent lines of Chinggis. He killed Oγul Qaimiš and Gükük's adherents Čingqai ("Zhenhai 鎮海") and Elĵigidei ("Yelizhijidai 野里知吉帶") and ordered Güyük's son "Shiliemen" 失烈門 to the western front. While Möngke tried to perform an effective central government of the vast empire, his brothers took over the mililtary tasks: Hülagü ("Xüliewu 旭烈兀") conquered Persia, the relations to China were laid in the hands of Möngke's younger brother Khubilai (Qubilai, "Hubilie 忽必烈"). In 1252 a kind of household registration within the great Mongol empire was undertaken.
Khubilai Khan, the Conquest of China, and the Foundation of the Yuan Dynasty
It was a great difference for the Mongols to erect a Khanate on a vast territory in the scarcely populated areas of Inner Asia, Persia or southern Russia, or to control a densely populated empire with a highly sophisticated administration and culture. Immediately after being named ruler of the region of the former Jin empire Khubilai invited Khitan, Jurchen and Chinese scholar officials to advise him how to govern his realm: Liu Binzhong 劉秉忠, Zhang Wenqian 張文謙, Lian Xixian 廉希憲, Yao Shu 姚樞, Xu Heng 許衡, and Shi Tianze 史天澤 proposed to install regular pacification commissions (anfusi 安撫司) and military commissions (jinglüeshi 經略司) as administration units and to propagate the creation of military colonies (tuntian 屯田) as germs for the reconstruction of the economy. Chinese, Khitan or Jurchen advisors were essential for Khubilai's style of governing China. But this Mongol prince and eventual Great Khan had always to take a balance between the interests of the Mongol nobility and of his own empire. When the Chinese governor Li Tan rebelled against him in 1262, Khubilai sacrified almost all Chinese advisors in higher positions and replaced them with Persians and Uighurs.
Khubilai becomes Great Khan
But the orders of the Great Khan Möngke were to conquer Dali 大理, an empire in the southwestern region of Yunnan from where it would be possible to destroy Song China. After Khubilai had conquered - but not destroyed - the capital of Dali the new territory was left to general Uriyangqadai ("Ulianghedai 兀良合台") for further consolidation, and Khubilai headed to the north to observe the civil government of China's north. He had constructed a Chinese-style palace in his "Upper Capital" (Shangdu 上都) Kaiping 開平 (modern Duolun 多倫/Inner Mongolia; the "Xanadu" of Western reports). Great Khan Möngke meanwhile had learned that Khubilai was able to exploit great ressources from China, and being envious of his success, Möngke left the conquest of Southern Song to other generals like Alamdar ("Alandar 阿藍答兒") and "Tachar 塔察兒" that should conquer the region of the Han River west to the Huai River 淮水 region. Möngke himself commanded an army to conquer the rest of Sichuan. But the conquest of Sichuan proved far more complicated than expected because the Chinese governor resisted the Mongol assaults for long months in the fortress of Diaoyucheng 釣魚城. The eastern Mongol troops did neither smoothly advance, and Möngke could not but hand over command to the experienced Khubilai in 1258. He reorganized the Mongol army, installed the Chinese Yang Weizhong 楊惟中 and Hao Jing 郝經 as provisory governors and forbade his troops looting and marauding. In the same moment Mönkge died during the siege of Diaoyucheng. Neglecting the critical situation of this moment, Khubilai did not interrupt his campaigning and the duty to finish his task. Ariq-Böke (Arigh Böke, "Alibuge 阿里不哥"), his brother, who commanded the troops in Mongolia, saw his chance to assume the powerful throne of the Great Khan. Following the advice of Hao Jing, Khubilai negotiated a cease-fire with the Song commander Jia Sidao 賈似道 and hurried to the national assembly in Mongolia.
In 1260 Khubilai was elected Great Khan by his own state assembly and simultaneously proclaimed a Chinese reign motto (Zhongtong 中統 "Well-balanced government") as emperor of China. His empire was governed through a traditional secretariate (zhongshusheng 中書省), the different regions of China were governed through "en route" branch secretariates (xing zhongshusheng 行中書省), units whose abbreviation should later become the term for "province" (sheng 省).
The war with Ariq-Böke
But Khubilai was not safe yet on the throne of the Mongol empire. Ariq-Böke had himself proclaimed Great Khan and was supported by the Mongol troops standing in China's west (modern Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan). To safe title and empire, Khubilai fielded his troops himself to engage in a protracted war among brothers. Most campaigns and battles took place far in the west and destroyed the territory and economic base of the Ili khanate. Only in 1264 Ariq-Böke submitted to the stonger khan in the east. Khubilai was accepted as the Great Khan, but the western khanates began to indulge in a fratricidal war that should end the unity of the Mongol world. Khubilai and his descendants became rulers of China and Mongolia. Under the influence of Chinese and Jurchen officials, Khubilai went on to regularize the administration of China's north without depriving the Mongol nobility of their privileges. Yanjing 燕京 (modern Beijing) became "Central Capital" (Zhongdu 中都), and an imperial palace was constructed on the traces of the old buildings. In 1271 Khubilai proclaimed the Yuan Dynasty 元, the Central Capital was made main capital with the title of "Great Capital" (Dadu 大都), in Mongolian-Turkic "Khanbalik" ("City of the Khan").
