After Khubilai Khan’s death in 1294,
his successors ruled over the most powerful kingdom on earth,
the Yuan Dynasty.
A little over 70 years later, the Dynasty was pushed from China,
70多年后 元朝被推翻 从而退出中国历史舞台
their rulers a shadow of the men Chinggis, Möngke and Khubilai had been.
Today, we take you through
the combined economic, environmental, political and military factors
that led to the Mongols losing the Mandate of Heaven, and China itself.
经济 生态 政治 军事多重综合因素
By the time of Khubilai Khan’s death in 1294, he had outlived his designated heir,
passing it instead onto his drunken grandson Temür Öljeitü.
In the almost 40 years from Khubilai’s death
to the ascension of Toghon Temür Khan in 1333,
nine khans were enthroned:
of them, only Temür Öljeitü reigned over a decade.
Rampant alcoholism and assassinations meant few khans lived past 35.
Temür Öljeitü attempted to continue the policies of his grandfather,
but within a year the treasury was nearly empty,
almost totally spent on lavish gifts for the princes after his enthronement.
He learned too of the intense corruption of the Yuan court.
The quota for court and capital officials was set at 2,600 persons.
In the first year of Temür Öljeitü’s reign,
it was found to be over 10,000.
A 1303 investigation led to some 18000 clerks and officials being charged with bribery.
In typical fashion, Temür Öljeitü lacked the commitment to push through with charges,
and most of the accused maintained their posts.
While it has been common to attest the Yuan Dynasty’s economic failings
to corruption to lavish gift-giving, of which there was no shortage of,
recent studies have highlighted a greater struggle.
The fourteenth century was the start of the Little Ice Age,
a global climatic shift towards generally cooler and wetter temperatures.
Those strongly affected the Asian monsoon season,
which in the fourteenth century manifested into
a general trend of intense colds and snowfall in the Eurasian steppe,
droughts in north China and unending rains and typhoons in southern China.
These began to be felt in the very first years of Temür Öljeitü’s reign.
In 1295, typhoons struck the Yangzi River delta.
The Yellow River broke its banks in multiple places and caused repeated flooding.
And a dry spell from the previous years resulted in plagues of locusts that eradicated crops
and continued for the rest of the decade.
In Mongolia, harsher winters starved herds
and forced thouands south to seek support from the Khaan.
These ecological problems directly tied into the Yuan’s economic woes.
Khubilai continued the Song policy of Huangzheng,
government-provided disaster relief,
in the form of cash, grain, rice, animals and other supplies.
以现金 粮米 畜牧和其他物资的形式来赈灾
It fit well into Khubilai’s efforts at reconstruction
and relieving the burdens of the lower classes.
None of Khubilai’s heirs dared repeal such a law,
for it was a basis of Yuan legitimacy.
However, in a century of unprecedented climatic disasters over a vast geographic area,
this was an impossible burden.
The detailed Chinese records and the Yuanshi
reveal a dynasty facing yearly crises.
From 1272 until 1357,
there was a major famine somewhere in China almost every other year.
Over 56 earthquakes were recorded.
Super typhoons on the southern coast
coincided with super snowstorms in the steppe.
Exceptionally cold winters and unexpected frosts
meant certain crops could no longer be grown in the north.
The densely populated Yangzi River Delta,
home to one of the most economically and agriculturally vital areas of the empire,
suffered annual droughts, flooding, epidemics, starvation and typhoons,
却每年遭受干旱 洪灾 流行病 饥荒和台风
which destroyed towns and farmland,
causing thousands more to die in the ensuing famines.
In 1301 alone,
a spring drought in the Yangzi Delta was followed by a massive typhoon.
Arable farmland was destroyed for 50 kilometers along the coastline,
and a 40-meter-high wave pushed 280 kilometres inland.
17,000 were killed during the storm,
and 100,000 starved in the aftermath.
Only a month later flooding displaced people in Manchuria.
A freak August snowstorm killed herds in Mongolia.
The imperial capital of Dadu was flooded.
And a locust plague struck Hebei province.
Survivors needed government relief.
Grain and rice shortages caused the Yuan to cover costs only with cash.
And to provide more cash, more had to be printed,
to the point it outstripped government revenues.
Inflation was the result,
and Yuan paper money became ever more worthless over the 1300s.
With seemingly unending waves of natural calamities
and an ever-more worthless currency,
it seemed the Yuan were losing the Mandate of Heaven, the right to rule China.
On Temür Öljeitü’s death in 1307 without surviving children,
factions formed around his nephews.
His nephew Qaishan was a man of the steppe
with no love or understanding of Chinese culture,
hoping to rule like a nomad
through his noyad, Mongol military elite.
通过诺颜 即蒙古军事精英 来统治这个国家
Lavish gifts, princely titles and palaces were spent on his friends and allies.
Four months into his reign,
Qaishan found he spent over a year’s worth of government revenue.
In a panic, he spent the rest of his reign trying to address this,
increasing taxes and collecting debts cancelled by Temür Öljeitü.
A new currency was put into circulation,
based on an exchange of 1:5 with the old.
The volume of currency printed in 1310
was 7 times higher than the previous three years,
succeeding only in furthering inflation.
On his death, in 1311 he was succeeded by his brother Ayurburwada.
The new khan unleashed a violent purge of his brother’s officials,
reversed his policies, and abolished his currency.
Ayurburwada wanted a more traditionally Chinese-Confucian government,
and reinstated the civil service examination system to choose officials.
He promoted the translation of Chinese classics into Mongolian,
and began the codification of the Yuan legal system.
