Yuan Dynastylasting officially from 1271 to 1368, also called the
Mongol Dynasty, was the name given to the significant ruling family
of Borjigin in Asia. It invaded and ruled, during its hundred year
life, over the Mongol Empire (Stretching great distances from Eastern
Europe to the Middle-east to Russia), Korea and China. In the historiography
of China, it followed the Song Dynasty and preceded the Ming Dynasty
Birth of Yuan
Founding an Empire
timujin later to be more prominently known as Ghengis Khan, was
the first in the line of Yuan rulers. He was the son of Yesei, the
tribal chief of the Kiyad ª a tribe in a fractured Mongolia.
His father was killed in his early life by a rival tribe, the Tartars
ª this rendered him chief of the Kiyad. Many in the tribe did
not take well to a boy-ruler, abandoning him. He and his family
were thus reduced to a state of abject poverty ª however, at
the age of 20 he met his future wife B?rte, from whom he received
a sable coat, his first semblance of power and wealth. He soon traded
this coat for a small tribal army and joined the Kerait, a confederacy
of Mongol tribes led by Wang Khan. After successful campaigns against
the Tatars in 1202, Temujin was adopted as Wang Khan's heir. This
led to bitterness on the part of Senggum, Wang's former heir, who
planned to assassinate Temujin. Temujin learned of Senggum's intentions
however, and a large civil war broke out among the Mongols. Eventually
Temujin defeated Senggum and succeeded to the title of Wang Khan.
Temujin created a written code of laws for the Mongols called Yassa,
and he demanded it to be followed very strictly.
Temujin followed with attacks on other neighboring tribes, which
further increased his power. By combining diplomacy, organization,
military ability, and brutality, Temujin finally managed to unite
the tribes into the single nation, a monumental feat for the Mongols,
who had a long history of internecine dispute. In 1206 Temujin had
successfully united the formerly fragmented tribes of what is now
Mongolia. At a Khurultai (a council of Mongol chiefs), he was named
the "Genghis Khan", or the "Universal Ruler".
The birth of Mongolia marked the start of what would become the
Yuan Dynasty, eventually ruling the expansive Mongol Empire, Russia
and large parts of Asia for the following two centuries. Genghis
Khan, with his skills in military strategy, continued the long Mongol
tradition of attacking China proper with greater success than ever
before, eventually building a powerful military machine with unity
Aspirations to China
At the time of the Khuriltai Genghis was involved in a dispute with
Western Xia ª which eventually became the first of his wars
of conquest. Despite problems in taking well defended Western Xia
cities, he substantially reduced the Western Xia dominion by 1209,
when peace with Western Xia was made. He was acknowledged by their
emperor as overlord. This marks the first in a line of successes
in Northern Chinese kingdoms which wasn't complete until Kublai
Khan's rule. A major goal of Genghis was the conquest of the Jin
Dynasty of China, both to avenge earlier defeats and to gain the
riches of northern China. He declared war in 1211, and at first
the pattern of operations against the Jurchen Jin Dynasty was the
same as it had been against Western Xia. The Mongols were victorious
in the field, but they were frustrated in their efforts to take
major cities. In his typically logical and determined fashion, Genghis
and his highly developed staff studied the problems of the assault
of fortifications. With the help of Chinese engineers, they gradually
developed the techniques that eventually would make them the most
accomplished and most successful besiegers in the history of warfare.
As a result of a number of overwhelming victories in the field
and a few successes in the capture of fortifications deep within
China, Genghis had conquered and had consolidated Jin territory
as far south as the Great Wall of China by 1213. He then advanced
with three armies into the heart of Jin territory, between the Great
Wall and the Huang He. He defeated the Jin forces, devastated northern
China, captured numerous cities, and in 1215 besieged, captured,
and sacked the Jin capital of Yanjing (later known as Beijing).
The Jin emperor, Xuan Zong, however, did not surrender, but removed
his capital to Kaifeng. There his successors finally were defeated,
but not until 1234.
The vassal emperor of Western Xia had refused to take part in the
war against the peoples of the Khwarizm, and Genghis had vowed punishment.
While he was in Iran, Western Xia and Jin had formed an alliance
against the Mongols. After rest and a reorganization of his armies,
Genghis prepared for war against his foes. By this time, advancing
years had led Genghis to prepare for the future and to assure an
orderly succession among his descendants. He selected his third
son ?gedei as his successor and established the method of selection
of subsequent khans, specifying that they should come from his direct
descendants. Meanwhile, he studied intelligence reports from Western
Xia and Jin and readied a force of 180,000 troops for a new campaign.
In 1226, Genghis Khan attacked the Tanguts (Western Xia) on the
pretext that the Tanguts received the Mongols' enemies. Over the
next year he took the cities Heisui, Ganzhou, Suzhou, and Xiliang-fu
ª the Western Xia were finally defeated near Helanshan Mountain.
