Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) — Half Anarchism

11 Emperors —  98 Years

Restoration Map of Capital City of the Yuan Dynasty

Facts about the Yuan Dynasty


1 Yuan Dynasty was established by Mongolian Kublai Khan, the Grandson of Genghis Khan.

2 Empire Yuan was a multinational empire, with obvious ethnic discriminations. 

3 Yuan Dynasty had a very big territory and had divided them into different provinces, which is still applied in China today. 


   However, Yuan’s governance to most of the provinces was quite loose, which was believed as half Anarchism.

Unearthed Underglaze Red (You Li Hong) Cup of the Yuan Dynasty — Hangzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

4  Yuan only held 13 times of the Imperial Examination, while their ruling classes went back to the Aristocracy. 


   In those exams, Zhu Xi’s theory was respected as the official ideology. Confucius was honored as a king.


5 Many religions, products, and technology were disseminated freely into the Yuan Empire.  

6 Because of the Empire Yuan’s loose governance and a large territory, international trade during this era was quite prosperous. 

Unearthed Stone Rubbing Recording International Trade Activities of A Merchant of the Yuan Dynasty — National Museum of China

Brief History of the Yuan Dynasty


Expanding of Genghis Khan and Establishing of the Yuan Dynasty

When the Song Dynasty was fighting against the nomadic regime Jin that had captured their emperors, Genghis Khan was trying to unify the Mongolian Plateau. Soon, the Mongol Empire was established. 

After Genghis Khan passed away, his descendants kept fighting and expanding his realm. His grandson Kublai Khan achieved the final success after years of intense wars and gained the throne.

In the year 1271, Kublai established the Yuan Dynasty and claimed himself the Emperor Shizu of Yuan. 


Eight years later, he perished the Song Dynasty and unified the whole of the nation.

Painting Dewelling in the Mountains (Shan Ju Tu)  (111.6 cm × 26.5 cm), By Artist Qian Xuan (1239 — 1299) of the Yuan Dynasty — The Palace Museum

Half Anarchism Governance and Intense Contention over the Throne

With the assistance of an excellent prime minister named Yelv Chucai, the Yuan Dynasty stopped the slaughter and built a fine system.

The central government paid more attention to get enough taxes; as for other aspects, the monarchs cared much less. 

Therefore, the Yuan Empire was an open-minded era when literature, religion, and business, etc., all could develop freely. 

After Kublai passed away in the year 1294, in the next 39 years, there had been 9 emperors who ruled the Yuan Dynasty. The fights over the throne among Mongol 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 the Yuan Dynasty

Part of the Taoism Murals on the Walls inside the Yongle Palace

Ambitious Engineer Emperor 

Toghon Temür was an ambitious monarch in the beginning, who implemented a series of reforms, trying to change the chaotic situation. He stopped invasive wars and started to pay attention to agriculture, and recovery of the Imperial Examination. 

However, the endless wars and heavy taxes brought civilians countless chaos and sufferings 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 to a person who loved enjoying lives and having fun. He was an excellent engineer and was also good at astrology.

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

Retreating and Ending of the Empire Yuan


In the year 1368, after having carefully read the stars, Emperor Toghon Temür led his Mongolia nobles and army 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

The Yuan Dynasty, however, was ended as a unified regime. 


Its royal Golden Family was perished decades later, by General Lan Yu of the Ming Dynasty.  

Calligraphy of Scholar Zhao Mengfu (1254 - 1322) — The Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Systems of the Yuan Dynasty




75 million — 90 million — 60 million (beginning — peak — ending)


Political System:


  • 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 as the Province System, which is still used today.

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

Official Selection System: 


Hereditary aristocracy and few times of Imperial Examination. 



  • Capitation tax and land tax in the north, while in the south, people paid taxes in 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 the Yuan Dynasty — Tokyo Currency Museum (Photo by PHGCOM)

Military Service:


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. 


Land System:


Coexistence of aristocratic, government-owned lands, and private-owned land.

Observatory of the Yuan Dynasty in the Mount Song

Scientific Development

  • 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 the Yuan Dynasty

Exquisite Artifacts of the Yuan Dynasty

Photo by Museum Photographer Dongmaiying

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