The conquest of Southern Song
The conquest of southern China with the Southern Song empire proved to be far mor prolonged and complicated than expected. The campaign began in 1268 with the siege of the double-city Xiangyang-Fancheng (modern Xiangfan 襄樊/Hubei) by the generals Aĵu ("Azhu 阿朮") and Liu Zheng 劉整, a defector from the Song. Only in 1274 the stubbornly defended fortress capitulated and the way to southern China was open. General Bayan ("Boyan 伯顏") marched down the Han River to the Yangtse valley, Liu Zheng and Dong Wenbing 董文炳 started to attack Song China in the Huai River region. Although there are also many examples of heroic Song commanders withstanding the assaults of the Mongol marine troops, there were many troops that capitulated without fighting. The actual powerholder of the Song empire, Jia Sidao, resisted the intruding Mongol troops only half-hearted. In 1275 the Song emperor Song Gongdi 宋恭帝 expressed his capitulation after the capital Lin'an 臨安 (modern Hangzhou 杭州/Zhejiang) was pocketed. In 1279 the conquest was ended, and China was reunited for the first time since the end of the 9th century - although by a dynasty founded by a foreign conquerer.
The conquests of Khubilai were not yet ended, but within China, a time of consolidation began.
Two times, in 1274 and1281 Khubilai tried to invade Japan, but his flots were repelled by typhoons - by the Japanese interpreted as "Divine Winds" (kamikaze 神風). 1282 a flotilla under general Söghetei ("Suodu 唆都") was sent out to conquer Champa ("Zhancheng" 占城; middle part of modern Vietnam), two years later Prince "Tuohuan 脫歡" was sent out to conquer Annam 安南 (northern Vietnam). In the same period, Mongol troops were fielded from Yunnan to conquer the Burmanese state of Bagan ("Bugan 蒲甘") and devastated this holy city thoroughly. Mongol flotillas were event sent out to conquer Java ("Zhuawa" 爪哇), an undertaking that was determined to failure. So far the expansion politics of the early Yuan period.
At home, in China, the situation seemed to be quite calm after the reunification of Chinese territory. Indeed, Khubilai invested much energy in the establishment of an effective government and administration in Chinese style that was better suited.
The dissolution of the Great Khanate
Marxist historians often overstress the significance of further wars of resistance against the Mongol government or - in their eyes - occupation. Much of these popular uprisings in the 1280es were mere small-scale rebellions against high taxation, like the rebellions of Huang Hua 黃華 and Zhong Mingliang 鐘明亮. Such peasant uprisings were quite "normal" through all ages of Chinese history and were almost naturally occurring through the Yuan period. Of much further consequence were the expansion wars to Japan and the south that imposed an enormous burdon on the state treasury, and the wars against the other Mongol khanates (ulus "horde", "wulusi 兀魯思") who rebelled against the overlordship of Khubilai. Qaidu ("Haidu 海都") from the Öködei Ulus, and Boraq ("Bala 八剌") from the Čaqadai Ulus united in a front against the Great Khan in 1276, inmidst Khubilai's campaigns against Southern Song. This second threat from Mongol khanates imposed upon Khubilai the question whether he was willing and able to control all khanates or to reduce his power to the rich region of China. In the struggles and war campaigns against his western neighbors the Chinese khan was not able to extend his control over Tarim basin that was mostly inhabited by Uighurs ("Weiwuer 畏兀兒"), descendants of Turkic tribes that had long been accustomed with diplomacy, communication and trade between east and west. But the Yuan government had learned much from these Central Asian specialists and employed many Uighurs and other Moslems within their bureaucray.
Governing China and the Chinese
At the same time, he had to appease the wishes of the Mongol nobility for land and wealth that was promised to them with the begin of all military undertakings in Mongolia.
The Mongols installed translation offices, and although they had to rely on Chinese people for administration, their deep distrust in their new subjects lead to the decision that high offices could only be appointed with Mongols, and that tax administration could only be laid in the hands of Moslems - allies of the Mongols.
