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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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