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 planned to flourish his empire but compromised with reality after his reforms failed.
Besides, he was a remarkable engineer, an excellent poet, and a professional in 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 passed away, Toghon Temür was welcomed back to the capital city and ascended to the throne.
Restoration Map of Yuan's Imperial Palace in Yuan Dadu
At that time, a powerful prime minister named Bayan (or Boyan) was in charge of the kingdom. He 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 on 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, leading to more and more fierce 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 meticulous planning, they seized an excellent opportunity and initiated a coup.
Then, Toghon Temür obtained centralized power and nominated Tuotuo as the new prime minister.
Now, Toghon Temür, Emperor Huizong of Yuan, was only 20 years old.
Mother-of-Pearl Inlaid Lacquer Box of the Yuan Dynasty — Tokyo National Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Afterward, the ambitious young emperor and his trusted prime minister Tuotuo 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.
Stone Rubbing Recording International Trade Activities of A Merchant of Yuan — National Museum of China
The Collapse of the Emperor’s Reform and Faith
However, poverty issues and corrupted officials still existed, plus years of severe natural disasters, more rebellions were 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 substantial natural disasters made civilians live in extreme poverty, plagues were spreading extensively, and officials were still greedy and incapable of adequately handling those unstable issues.
Consequently, nationwide uprisings were endless.
Underglaze Red (You Li Hong) Cup of Yuan — Hangzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
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 who 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, including his crown prince and some other uprising armies.
But he always stayed calm and firm, believing 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 he couldn’t win.
Then, he took his family, government, and troops and escaped northwards without a fight, though many officials strongly opposed saying that he shouldn’t give up Genghis Khan’s empire that easily.
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, and the Mongolian Plateau 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 intelligent, diligent, and decisive when removing the most potent regent and making his kingdom considerable progress.
In the second stage, after seeing the extensive destruction by natural disasters, 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 the 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 were 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)
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