The Mongol chieftains could be pursued not to use the Chinese soil as a prairie ground for their horses as they had intended to do during the first years of the conquest of the Jin empire. But Mongol rule exerted a deep discrimination among different ethnic groups of the Mongol empire - at least theoretically. The population was classified in occupational ranks or levels based on a combination of ethnic and political considerations. The highest rank was appointed to the Mongols, the next to their allies and Non-Chinese from Inner Asia (called semuren 色目人 "special people"), the third rank was filled by the inhabitants of north China including the Khitans and Jurchens (called hanren 漢人 "Han people", the Mongols called the Jurchen "Jürched"), and at the lowest level were the south Chinese (called nanzi 南子 "southlings" or manzi 蠻子 "barbarians"). This discrimination was the basis for taxation and penal law, but also vice versa for privileges granted to the members of the higher ranks. Mixed marriages were forbidden, promotion inside the social system was in theory impossible. While Chinese historians often blamed the Mongols for exerting a government of exploitation where the Chinese, especially in the south, were not seen as much more than animals, scholarly research has made evident that in practice and especially on the local level all restrictions imposed upon the whole population - Mongols, Uighurs, Jurchen, and Chinese - were not stringently practiceable. Thus, the senior co-incumbent office of the darughachi was often filled by Chinese and not, as law would expect, by Uighurs, Persians or Mongols. And the Mongols were not in total an illiterate, barbarious and ignorant of Chinese culture, but after a few generations, it became necessary that Mongol officials learned Chinese and took decisions in a cooperative way rather than by pure authority. And we shall see that at the end of the Yuan period, there were many Chinese warlords that fought for the Yuan Dynasty and against looters, bandits and rebels like Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋, eventual founder of the Ming 明.
In 1294 Khubilai died without having nominated a heir - as he was not obliged to do according to Mongol law. His Chinese-style posthumous temple name is Yuan Shizu 元世祖.
After the death of Khubilai Khan the imperial court of Yuan was dominated by faction struggles among the Mongol nobility that sought to control the emperors. Khubilai had refrained from naming a successor, because according to steppe traditions it should be the Mongol nobility that should elect the new khan during a state assembly, a khuriltai. This custom should be a problem for the stability of the Yuan empire as the Chinese bureaucratic empire required the nomination of a heir. Nevertheless his grandson Temür, son of Prince Jingim ("Zhenjin" 真金), had obtained the seal of heir apparent and was backened by his mother Kököjin ("Kuokuozhen") and by merited officials of Khubilai, namely Üs Temür ("Yuxi Tiemu'r 玉昔鐵木耳"), Bayan ("Boyan 伯顏"), the Turk Bukhumu ("Buhumu 不忽木"), and Ölĵei ("Wanze 完澤") all experienced with the Chinese state bureaucracy and honored military leaders. These highly estimated persons could enforce the election of Temür against his opponent Kammala ("Ganmala 甘麻剌").
Temür saw himself as successor (posthumous title Yuan Chengzong 元成宗, r. 1294-1307) and perpetuator of the will of his grandfather. Retaining the loyal ministers of his grandfather like Ölĵei, Bukhumu and later Harghasun ("Halahasun 哈剌哈孫"), Emperor Chengzong was dedicated to develop regular patterns of a peaceful Mongol rule over China. While Ölĵei and Harghasun were grand counsellors, Bukhumu as a well-educated Confucian scholar took over the task of censor-in-chief. Many other high post of the Yuan empire were filled with people of different origin, Chinese, Moslems and Mongols, in order to balance races and ideologies. But although many of these statesmen were guided by the Confucian principle - or rather by practicability - that the tax burden was to be held low, the Yuan state treasury was permanently plagued by deficits, caused by extremely high apanages to imperial princes, a blown-up bureaucracy with thousands of officials just being paid for doing nothing, and widespread corruption even among the highest state officials, Mongols like Chinese. Zheng Jiefu 鄭介夫 pointed out in his Taipingce 太平策 that jurisdicition took too long for final judgment. In that situation, much of the government expenditures had to be paid by the monetary (silver) reserves in the provinces. Soon Emperor Chengzong called off all preparations for further expansions to Annam (Vietnam) and Japan initiated by his grandfather.
But he had to quell rebellions in the southwestern mountainous area, lead by tribal chieftains like Song Longji 宋隆濟 and the woman leader Shejie 蛇節. It took long months for the generals Liu Shen 劉深 and Liu Guojie 劉國傑 to supress these rebellions. In 1304 Emperor Chengzong concluded a peace treaty with Du'a ("Duwa 篤哇") and "Chabar 察八兒", khans of the Čaqadai Ulus and Öködei Ulus respectively. From now on, the western border of the Yuan empire was undisputed by territorials claims.
Upon his death, the mighty Empress Dowager Bulukhan ("Buluhan 卜魯罕") and Akhutai ("Ahutai 阿忽台") planned to install Ananda (阿難答), but under the influence of Prince Tura ("Tula 禿剌") and Prince Yakhudu ("Yahudu 牙忽都") Harghasun as Right Counsellor-in-chief and the Chinese official Li Meng 李孟, acting as imperial tutor, preferred the princes Qaišan and Ayurbarwada who had in general better conditions for the throne. Ayurbarwada advanced to the capital, killed Akhutai and arrested the Empress Dowager in a coup d'état. It was thus the first time that a Mongol ruler came to the throne without really being elected on a khuriltai: the new khan was only reaffirmed by the Mongol nobility after his victory. The mother of the two princes, Targi ("Daji 答己"), made the elder, Qaišan, emperor under the condition that the younger, Ayurbarwada be his successor.
