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YUAN DYNASTY

During the existence of the Yuan Dynasty from 1279-1368 AD, China was occupied by Mongols. The significance of this era is that the Yuan reunified China, exclusively ruled by foreigners. Several reforms during this period set China back economically and technologically, through political means. Temujin, who was acclaimed (Chinggis) Genghis Khan, had led the Mongols in their defeat of much of China, however, it was his grandson, Kubilai Khan who became the emperor and founder of the Yuan dynasty. The Mongols succeeded in its takeover of China, including the Southern Song, in part due to their superior military capabilities, yet had numerous unsuccessful quests to extend its own empire into Japan, Vietnam, and Java.

Politically, the examination system that was successful in previous dynasties was disregarded and Khubilai recruited officers, based on their status, relation to a family member that was already was in a government post, and other successors through hereditary means. Since Chinese nobility were not able to participate in the Mongols' governing, they focused their talents on poetry and other literary works, and art. Additionally, the administration of law of the Mongols was very difficult to apply to the increasingly large melting pot. There was some success in 1323, with laws that maintained a balance between Chinese culture, Mongolian customary laws, and social conditions.

The Yuan was noted for its religious freedom. Mongols favored Daoism and Buddhism, and eventually recognized that Confucianism had its place in the empire. Hence, the desire to have religious leaders from these schools participate in the Yuan government. However, infighting among Confucian leaders circles, suggesting that to serve in government was lacking in respect for the religious school, and that their school of thought would not be recognized by the Yuan government.

The Mongols were culturally very different from the Chinese, making it extremely difficult to command the population. The Mongols and the Chinese spoke different languages, had a different form of dress and many different customs. These background differences proved impossible to overcome. Despite attempting to rule in a Chinese custom, the government of the Yuan Dynasty had virtually no Chinese participants. Mongols and other foreigners, especially Muslims, were given all government positions. The cultural gap resulted in a weaker government than that of previous empires.

The excessive spending and trade restriction enacted during the Yuan Dynasty severely depleted China economically. Improvements to roadways, canals, agriculture and irrigation, increasing silk production, and establishing a postal system were designed to improve communication and commerce, all in an effort to spur economic activity. However, all the public works programs required heavy taxation from the peasants, which eventually backfired on the empire with evidence of impoverished regions were to promote numerous popular uprisings.

Travel and trade outside of China for commercial reasons proved difficult for the Chinese. However, merchants visiting China from abroad were able to trade within China and were given privileges by the Yuan. It is at this time that Marco Polo gave his description of China. Unlike the native Chinese experience, doing business as a foreigner, as Marco Polo suggested that in his experience, conducting business within China was rewarding, not having to pay into the empire's tax system and was free to travel unencumbered.

The downfall of the Yuan in 1368 was due to it's once most powerful military's lack of funding to maintain housing, to keep itself sustained in farming because slaves either died or fled from the worsening conditions. Several movements and militias were established threw the country into disarray, getting no interference from the Yuan empire because of its inability and manpower to quell the unrest. Eventually, the under the Yuan rule of Tonghan-Temur (who had occupied the throne twice), he and the Mongol empire were expelled from China by one of the rebel movement leaders named Zhu Yuan-zhang, who overtook the throne in what is to be called the Ming Dynasty.

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Dynasties of Asia
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For additional history and background, click the links below.

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