Toghon Temür — Last Emperor of Yuan Dynasty With Remarkable Engineering and Divination Skills

Toghon Temür (1320 — 1370), also respected as Emperor Huizong of Yuan or Emperor Shun of Yuan, was the longest-reigning and the last monarch of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368).


He had been a diligent, ambitious monarch that planed to flourish his empire but compromised with reality after his reforms were failed. 


Besides, he was a remarkable engineer, an excellent poet, and a professional on astrology.

Toghon Temür the Emperor Shun of Yuan in Painting "Fo Lang Guo Xian Ma Tu",  By Artist Zhou Lang of the Yuan Dynasty — Palace Museum

From A Banished Prince to A Puppet Emperor

When Toghon Temür was little, he was banished to Guilin city because of a dispute over the throne. He learned Confucianism and some other traditional Chinese culture during that period. 

When he was 13 years old, after his father, uncle, and brother all passed away, Toghon Temür was welcomed back to the capital city and ascended to the throne.  

At that time, a very powerful prime minister named Bayan (or Boyan) was in real charge of the kingdom, who had defeated his political enemies, perished their clans, and collected a large number of treasures greedily. 

Besides, Bayan again abrogated the Imperial Examination and expelled all Han people from the government of Yuan; he also published even severe restrictions to the Han people, which caused more uprisings and intense combats among different ethical groups. 

Till now, endless wars and heavy taxes already brought chaos and disasters to civilians, along with racist policies, all of these led to more and more severe rebellions.

Mountain Shaped Porcelain Shelf of the Yuan Dynasty to Place Writing Brushes — Hangzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Emperor Toghon Temür and His Ambitious Reform

In the next few years, Toghon Temür found a perfect ally named Tuotuo (1314 — 1356), the nephew of Bayan. 

After very careful planning, they seized a good opportunity and initiated a coup; later, Toghon Temür obtained centralized power, and nominate Tuotuo as the new prime minister. 

Now, Toghon Temür the Emperor Huizong of Yuan was only 20 years old. 

Afterward, the ambitious young emperor and his trusted prime minister Tuotuo, together, worked diligently and implemented a series of reforms.

They reinstated the Imperial Examination that had been abolished, selected talented officials, lowered taxes, encouraged agriculture, recovered some traditional Chinese ceremonies, and contributed to making the different treatments among races less severe. 

The empire was flourishing in the first few years of the reform. 

Mother-of-Pearl Inlaid Lacquer Box of the Yuan Dynasty — Tokyo National Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

The Collapse of the Emperor’s Reform and Faith

However, poverty issues and corrupted officials still existing, plus years of severe natural disasters, more rebellions raised and the kingdom fell into chaos again. 

Soon, Emperor Toghon Temür published an Edict of Introspection, in which he took all the blame himself, and then kept trying harder to right all the wrongs. 

But this time, he failed. 

The capable Tuotuo was banished by political enemies and soon forced to commit suicide. Years of huge natural disasters made civilians living in extreme poverty, and plagues were spreading extensively. Officials were still greedy and incapable to properly handle those unstable issues. 

Consequently, nationwide uprisings were endless.

A Disappointed Emperor and A Remarkable Engineer

This time, Toghon Temür felt that there was nothing else he could do as an emperor, so he nominated a likable person to be prime minister, who, however, turned out to be an incapable one. 

Afterward, Emperor Toghon Temür became a luxurious monarch who only wanted to enjoy life. 

Some historic documents noted that the emperor had over a hundred, even a thousand, beautiful imperial concubines in his royal palace. 

Besides, Toghon Temür was a very talented mechanical and architectural engineer and had participated in designing and constructing some excellent palaces, dragon boats, and house leakages. 

From designing and drafting to sophisticated carving, he was a magnificent master.


Moreover, he was good at calligraphy and painting and popularized them among the ruling classes of the Yuan Dynasty. 

Peacock and Flower Shaped Jade Decoration On Hat of the Yuan Dynasty — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Retreating Guided by Astrology

Emperor Toghon Temür strongly believed in destiny and Chinese astrology and made many political decisions based on reading celestial phenomena.

He had experienced many rebellions that tried to attack the capital city, include his crown prince and some other uprising armies. But he always stayed cool and firm, believing that he was the destined monarch with the Divine Right of Kings. And surprisingly, he had never lost. 

However, when an army of Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644), marched near his capital, Toghon Temür found that the stars told him that he couldn’t win. 

Then, he took his family, government, and troop, escaped northwards without a fight, though many officials said that he shouldn’t give up Genghis Khan’s empire like that.

Afterward, he spent most of his time writing sad articles and poems, while trying to command the rest of his army to fight back. 

Emperor Toghon Temür, the last monarch of the Yuan Dynasty as a unified regime, passed away two years later. Mongolian Plateau then was separated into different forces again. 

Blue-and-White Porcelain Cup of the Yuan Dynasty Decorated with Dragon and Cloud Patterns — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Ambition and Renounce of the Emperor Shun of Yuan

His life as an emperor could be classified into two parts. 

In the first stage, he was smart and diligent and decisive, when he removed the most powerful regent and brought his kingdom big progress. 

In the second stage, after having seen the extensive destruction by natural disasters and uprising armies and corrupted officials, Emperor Toghon Temür stopped fighting and tried his best to enjoy life luxuriously.  

Many people believed that Emperor Toghon Temür shouldn’t take the blame for Yuan Empire’s ending, because those good policies that he published in the first stage did make contributions to the development of agriculture, economy, and culture.

His compromise, escape, and indulgence in his late years, was quite possible as a choice made under a helpless, dilemmatic situation. 

Carved Red Lacquer Plate with Narcissus Pattern of the Yuan Dynasty — The Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

  • Facebook Fun withChinese Culture
  • Twitter Fun withChinese Culture
  • G+ Fun withChinese Culture
  • YouTube Fun withChinese Culture
  • Pinterest Fun withChinese Culture
  • Instagram Fun withChinese Culture
© All Rights Reserved