Qaišan (posthumous title Yuan Wuzong 元武宗, r. 1307-1311) was a young man who was rather inclined to the traditional Mongol warrior arts than to bureaucratic administration. His retainers hoped to employ the wealth of China to reunite the Mongol world that was divided into four different khanates, but their ambitions were not to be fulfilled as Emperor Wuzong indulged in dissipative activities and wasted the wealthes of the state treasury. He even displayed disgrace for his supporter Harghasun and removed him from the Great Capital. The new emperor's disinterest in the conduction of appropriate government lead to a deep financial crisis. Highest official posts were not only filled with Wuzong's retainers he had brought with him from Mongolia; he even bestowed titles and posts to smallest charges of his entourage. Administrative matters bypassed the Chinese bureaucratic channels and were forwarded by his private court attendants. The state treasure suffered extreme deficits through these practices, and in this financial crisis the Uighur official Toghtō ("Tuotuo" 脫脫) proposed to reintroduce the department of state affairs (shangshusheng 尚書省) that was determined to organise fiscal reform. New paper money bills and two new coins were issued, and silver money was taken out of the circulation. Further, the prices on salt licences were lifted, liquor production licences were introduced, tax debts were recollected, and in some areas a tax surcharge was introduced, and the quota for grain being shipped to the state granaries was raised. Tax collectors obtained a commission in case of high collections. But instead of reducing expenditures, the department only looked for new sources of income. In the minds of the population, these new kind of taxation and the resulting inflation had already a bad image from the time of Khubilai, and so many high offials contradicted the introduction of these measures. The distastrous fiscal policy of Emperor Wuzong's ministers like "Baoba 保八", Yue Shi 樂 實 and "Sanbaonu 三寶奴" and natural calamities aggravated the living situation of vast parts of the population. Anyway, these reforms were nullified after Emperor Wuzong's early death.
Emperor Wuzong left the throne to his younger brother Ayurbarwada (posthumous title Yuan Renzong 元仁宗, r. 1311-1320). Emperor Renzong was the best educated ruler among the Mongols. Through the guidance of his tutor Li Meng 李孟 he was able to study the Confucian classics as well as Buddhist sutras, poetry, and assembled around him scholars, painters and calligraphers from China and Central Asia. Renzong decisively pursued politics of accomodation of Mongol rule to the Chinese bureaucratic and state ritual system. He first dismissed or even executed courtiers and retainers of his brother Emperor Wuzong, abolished the department of state affairs and the new coins and paper bills. He then established a state council staffed with experienced loyals of Mongol and Chinese origin, restored the state examination system that could give Chinese access to official career. Many of his highest officials were Chinese scholars, like Zhang Gui 張珪, Li Qian 李謙, Hao Tianting 郝天挺, Cheng Jufu 程鉅夫 and Liu Minzhong 劉敏中. Emperor Renzong selected scholars to be members of the state academies (Hanlin Academy 翰林院, Jixian Academy 集賢院, and the Guozixue School 國子學). This measure gave a chance for Chinese scholars to climb the ladder of official career, and at the same time gave impetus to Mongol and semu people to study Chinese thought. He also took care for the regularization of the darughachi system by which Chinese officials of all levels were controlled by Mongols who often successful cooperated with their Chinese conterpart in administrative means. The grand-counsellor Temüder's ("Tiemudier 鐵木迭兒") proposal to take the Mongol princes the right to install their own judges (jarghuchi) and darughachi met the harsh resistance of the Mongol nobility. Emperor Renzong intiated the compilation of a legal code, the Da Yuan tongzhi 大元通制, published 1323, and the Yuan dianzhang 元典章. The Confucian among the Mongol emperors did not only have translated Confucian classics and Chinese books on government (e.g. Zhenguan zhengyao 貞觀政要) and social behaviour into Mongolian, but had also compiled the agricultural work Nongsang jiyao 農桑輯要 "Essentials of agriculture and sericulture".
Factional struggles at the court impeded reforms and even the right exertion of imperial power during the last years of Emperor Renzong's reign. The court was dominated by Empress Dowager Targi and Temüder who almost acted with dictatorial or tyrannical power. Although a faction around Li Meng, the Khitan Xiao Baizhu 蕭拜住 (Baiju), the Tangut Yang Dorji and the Önggüd Zhao Shiyan 趙世延 unveiled the corruption of Temüder, he was protected by the Empress Dowager. While the court at the Great Capital was bound by struggles between these groups, tax burdens lead to peasant upraisings like in 1315 by Cai Wujiu 蔡五九.
