Yuan dynasty in Inner Asia

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Yuan dynasty, c. 1294.

The Yuan dynasty in Inner Asia was the domination of the Yuan dynasty in Inner Asia in the 13th and the 14th centuries. The Genghisid rulers of the Yuan came from the Mongolian steppe, and the Mongols under Kublai Khan established the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) based in Khanbaliq (modern Beijing), a Chinese-style dynasty that incorporated many aspects of Mongolian and Inner Asian political and military institutions.[1] Actual Yuan rule extended to Manchuria (modern Northeast China and Outer Manchuria), Mongolia (both Inner and Outer Mongolia as well as part of southern Siberia), the Tibetan Plateau and parts of Xinjiang. People from these Inner Asian regions other than the Mongols usually belonged to the Semu class. In addition, the Yuan emperors held nominal suzerainty over the three western Mongol khanates (the Golden Horde, the Chagatai Khanate and the Ilkhanate), but they were essentially autonomous and ruled separately due to the division of the Mongol Empire since the Toluid Civil War in the 1260s.


Manchuria within the Yuan dynasty.

Manchuria was originally ruled by the Jurchen Jin dynasty before the emergence of the Mongol Empire in the early 13th century. During the Mongol conquest of the Jin dynasty (1211-1234), both North China and Manchuria became subjugated by the Mongols. After the establishment of the Yuan dynasty, Manchuria became a part of the Yuan. The Yuan founder Kublai Khan set up the Liaoyang province (遼陽行省) in 1269, and the province had extended to northeastern Korean Peninsula. It became a Xuanweisi (宣慰司) in 1286. In 1287, the Liaoyang province was established again, and lasted until the end of the Yuan dynasty. According to Yuanshi, the official history of the Yuan dynasty, the Mongols militarily subdued the Guwei (骨嵬, Gǔwéi) in the Sakhalin island, and by 1308, all inhabitants of Sakhalin had submitted to the Yuan dynasty. Even after the overthrown of the Mongol Yuan dynasty by the Ming dynasty in 1368, Manchuria was still controlled by the Mongols under Naghachu, a general of the Mongolia-based Northern Yuan dynasty who was originally a Yuan official. Ming conquest of Manchuria only occurred after the Ming military campaign against Naghachu in 1387.


Mongolia within the Yuan dynasty.

The Mongols came from the Mongolian steppe, and Karakorum was the capital of the Mongol Empire until 1260. During the Toluid Civil War, Mongolia was controlled by Ariq Böke, a younger brother of Kublai Khan. After Kublai's victory over Ariq Böke, Mongolia was put within the Central Region (腹裏) directly governed by the Central Secretariat at the capital Khanbaliq (Dadu). However, it was shortly occupied by Kaidu, leader of the House of Ögedei and de facto khan of the Chagatai Khanate during his war with Kublai Khan, although it was later recovered by the Yuan commander Bayan of the Baarin. Temur was later appointed a governor in Karakorum and Bayan became a minister. During the rule of Külüg Khan, the third Yuan emperor, Mongolia was put under the Karakorum province (和林行省) in 1307, although parts of Inner Mongolia were still governed by the Central Secretariat. It was renamed to the Lingbei province (嶺北行省) by his successor Ayurbarwada Buyantu Khan in 1312. After the overthrown of the Mongol Yuan dynasty by the Ming dynasty in 1368, the Mongols retreated to Mongolia homeland which became the ruling center of the Northern Yuan dynasty.


Tibet within the Yuan dynasty.

After the Mongol conquest of Tibet in the 1240s, Tibet was incorporated into the Mongol Empire. After the enthronement of Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty, Tibet was put under the Bureau of Buddhist and Tibetan Affairs or Xuanzheng Yuan, a government agency and top-level administrative department set up in Khanbaliq that supervised Buddhist monks in addition to managing the territory of Tibet.[2] Besides modern-day Tibet Autonomous Region, it also governed a part of Sichuan, Qinghai and Kashmir. It was separate from the other provinces of the Yuan dynasty such as those of former Song dynasty of China, but still under the administrative rule of the Yuan. One of the department's purposes was to select a dpon-chen ('great administrator'), usually appointed by the lama and confirmed by the Mongol emperor in Beijing.[3] During the Yuan rule of Tibet, Tibet retained nominal power over religious and regional political affairs, while the Mongols managed a structural and administrative[4] rule over the region, reinforced by the rare military intervention. Tibetan Buddhism was favored as the de facto state religion of the Yuan dynasty, and the Sakya leader Drogön Chögyal Phagpa became Imperial Preceptor of Kublai Khan. Yuan control over the region ended with the Ming overthrow of the Yuan and Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen's revolt against the Mongols.[5]


