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Chinese History - Yuan Dynasty 元 (1279-1368)

The Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368) was the house of the great Mongol khan Qubilai (Chinese name Emperor Shizu 元世祖, r. 1260-1294) and his descendants that ruled over China. The Mongol federation under Chinggis Khan (Chinese name Emperor Taizu of the Yuan 元太祖, r. 1206-1227) had created a huge war machine that first conquered the Western Xia empire 西夏 (1038-1227), then the Jin 金 (1115-1234) in northern China, and finally the Southern Song empire 南宋 (1127-1279). In the west the central Asian polities, Persia, Baghdad, and the Russian principalities fell victim to the Mongols.
Supported by competent Khitan, Jurchen, Uyghurian advisors the Mongols established a civilian rule over China, and China profited from the "Pax Mongolica" reaching from the Russian steppe to the coast of China. Even European merchants like the Polo family came to China to exploit the treasures of the east. From the capital Dadu 大都 (Qanbaliq, modern Beijing) the Yuan rulers commanded a whole army of officials. The Chinese population was mainly administered by Central Asian officials, the so-called semuren "classified people", and only a few Chinese made it to highest posts in the Yuan administration. It is therefore believed that popular culture, especially the theatre, flourished during the Yuan as a result of the restricted access of literati to posts in the administration.
The picture of the Mongol regime as brutal and exploitative cannot be substantiated. The Mongol elite successfully cooperated with various ethnic groups to administer a large and economically advanced empire as China. The end of the Yuan dynasty is not in first instance to be led back to the many popular rebellions, but to natural disasters (probably as a result of a world-wide "minor ice age" in the fourteenth century), and to the Mongol elite's indecisiveness about their own way of life between the traditional yurt and the Chinese-style palace. After the Mongols's withdrawal to the steppe, the most successful bandit rebel, Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋 (Emperor Taizu of the Ming 明太祖, r. 1368-1398), founded the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644).


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2000 ff. © Ulrich Theobald · Mail