Renzong left the throne to his son Šudibala (posthumous title Yuan Yingzong 元英宗, r. 1320-1323) who tried to free himself from the influence of the Grand Empress Dowager Targi and the tyrant counsellor-in-chief Temüder. Supported by Confucian scholars like Ke Jiusi 柯九思, he installed Baiju, descendant of the honored general Mukhali, as his Left Counsellor-in-chief and therewith won the support of large parts of the Mongolian aristocracy. But only after the death of Temüder and the emperor's grand mother, the retainers of the tyrant could be executed. Emperor Yingzong announced further steps in the sinification of governmental structures, especially in means of education of scholar-officials in the state academies. He also installed important Chinese scholars in highest state offices, like Zhang Gui, Wu Yuangui 吳元珪, Wang Yue 王約, Han Congyi 韓從益, Wu Cheng 吳澄, and "Bozhulu Chong" 孛朮魯翀, all of them serving as his advisors. Superfluous post should be abandoned, corruption should be fighted, and a corvée-assistance law was issued to relieve the corvée burden of the small peasants. Nevertheless, Emperor Yingzong also was an ardent adherent of Buddhism and spent huge sums for constructing Buddhist temples, like the Dazhaoxiao Temple xxx near the Great Capital. Moslems on the other side were somewhat repressed during his short reign. The tensions between the pro-reforming group and the traditional Mongol warrior elite aggravated and resulted in bloody fights at the court and the assassination of the emperor and his chancellor at Nanpo 南坡 by chief-censor Tegshi ("Tieshi 鐵失") who lead a group of people who had been protégés of Temüder and feared further purges. To his sideliners also belonged many Mongol princes like Esen Temür ("Yexian Tiemu'r 也先帖木兒") who had not been granted their annual apanages by Emperor Yingzong and felt their traditional privileges endangered by the centralisation and bureaucratisation undertaken by Emperor Renzong and his son Yingzong.
For a decade, the Yuan court should find no peace and was bound to be a battlefield of the pro-Mongol and the pro-China factions. The new ruler Yesun Temür (posthumously called the Taiding Emperor 元泰定皇帝, r. 1323-1328) tried to punish the assassinators of the late emperor - although the belonged to the pro-Mongol group himself and had probably stimulated the assassinators' group. Now, Tegshi and Esen Temür were executed, others were banished, a coup that legitimated the succession of Yesun Temür. The new emperor was quite the contrary of the two literate and educated rulers he followed. The Taiding Emperor had spent his life in the steppe and brought retainers with him that now filled the posts of the central government, including Mongols and semu people like the Moslem Daula Shāh ("Daolasha 倒剌沙"). Almost none of these men had a deeper understanding of Chinese culture. The Chinese scholars' influence on government was now very limited. Yesun Temür's policy was reconciliatorious, he compensated the relatives of the victims of Temüder and the Nanpo coup and granted high apanages and amnesty to the other Mongol princes to obtain their loyalty. He did not only patronage Islam and Buddhism but also showed reverence to Confucius and sponsored colloquia about the Confucian classics.
The Taiding Emperor died unexpectedly, and El Temür ("Yan Tiemu'er 燕鐵木兒") who was in control of the imperial kesig guards (quexue 怯薛), took his chance to welcome Tuγ Temür as the new emperor (posthumous title Yuan Wenzong 元文宗, r. 1328; 1329-1331). At the same time Prince Ongchan ("Wangchan 王禪") and grand-counsellor Daula Shāh proclaimed Aragibag as emperor (posthumously called the Infant Tianshun Emperor 幼主天順皇帝, r. 1328) in the Upper Capital. Tuγ Temür, emperor in the Great Capital, invited his older brother Qošila to mount the throne. In this situation of inner war, the Great Capital finally fell into the hands of the supporters of Tuγ Temür and his brother, and Qošila was installed as the new emperor (posthumous title Yuan Mingzong 元明宗, r. 1329). It took the rebel generals Temür Bukha ("Tiemu'r Buhua 帖木兒不花") and Örlüg Temür ("Yueli Tiemu'r 躍里帖木兒") one month to conquer the Upper Capital and to execute Arigibag's ministers; the infant emperor himself had vanished. Only in March 1332 the last followers of Yesun Temür's line, Prince Tügel ("Tujian 土堅"), capitulated. But only after a few months after the capitulation of the loyalists at the Upper Capital, El Temür felt endangered by the Inner Asian Moslem retainers of the new khan, Qošila, managed to meet with Emperor Mingzong in the Middle Capital Ongghachatu and poisoned him, installing his younger brother Tuγ Temür (posthumous title Yuan Wenzong 元文宗; r. 1328; 1329-1331). Tuγ Temür was a weak personality and left government widely in the hands of his ministers, especially the Turk-Qipchaq El Temür and the Merkit Bayan, who reigned with almost dictatorial power. All officials and retainers of Yesun Temür were punished, the deceased emperor was denied a temple name (hence the simple designation following the reign motto "Taiding"). Likewise, all governmental officials of Qošila were purged, and no single Moslem was allowed to hold a high office, and only a few Chinese advanced to important posts in the central government. Emperor Wenzong's reign was marked by permanent rebellions of discontent Mongol nobles, ethnic minorities in Yunnan and by increased pressure from the peasantry in China proper. Natural desasters aggravated the situation of the peasants, the suppression of rebellions and the feeding of starving peasants again endangered the state treasury. But unlike before, the government now tried to lower its expenditures for apanages, for religious means and inside the palace, but also by selling offices. Through these measures, it was necessary to issue new paper currency bills. Emperor Wenzong himself as one of the few well-educated Mongol rulers mastered calligraphy, poetry and studied the Confucian classics. He had published a political enyclopedia, Jingshi dadian 經世大典, compiled by Zhao Shiyan 趙世延 and Yu Ji 虞集, and was the first and only Mongolian ruler to perform the Suburban Offerings (jiaosi 郊祀). He also founded the Kuizhangge Academy 奎章閣學士院 whose objective was to transmit Chinese culture to the Mongolians, and whose members were renowned Chinese, Mongol, Uighur and other semu scholars.