The Mongol Empire began to rule modern-day Xinjiang during their conquest of the Qara Khitai. After the division of the Mongol Empire and the established of the Yuan dynasty by Kublai Khan, Xinjiang became a battle place between the Yuan dynasty and the Chagatai Khanate. The Yuan had shortly put most of present-day Xinjiang under its control under the Bechbaliq province (別失八里行省), but they were occupied by the Chagatai Khanate in 1286. After a long-time war between them, most of Xinjiang became under the control of the Chagatai Khanate, while the Yuan dynasty only controlled eastern part of Xinjiang. No province was set up again by the Mongols of the Yuan in Xinjiang, although the Yuan did set up an institution named "哈剌火州總管府" in eastern Xinjiang in 1330, which was directly governed by the Yuan dynasty. After the fall of the Yuan dynasty in 1368, the Kara Del khanate was founded in Hami by the Yuan prince Gunashiri, a descendant of Chagatai Khan.

Nominal suzerainty over the western khanates[edit]

Yuan dynasty (in green) and the three western khanates, c. 1300.

The Mongol Empire had politically fragmented into four khanates, including the Yuan dynasty and the three western khanates (the Golden Horde, the Chagatai Khanate and the Ilkhanate) since the Toluid Civil War in the 1260s. The subsequent Kaidu–Kublai war (1268-1301) lasted a few decades and deepened the fragmentation. After the death of Kublai Khan in 1294, Ghazan Khan of the Ilkhanate converted to Islam after his enthronement in 1295. He actively supported the expansion of Islam in his empire and renounced all relationship with the "paganish" Yuan dynasty. But three years later, he changed this policy and sent his envoys to greet Kublai Khan's successor Temür, the second Yuan emperor, who responded favorably. The Ilkhanid envoys presented tribute to Temür and inspected properties granted to Hulagu in North China.[6] They stayed at the Yuan capital (Khanbaliq, modern Beijing) for four years.

At about the same time, Kaidu and Duwa of the Chagatai Khanate mobilized a large army to attack Karakorum (then under Yuan control) around 1300 during the final stage of the Kaidu–Kublai war. The Yuan army suffered heavy losses while both sides could not make any decisive victory in September. Duwa was wounded in the battle and Kaidu died soon thereafter. After that, Duwa, Kaidu's son Chapar, Tokhta of the Golden Horde and Ilkhan Oljeitu (Ghazan's successor) negotiated peace with Temür Khan in 1304 in order to maintain trade and diplomatic relations, and agreed him to be their nominal overlord.[7] This established the nominal suzerainty of the Yuan dynasty over the western khanates.

However, the peace was short-lived. The fighting between Duwa and Chapar soon broke out over the question of territory. Temür backed Duwa and sent a large army under Khayisan in the fall of 1306, and Chapar finally surrendered. The territory controlled by Chapar was divided up by the Chagataids and the Yuan dynasty. The nominal supremacy of the Yuan, while based on nothing like the same foundations as that of the earlier Khagans (such as the continued border clashes among them), did last for a few decades, until the Yuan dynasty fell in China (1368). The four khanates continued to interact with one another in the first half of the 14th century, but they did so as sovereign states. They formed alliances, fought one another, exchanged envoys, and traded commercial products. In the case of the Yuan dynasty based in China and the Ilkhanate based in Iran, there was an extensive program of cultural and scientific interaction. But they never again pooled their resources in a cooperative military endeavor.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ China: Ancient Culture, Modern Land, by Robert E. Murowchick, p145
  2. ^ ars orientalis, p9
  3. ^ Dawa Norbu. China's Tibet Policy, pp. 139. Psychology Press.
  4. ^ Wylie. p.104: 'To counterbalance the political power of the lama, Khubilai appointed civil administrators at the Sa-skya to supervise the mongol regency.'
  5. ^ Rossabi 1983, p. 194
  6. ^ Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia by Thomas T. Allsen, p.34
  7. ^ Д.Цэен-Ойдов – Чингис Богдоос Лигдэн хутагт хүртэл 36 хаад
  8. ^ The Cambridge History of China: Volume 6, by Denis C. Twitchett, Herbert Franke, John King Fairbank, p413