Yuan Dynasty — Half Anarchism Empire in Ancient China

Restoration Map of Capital City of the Yuan Dynasty

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 anarchism reign and huge territory. 

 

In the 97 years of the Yuan Dynasty, 11 emperors had reigned the empire.

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

Dwelling in the Mountains (Shan Ju Tu), By Artist Qian Xuan (1239 — 1299) of the Yuan Dynasty — The Palace Museum

 

Facts about the Yuan Dynasty

 

  • The 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.

  • Because of the Empire 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.  

Unearthed Stone Rubbing Recording International Trade Activities of A Merchant of the Yuan Dynasty

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

  • 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. And Confucius was honored as a king.

  • Qu, a type of classical poetry form was quite popular and well developed during Yuan Dynasty.

Unearthed Underglaze Red (You Li Hong) Cup of the Yuan Dynasty

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

 

Brief History of the Rise and Fall of the Yuan Dynasty

 

Expanding of Genghis Khan and Establishing of the Yuan Dynasty

When the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279) was fighting against the nomadic regime Jin that had captured their emperors, Genghis Khan was trying to unify the Mongolian Plateau.

 

Soon, Mongol Empire was established and kept expanding because of his extraordinary military talents. 

After Genghis Khan passed away, his descendants further expanded the realm, when kept fighting against each other over the throne. 

Until his grandson, Kublai Khan achieved the final success after years of intense wars and established the Yuan Dynasty in 1271.

 

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

Painting of Emperor Kublai Khan's Hunting (Yuan Shi Zu Chu Lie Tu), By Artist Liu Guandao of the Yuan Dynasty

Painting of Emperor Kublai Khan's Hunting (Yuan Shi Zu Chu Lie Tu), By Artist Liu Guandao of the Yuan Dynasty — Taipei Palace Museum

Half Anarchism Governance of the Yuan Dynasty 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 mostly paid attention to getting enough taxes; as for other aspects, the monarchs of the Yuan Dynasty 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 that had reign the Yuan Dynasty successively, when 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. 

Front of the Yongle Palace (Built in 1247 — 1358) in Shanxi Province, An Important Representative Architecture of the Yuan Dynasty

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

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

Ambitious Engineer Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty

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 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

Carved Red Lacquer Plate with Narcissus Pattern of the Yuan Dynasty — 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 Mongolia 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 Dynasty, however, was ended as a unified regime. 

 

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

Observatory of the Yuan Dynasty in the Mount Song

Observatory of the Yuan Dynasty in the Mount Song

 

Political Structure and Social Systems of the Yuan Dynasty

 

Population:

 

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

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

Official Selection System: 

 

Hereditary aristocracy and a few times of Imperial Examination. 

Tax:

 

  • 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 the Pringting Plate of the Yuan Dynasty

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.

Calligraphy of Scholar Zhao Mengfu (1254 - 1322)

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 the Yuan Dynasty

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