Yuan – The Mongol Dynasty, 1279-1368


The reign of the Mongols over China was disastrous for the Chinese people. They finally threw out their oppressors – how did this come to pass?

The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) of the Mongols ruling China was little short of a total disaster for the Chinese people. The disdain of the nomadic Mongols for the sedentary lifestyle of the Chinese meant they ignored the needs of repairing and maintaining the infrastructure that provided them with their greedily squandered tax revenues. Some estimates have it that the population of China, which had reached 100 million under the Song Dynasty, declined to just one half of that during the 90 years of Mongol misrule.

Irrigation broke down and canals were allowed to become overgrown and unusable. Agriculture was severely affected. The link between the Mandarin class of scholars and the learning and wisdom of the past, accumulated at such great cost and effort, was broken. Instead, the advice of the sages and scribes was ignored and no efforts were made to consult the historical records before decisions were made. Instead, the nine Mongol emperors ruled as if they were still tribal leaders on the Steppes, treating and mistreating people just as they pleased and without consideration of the circumstances. Worse, perhaps, was that the nomads were elevated to positions of power to which in many cases they were quite unsuited while Chinese officials had to kowtow before them. Everything that was Chinese in origin became designated as inferior and of little or no worth; everything of the Steppes was regarded as innately superior.

It was clear to the mass of Chinese people that this was unjust and they were persuaded, eventually, that the Mandate of Heaven was to return to Chinese hands. If further evidence were required, then it became apparent from the ending of Mongol military expansion. Expeditions to Japan were ruinously destroyed – according to legend, it was the Divine Wind or ‘Kamikaze’ that destroyed the Mongol fleets. An attempted invasion of Java was no more successful while the army sent to conquer Burma was defeated by the climate and disease endemic in that tropical land as well as the Burmese troops. A triple alliance of Thai princes also halted the Mongol advance in Indochina. The days of the all-conquering Mongol army were over.

Chinese all across the empire realised that the tide of history was turning in their favour and they rose up in a general revolution which chased the Mongols out of China and back to the Steppes forever. The last Yuan Emperor, Toghon Temur (Shundi), was routed out of the palace in which he spent his time practicing Lamaist orgies and kicked out of the country, where he soon died.