He soonafter took Tangut city of Ling-zhou and the Yellow River
ª defeating the Tangut relief army. In 1227, Genghis Khan attacked
the Tanguts' capital, and in February, he took Lintiao-fu. In March,
he took Xining prefecture and Xindu-fu. In April, he took Deshun
prefecture. At Deshun, the Western Xia General Ma Jianlong resisted
the Mongols for days and personally led charges against them outside
of the city gate. Ma Jianlong later died of arrow shots. On his
deathbed in 1227, Genghis Khan outlined to his youngest son, Tolui,
the plans that later would be used by his successors to complete
the destruction of the Jin empire. The new Western Xia emperor,
during Mongol attack, surrendered. The Tanguts officially surrendered
in 1227, after being in existence for 190 years, from 1038 to 1227.
The Mongols killed the Tangut emperor and his royal family members.
During the reign of ?gedei Khan, the Mongols completed the destruction
of the Jurchen Jin empire (in 1234), coming into contact and conflict,
during this time, with the Southern Song of China. In 1235, under
the khan's direct generalship, the Mongols began a war of conquest
that would not end for forty-five years. Mongol armies vassalized
Korea (which was later used as a base for the two unsuccessful attempts
to invade Japan, in 1274 & 1281), established permanent control
of Persia proper (commanded by Chormagan) and, most notably, expanded
westwards under the command of Batu Khan to subdue the Russian steppe.
Their western conquests included almost all of Russia (save Novgorod,
which became a vassal), Hungary, and Poland. ?gedei's death in 1241,
caused by alcohol, brought the western campaign to a premature end.
The commanders heard the news as they were advancing on Vienna,
and withdrew for the kuriltai in Mongolia, never again to return
so far west.
Not until M?ngke Khan did any Khan take the conquest of China particularly
seriously. Concerned himself more with the war in China, he outflanked
the Song Dynasty through the conquest of Yunnan in 1253 and an invasion
of Indochina, which allowed the Mongols to invade from north, west,
and south. Taking command personally late in the decade, he captured
many of the fortified cities along the northern front. These actions
ultimately rendered the conquest a matter of time. He dispatched
his brother tothe southwest, an act which was to expand the Mongol
Empire to the gates of Egypt. European conquest was neglected due
to the primacy of the other two theaters, but M?ngke's friendliness
with Batu Khan (with whom GKhan had almost come to open warfare
ª only prevented from doing so by death) ensured the unity
of empire. While conducting the war in China, M?ngke fell ill of
dysentery and died (in 1259), which aborted campaign, staved off
defeat for the Song, and caused a civil war that destroyed the unity,
and invincibility, of the Mongol Empire. His death gave rise to
Kublai Khan, the first Yuan Emperor of China.
The last of the Yuan Dynasty were marked by successions of struggle,
famine, and bitterness on behalf of the Chinese people. The dynasty
was, significantly, one of the shortest lived dynasties in the History
of China, covering the period of just a century 1271 to 1368. During
this time they had been seen as "foreign rule". In time,
Khubilai's successors became sinicized, and they then lost all influence
on other Mongol lands across Asia. Where the Mongols saw them as
too Chinese, the Chinese populace saw them as too Mongol. Gradually,
they lost influence in China as well. For one, most of the emperors
in the dynasty did not bother learning the language of the people,
nor celebrate the culture over which they ruled. The reigns of the
later Yuan emperors were short and were marked by intrigues and
rivalries. Uninterested in administration, they were separated from
both their Mongolian army and their Chinese subjects. China was
torn by dissension and unrest; bandits ranged the country without
interference from the weakening Yuan armies.
Emperor Yingzong ruled for just two years (1321 to 1323); his rule
ended in a coup at the hands of five princes. They placed Taidingdi
on the throne, and after an unsuccessful attempt to calm the princes
he also succumbed to regicide.
Loss of China
The last of the nine successors of Khubilai was expelled from Dadu
in 1368 by Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644),
who was referred to as taizu. Although Zhu, who adopted Mongol military
methods, drove the Mongols out of China, he did not destroy their
The Mongols retreated to Mongolia, where the Yuan Dynasty remained.
It is now called the Northern Yuan by modern historians. According
to Chinese political orthodoxy, there could be only one legitimate
empire, and so the Ming and the Yuan each denied the legitimacy
of the other. However, modern Chinese historians tend to regard
the Ming dynasty as more legitimate.
Chinese called the Mongols "Tatar"d¢ d¢) instead
of "Mongo³), even though they called themselves "Mongghol".
A Chinese army invaded Mongolia in 1380, and in 1388 a decisive
victory was won. About 70,000 Mongols were taken prisoners, and
Karakorum (the Mongol capital) was annihilated. Eight years after
the invasion, the Mongol throne was taken over by Yeser, a descendant
of Arigh Bugha. After getting the Mongols through the turbulent
period, he restored the throne to descendants of Kublai Khan.
The Mongols were greatly attacked by the Manchu in the 17th century.
In 1634, Ligdan Khan, the last Great Khan of the Mongols, died on
his way to Tibet. His son, Ejei Khan, surrendered to the Manchu
and gave the great seal of the Yuan Emperor to its ruler, Hong Taiji.
As a result, Hong Taiji established the Qing Dynasty as the successor
of the Yuan Dynasty in 1636.