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Yuan Dynasty

Duration: 1271~1368
Capital: Beijing

The Mongols were the first non-Han Chinese ethnic group to rule all of China. Genghis Khan founded the Mongolian Khanate in 1206, and kept expanding its territory through expeditions and conquests. The Khanate was to be renamed “Great Yuan” by Kublai Khan in 1271, and the capital relocated to Beijing. Conquest of the entire territory of China proper was completed by 1279 when the last Song emperor committed suicide following the loss of the last naval battle.

The Yuan Empire had a stunningly vast territory (the largest of all dynasties), stretching to Mongolia and Siberia in the north, the South China Sea in the south, Tibet and Yunnan in the southwest, Xinjiang in the northwest, and the Stanovoy Range in the northeast.

For the Han Chinese, the period of Mongol rule was generally a hard time. Kublai Khan designed a hierarchy which divided the population within the empire into four classes:
1. Mongols;
2. "Semuren", (a collective name given to the peoples/immigrants from northwestern China, Central Asia, and Europe, mainly Muslims and Christians);
3. Han Chinese in North China, Kitans, Jurchens, Koreans;
4. Han Chinese in south China, the last to be conquered by the Mongols.

The Han Chinese were thus treated as “third/fourth-class” citizens and were discriminated in many respects. To maintain a stable rule over them, the Yuan devised certain preemptive rules. For example, Mongol chiefs were assigned to administer Han Chinese villages and household groups, and five Han households were to share one kitchen knife only.
Sui Dynasty, Chinese Dynasties

A bustling market place during the Yuan Dynasty when Chinese economy continued to prosper.

However, Confucianism was still endorsed as the rulers found it an ideal ideological tool for imperial rule; Yuan Emperors bestowed a higher aristocratic title on Confucius, creating him as a “prince”. Imperial civil service exams were reinstated in 1313, drafting talents from Han Chinese Confucian scholars. An estate was specially created for Confucian-scholar households. A Han Chinese was to be exempted from compulsory labour services after getting registered with the authority as a Confucian scholar. Some Yuan Emperors were interested in Han Chinese culture. Emperoro Tugh Temur, for example, could write poetry, paint, and read Chinese classics.

Given the vastness of the Yuan Empire territory and influence, especially the political unity in Central Asia, exchanges between East and West were active. Trade via both Overland and Maritime Silk Roads continued to prosper. Venetian merchant Marco Polo made his China trip during this period, and visited many Chinese cities, though in some sense, he did not arrive at China “at a good time”.

Harsh rule over the Han Chinese incurred long-standing public wrath, which was to find a vent in late decades of the Dynasty. Under heavy tax burden, compulsory labour service and rising inflation, Chinese peasants rebelled. The rebel forces led by Zhu Yuanzhang was to emerge victorious in the wars, and captured Yuan capital Beijing in 1367, driving the remnant forces of the Mongols north into the Mongolian desert and steppe. Han Chinese rule over China was thus restored under the new Ming Dynasty.
Sui Dynasty, Chinese Dynasties

Did Marco Polo make it to China in person, or was his travel record based on second-hand knowledge about China? Whatever the answer, he did not arrive at China "at a good time", as China proper happened to be ruled by a non-Han Chinese ethnic group.


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