The tendency that not the emperor but ministers controlled the Yuan government should continue to the end of the Yuan Dynasty. After Yuan Wenzong's early death, Irinĵinpal (posthumous title Yuan Ningzong 元寧宗, r. 1332) was the first minor emperor who acceeded to the throne. He died after a few months and was succeeded by his older brother Toqōn Temür (posthumous title Yuan Shundi 元順帝, r. 1333-1368/1370), illigimate (?) son of the assassinated Qošila. This accession was only made possible after the death of the mighty El Temür who had controlled the court for a couple of years. Now, it was Bayan who held firm the grip of Yuan government and murdered El Temür's retainers. Bayan's political program intended to improve the general welfare of the Yuan empire's society by reducing expenditures, and also to resume the politics of the dynastic founder Khubilai, in first place the enforcement of the strict ethnic division of Yuan China's population. But during the last fourty years the strict separation into four castes had become indistinct, Mongols were accustomed to the Chinese way of life, and Chinese had adopted some Mongol customs, both peoples intermarried although it was strictly forbidden. Especially among the elite, Chinese, semu people and Mongols could no longer clearly be separated. Chinese historians blamed Bayan with many faults of the Mongol politics in general, the result of mass psychology in an unsecure mental environment. Bayan indeed abolished the state examinations in 1335 - destroying the hopes not only of Chinese, but also of young Mongols to climb the ladder of bureaucratic career. The main arguments of the most important proponent of the abolishment, Cherig Temür ("Cheli Tiemu'r 徹里帖木兒"), was the expenses for state schools and the examinations, and that the examination degrees undercut the value of the aristocratic hereditary privileges. Bayan prohibited the caste of Southern Chinese to learn Mongolian or one of the semu languages, he is even said to have planned to kill all Chinese with the most common surnames Zhang 張, Wang 王, Liu 劉, Li 李 and Zhao 趙.
By his harsh treatment of some members of the Mongol aristocracy Bayan created himself enemies. When he was outraged by a murder committed by a Chinese, he wanted to purge a whole stratum of Chinese officials. In this situation, Bayan's nephew Toghtō ("Tuotuo 脫脫") arranged a coup against the mighty dictator great-counsellor and had him banished into exile where Bayan died soon.
Like in the decades before, every change in political leadership was immediately followed by almost reverse politics, either pro-Chinese and centralist-bureaucratic, or pro-Mongolian and provincial or nobility-oriented. It was the same now with the two leading politicians of the reign of Emperor Shundi, Toghtō and Berke Bukha ("Bie'rque Buhua 別兒怯不花"). The examination system was resumed, access to high offices was again opened to Chinese. Toghtō ("Tuotuo" 脫脫) cooperated with Chinese officials, strengthened fiscal policy, military administration and many other spheres of governmental duty like the compiling of the previous dynasties' (Song, Liao, Jin) official histories. The emperor himself scarcely intervened actively into government but instead indulged in asketic practices, influenced by a Tibetian monk. The period of Berke Bukha's administration made the strengthening of provincial civil and military administration necessary. Because of heavy taxation, corrupt local officials and permanent natural desasters and resulting banditry, the end of the had 1330es experienced several peasant uprisings, e.g. under Zhu Guangqing 朱光卿 in Guangdong, Bang Hu 棒胡 in Henan, Han Fashi 韓法師 in Sichuan, Li Zhifu 李志甫 in Fujian, Peng Yingyu 彭瑩玉 and Zhou Ziwang 周子旺 in Jiangxi, that now had to be encountered and suppressed through the initiative of provincial governors. When the state treasury again was severely running low, Toghtō was recalled to the court. The tax grain transports could not pass the Yellow River but had to follow the coastline where pirates under Fang Guozhen 方國珍 were active. Toghtō issued new paper currency to finance a huge project of diverting the Yellow River to a bed south of the Shandong Peninsula, a gigantic hydraulic project that was engineered by Jia Lu 賈魯 and successfully concluded in 1351.
