Yuan Dynasty — Half Anarchism Era
Restoration Map of Yuan's Imperial Palace in Yuan Dadu
What Is Yuan Dynasty?
Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) was a unified imperial dynasty in the ancient history of China established by minority Mongols, with half anarchistic reign and huge territory.
Yuan lasted for 97 years and had been ruled by 11 emperors.
Dwelling in the Mountains (Shan Ju Tu), By Artist Qian Xuan (1239 — 1299) of Yuan — The Palace Museum
Facts About the Yuan Dynasty
The Yuan Empire had a very big territory and had divided them into different provinces, which are still used in China today.
However, Yuan’s governance of most of the provinces was quite loose, which was believed as half Anarchism.
Because of the Yuan’s loose governance and a large territory, international trades through Silk Road during this era were quite prosperous.
Many religions, products, and technology were disseminated freely into the Yuan Empire, and paper money had been issued and widely used.
Stone Rubbing Recording International Trade Activities of A Merchant of Yuan — National Museum of China
Yuan only held the Imperial Examination 13 times, while their ruling classes went back to the Aristocracy.
Qu, a type of classical poetry form was quite popular and well developed during the Yuan era, which is respected as an important cultural achievement of the Yuan.
Underglaze Red (You Li Hong) Cup of Yuan — Hangzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Brief History of the Rise and Fall of the Yuan Dynasty
Expanding of Genghis Khan and Establishing of Yuan
Soon, Mongol Empire was established and kept expanding because of his extraordinary military talents.
After Genghis Khan passed away on his way back from conquering the Western Xia Dynasty (1038 — 1227), his descendants further expanded the realm and kept fighting against each other over the throne.
His grandson, Kublai Khan achieved the final success after years of intense wars and established the Yuan Dynasty in 1271 in northern China.
Eight years later, he perished the Song Dynasty in southern China, unified the whole of the nation, and extended the Grand Canal, which further connected the south and north and promoted the national economy.
Painting of Emperor Kublai Khan's Hunting (Yuan Shi Zu Chu Lie Tu), By Artist Liu Guandao of Yuan — Taipei Palace Museum
Half Anarchism Governance and Intense Contention Over the Throne
With the assistance of an excellent prime minister named Yelv Chucai, the Mongol rulers stopped the slaughter and built a fine system.
The central government mostly paid attention to getting enough taxes; as for other aspects, the monarchs of Yuan cared much less.
Therefore, the Yuan Empire was an open-minded era when literature, religion, business, etc., all could develop freely.
After Kublai passed away in the year 1294, in the next 39 years, there had been 9 Yuan emperors reigned the empire successively, when the fights over the throne among nobles were quite intense.
Until Toghon Temür, also respected as Emperor Huizong of Yuan, ascended to the throne, and started his 38 years of reign.
Yongle Palace (Built in 1247 — 1358) in Shanxi Province, An Important Representative Architecture of Yuan
Ambitious Engineer Emperor
Toghon Temür was an ambitious monarch in the beginning, who implemented a series of reforms, trying to make a big change.
He stopped invasive wars and started to pay attention to agriculture and the recovery of the Imperial Examination.
However, the endless wars and heavy taxes brought civilians countless chaos and suffering already; along with severe racist policies and some big natural disasters, more and more large-scale rebellions appeared nationwide.
Seeing that he was incapable of making his empire prosperous, Emperor Toghon Temür changed into a person who loved enjoying life and having fun. He was an excellent engineer and was also good at astrology.
Carved Red Lacquer Plate of Yuan with Narcissus Pattern— The Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Retreating and Ending of the Unified Yuan Dynasty
In the year 1368, after having carefully read the stars, Emperor Toghon Temür led his Mongolian nobles and troops and escaped northward, when an uprising army led by Zhu Yuanzhang was marching toward his capital city.
This army soon defeated other forces and established the unified Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644).
The Yuan Empire, however, ended as a unified regime.
The Royal Golden Family got perished decades later, by General Lan Yu of the Ming Dynasty.
Political Structure and Social Systems of the Yuan Dynasty
75 million — 90 million — 60 million (beginning — peak — ending)
The central government was only the Department of Imperial Secretariats, which serve as the administrative agency.
Subordinate to the Department of Imperial Secretariats is the Six Ministries:
Ministry of Personnel: Appointment, Assessment, and Removal of Officers
Ministry of Revenue: Household Registration, Finance, and Tax
Ministry of Rites: Ceremony and Education
Ministry of National Defense: Military Affairs
Ministry of Justice: Law, Judiciary and Punishment
Ministry of Constructions: Design and Implementation of National Constructions
In the local was the Branch Secretariats, also named the Province System, which is still used today.
Mountain Shaped Blue and White Porcelain Shelf of Yuan to Place Writing Brushes — Hangzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Official Selection System
Hereditary aristocracy and a few times of Imperial Examination.
Capitation tax and land tax in the north, while in the south, people paid taxes using farmland products or money in summer and autumn, based on different productions of their land.
Every family also needed to pay a certain amount of money or products (varied in different places), in exchange for being exempt from labor services.
Civilians also had to serve in big construction, transportation, or other military-related industries whenever the royals required them.
All of those taxes also differed based on race; Han people paid the heaviest, while Mongols paid the least.
Banknote and Its Pringting Plate of Yuan — Tokyo Currency Museum (Photo by PHGCOM)
Professional military families were selected and documented, and people had to stick to this as a career from generation to generation.
Those military families need to provide certain numbers of soldiers, and they were exempted from a proportion of taxes. When they were performing military service, they should provide for themselves.
Coexistence of aristocratic, government-owned lands, and private-owned land.
Calligraphy of Scholar Zhao Mengfu (1254 － 1322) — The Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Scientific Achievements of the Yuan Dynasty
Calendar of Fixing Time (Shoushi Calendar) by Guo Shoujing: a great Astronomy masterpiece, which set that one year includes 365.2425 days.
That is only 26 seconds away from today’s accurate measurement.
Jian Yi (Abridged Armilla) the Instruments to Measure the Position of Celestial Bodies, Invented by Guo Shoujing of Yuan
Exquisite Artifacts of the Yuan Dynasty
Photo by Museum Photographer Dongmaiying