Throughout the history of Yuan Dynasty there was always a pending question that was never really decided: if the Mongols wanted to govern a steppe empire with according simple governmental structures of if they wanted to rule a civilized nation with a highly complex system of bureaucracy, long administrative tradition and important state rituals. Because this question was never solved - mainly because court factions and cliques of Mongol nobles never ceased to fight for power - the Mongol ruling elite was not able to retain a strong foothold on Chinese soil as soon as there was a large popular uprising in many places in the middle of 14th century. A crucial factor influencing court politics was the regular total replacement of the top echelon of court officials when a new ruler mounted the throne and gave the highest post only to his own retainers. By these changes in political leadership that took place every few years, a continuity in effective politics was not possible. One reason for the fall of the Yuan Dynasty is often neglected - the 14th century was full of natural desasters all throughout the world: droughts, inundatings, pestilence, and a decrease in average temperature.
Peasant uprisings were seen throughout Chinese history, many of them were lead by Daoist or Buddhist sects and had a millenarian character. In the 1350es, there were also many salt workers among the rebels. Still, the Mongol military units were strong enough to handle with the bandit rebels, sometimes by recruiting the local population into governmental batallions. Toghtō even lead himself campaigns against rebels under the salt smuggler Zhang Shicheng 張士誠 in the Huai River area. When Emperor Shundi suddenly dismissed Toghtō in 1354, the Yuan Dynasty lost her military initiative against the rebels in the battle of Gaoyou 高郵 - and their empire.
After the dismission of Toghtō the military and political initiative was left over to different factions, many of them regional governors who recruited their troops to defend in first place their own territory and only then the empire. But there were also many loyalists to the Yuan government like the half-Chinese Kökö Temür ("Kuokuo Tiemur" 擴廓帖木兒; Chinese name Wang Baobao 王保保) who controlled the region around Kaifeng 開封, Chen Youliang 陳友諒 in Fujian and He Zhen xxx in Guangdong. These loyalists were politically not inactive as is often suggested by Chinese historians. Especially in southeast China local governors tried to initiate a movement of Confucian revival, like under the Tangut Yu Que 余闕. Some scholars supported the installment of local warlords as appropriate and according to the principle of feudal system of the Zhou period 周. Others rather supported a centralization of the government with a radical change in ethical standards - away with corruption, favoritism and luxurious expenditures. Leaders of this group of reformist supporters of the Yuan Dynasty were Liu Ji 劉基 and Shimo Yisun 石抹宜孫 xxx who vehemently fought against the empowering of "bandits" like Fang Guozhen. When the Yuan central government did not adopt their proposals, both sided with the local warlord: Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋, founder of the Ming, who keenly receicved Liu's proposals for an austere and morally integer government. Enemies of the local governors and warlords were - especially in the areas of modern Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces - leaders of groups of salt workers and salt smugglers, pirates and "bandits - outlaws", like Zhang Shicheng and Fang Guozhen who even proclaimed their own dynasties. A fourth group of contenders for power in the decentralized Yuan empire were sectarian rebels who were lead by messianic personalities that preached synchretistic believes of popular religion, Buddhism, Daoism and Manicheism. The largest of these religious societies were the White Lotus Society (Bailianjiao 白蓮教) whose members were also called "Red Turbans" (hongjin 紅巾) and were active in the region of Jiangxi and north across Anhui into Shandong. But the leaders of this movement, including Han Shantong 韓山童, Liu Futong 劉福通, Du Zundao 杜遵道, Luo Wensu 羅文素, and Cheng Wenyu 盛文郁, were not able to unify the different branches among the rebels, even after the conquest of the prefecture Yingzhou 穎州 (modern Fuyang 阜陽/Anhui) under Han Lin'er 韓林兒 and his brother Han Jiao'er 韓咬兒. Nonetheless, the uprising workers, pirates, smugglers and peasants as followers of Buddhist belief could acheive a surprisingly fast victory over the Mongol troops under "Hesi 赫廝", "Tuchi 禿赤", Esen Temür ("Yexian Tiemu'er 也先帖木兒") and "Kuanchege 寬徹哥". The regular Mongol troops were sided by local potentates like the Uighur Čaqan Temür "Chahan Tiemu'er 察罕帖木兒" and Li Siqi 李思齊. In the region of Hubei Peng Yingyu 彭瑩玉 ("Monk Peng" Peng Heshang 彭和尚), Zhao Pusheng 趙普勝 and Xu Shouhui 徐壽輝 eliminated the Yuan government and founded their own Buddhist empire of Tianwan 天完. From 1354 on, when the regular Mongol armies lost their initative, the southern rebels started to advance to the north, pillaged the countryside and marched even beyond the capital Dadu like Guan Yi 關鐸 and Pan Cheng 潘誠 (also called "Potou Pan 破頭潘"). It was only local military leaders like Li Siqi and Čaqan Temür, "Dashibadulu 答失八都魯" and Zhang Liangbi 張良弼 who blocked and defeated the rebel armies under Li Wu 李武, Cui De 崔德, Mao Gui 毛貴 until 1362. The disagreement among the different leaders in the different regions and quarrels about leadership of emperorship had been the most important factor for the failure of the rebel armies.
At this time, the Yuan Dynasty was again weakened by succession struggles. Emperor Shundi favored a nobleman called Hama 哈麻 whom he charged with the office of chief-counsellor. When Hama tried to undertake a plot against the emperor, there arose two factions at the court favoring different throne aspirant. Prince Ayuširidara was favored by the "Shuosijian 搠思監" and the eunuch "Pubuhua 樸不花", while the emperor himself was supported by "Laodisha 老的沙" and Tulu Temür. Both factions were supported by mighty generals outside the court, Kökö Temür supported the Prince, and Laodisha was supported by "Boluo Temür 勃羅帖木兒" and "Tujian Temür 禿堅帖木兒". Boluo Temür entered the capital and forced the Prince to flee. But only a few months later, Prince Ayuširidara was able to return with the help of Kökö Temür. The mighty general was expected to force Emperor Shundi to retreat, but Kökö Temür proved to be a loyal servant to his emperor. He was highly rewarded but soon stripped off his offices, and the military power was left to the crown prince.
In 1362 rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋, a follower of the rebel Guo Zixing 郭子興, achieved a great victory over the warlord emperor Chen Youliang 陳友諒 during the battle of Lake Poyang 鄱陽湖, and proclaimed himself Emperor of Wu 吳 in 1367. His next target were the mighty local governors Zhang Shicheng and Fang Guozhe in the region of Jiangsu and Zhejiang. After his conquest of Fujian province under Chen Youding 陳友定 Zhu Yuanzhang proclaimed himself emperor of the Ming Dynasty 明 in 1368. His generals Xu Da 徐達 and Chang Yuchun 常遇春 started to conquer the north that was heaviliy disturbed by the inner quarrels among the Mongol nobility. It took the Ming armies only half a year to advance to and to take the Yuan capital Dadu. In 1369 Kökö Temür was defeated, the Chinese loyals surrendered to the Ming, and Emperor Shundi died in the next year in Mongolia.
The Northern Yuan period (Beiyuan 北元) is the half century between the escape of the Mongols from China after 1368 and their identification with the Tatars ("Dada 韃靼"). When general Xu Da 徐達 conquered Dadu 大都 (Beijing), the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, Emperor Yuan Shundi fled to the Upper Capital 上京 (near Dolonnur 多倫/Inner Mongolia), other Mongol troops withdrew to the areas of Liaodong 遼東 (modern Liaoning province) and the areas of Shaanxi and Gansu, under general Kökö Temür, and to Yunnan. In 1369 the Ming Dynasty generals Chang Yuchun 常遇春 and Li Wenzhong 李文忠 attacked Shangdu and forced the Mongols again to withdraw further to the north to Yingchang 應昌 (near Dalai Nur Lake 達爾諾爾/Neimenggu). One year later, Xu Da captured several hundred of the highest Yuan officials and nobles. Prince Ayuširidara ("Aiyoushilindala 愛猷識理達臘") united the rest of his forces with that of Köke Temür and established his capital at Helin 和林 (Karakorum, near Charchorin "Erdenisangtu 額爾德尼桑圖"/Mongolia), and the large military attack of the Ming army in 1372 could be encountered with a victory of the Mongol troops. Emperor Ming Taizu 明太祖 learned from this defeat and established military garrisons in the northeast and northwest that supported the rear of troops that advanced into Mongol territory. From then on, the Mongol rulers declared their dependance of the Ming court. In 1380 Ming troops under general Mu Ying 沐英 captured the Yuan duke "Tohoč 脫火赤".
Meanwhile, the rest of the Mongol troops in Yunnan stood under the command of Prince "Bazalawarmi 把匝剌瓦爾密", and in 1381 Ming troops under the command of Fu Youde 傅友德 were fielded to conquer Yunnan. In 1387 Feng Sheng 馮勝 commanded the Ming armies that conquered the northeastern region. From then on the Mongol troops in Korea and Mongolia were blocked from China proper and were disembled to stage any further raids on Chinese soil. Tögüs Temür ("Tuogusi Tiemur 脫古思帖木兒"), the last qaγan of the Mongols, was murdered by one of his generals. Only five generations later, in 1403, Kun Temür 坤帖木兒 again adopted the title of qaγan and renamed his federation "Tatars" ("Dada 韃靼").
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