Such was the ongoing back and forth with each new khan,
with the top layer of government usually suffering a bloody overhaul
and total reversal of policies with each succession.
Ayurburwada died in 1320, aged only 35:
his son and successor, Shidebala spent most of his reign
battling Ayurburwada’s powerful mother,
only to be assassinated in 1323.
His successor, his cousin Yesün-Temür,
was likely involved in the plot,
and after only five years on the throne died in 1328 of illness,
also only 35.
Yesün-Temür’s eight-year-old son Ragibagh
was enthroned at Shangdu on the efforts of Yesün-Temür’s Chancellor,
but the plan went awry
when the Central Capital at Dadu was seized
by the head of the powerful Qipchaq Guard, El-Temür,
who placed Prince Tüq-Temür on the throne.
El-Temür violently seized Shangdu,
and young Ragibagh Khaan disappeared in the chaos.
Soon after, Tüq-Temür’s older brother Qoshila
returned from his exile in the Chagatai Khanate.
In August 1329 they met in a warm reunion,
Tüq-Temür recognizing his brother’s overlordship.
Four days later Qoshila was dead, and Tüq-Temür returned to the throne.
But Tüq-Temür did not enjoy power for his efforts,
for El-Temür of the Qipchaq and his ally Bayan of the Merkit held real power,
reducing the Khaan to a figurehead
The Khaan dedicated his reign to studying Chinese classics, practicing his calligraphy,
and suffering immense guilt over his brother’s murder.
When he died in 1332, he had declared his brother’s son Irinjibal
as his heir in place of his own minor son.
An aging and ill El-Temür reluctantly agreed
and the six-year-old Irinjibal was duly enthroned as Great Khan,
only to die two months later.
The court pressured El-Temür to recall
Irinjibal’s exiled older half-brother Toghon Temür,
though not before El-Temür married his daughter to him.
Toghon Temür was the longest-reigning Yuan sovereign after Khubilai,
ruling from 1333 until his death in 1370.
At first he, like his predecessors, was a puppet.
起初 他像前几任可汗一样 只是个傀儡
On El-Temür’s death, his ally Bayan took his place.
He desired restoration to an imagined ”good old days” under Khubilai
and sought to enforce separations between Mongols and Chinese which had blurred over previous decades.
Chinese were banned from many government offices,
forbidden from learning Mongolian and other west Asian languages,
the civil service examinations were cancelled, the general population disarmed,
and their horses were confiscated.
Yet Bayan also wanted to make the government more efficient by cutting court expenditures,
and reducing stress on the empire’s population by decreasing the high fees on the salt monopoly,
encouraging agriculture, and improving and speeding up the government relief system.
All his efforts were, of course, signed off
by the young Toghon Temür, who lived in fear of him.
Bayan’s centralization of power,
and willingness to respond to rumours of threats with great violence
galvanized resistance to him, including by his own nephew, Toghto.
In spring 1340, Toghto and Toghon Temür exiled Bayan,
who died a month later.
With him went the last of those who wanted to go back to the ‘old ways,’
succeeded by those who recognized, and even celebrated the sinicization of the Mongol dynasty.
The new generation of court leadership was symbolized by Toghto.
Only 26 years old at Bayan’s ouster,
Toghto was well educated and raised to prominence by his uncle.
Toghto had no misconceptions about restoring things to Khubilai’s time.
To Toghto, Chinese culture and Confucianism were to be appreciated
Believing all dynastic problems could be solved
with a steady hand and powerful government,
Toghto sought to centralize and strengthen the Yuan with a variety of reforms.
His first period as chancellor
saw the removal of the last of Bayan’s allies,
the restoration of the civil service examinations,
greater incorporation of Confucian scholars into government than ever before,
and actual visibility to Toghon Temür Khaan.
The Khaan’s family gave a decree, denouncing his uncle Tok Temür for murdering Qoshila
and had Tok Temür’s surviving son executed.
Toghon Temür’s own son Ayushiridara was entrusted to Toghto to be raised and educated,
and Toghto put great energy into molding the boy
into an ideal Confucianized Mongol ruler.
Throughout this political upheaval, the environmental crises only worsened.
The flight of the Mongols and other peoples of the northwest
grew so bad that in 1323,
39% of the money printed was spent
on trying to send the refugees back with aid,
before ultimately forbidding anyone from leaving Mongolia on pain of death.
但最终 所有人被禁止离开蒙古 违者处死
Intense flooding every year of the 1320s annihilated croplands,
and inflation only continued to rise,
and the population grew ever more agitated.
Over Tüq Temür’s three-year reign, 21 rebellions broke out
No new revenues could be found to pay for these expenditures
while the costs of relief, war, the court, and corruption
而此时 救济 战争 朝庭和腐败造成的开支
continued to soar alongside inflation.
While Chancellor Toghto imagined carrying out great works to dazzle his contemporaries,
his plans were cut short by the environment.
This was a decade of annual earthquakes,
unseasonal snowstorms eradicating entire herds,
severe flooding, widespread famine,drought, and epidemic,
严重的洪水 泛滥的饥荒 干旱和流行病
including, in the opinion of some scholars, the start of the bubonic plague.
同时 在一些学者看来 黑死病也始于这个时期
For the general population, the field of frustration finally began to bloom
into violent uprisings in the 1340s.
In 1341, there were over 300 bandit uprisings across central China
including the Red Turban Movement.
So-called for their red headbands, this was a number of loosely connected groups
which espoused a radical Confucianism
calling for a drastic change of society through military means
to return to an older ‘purer’ China.
Toghto resigned his position in 1344, allowed his successor to take the blame,
then returned triumphant in 1349 when recalled by the court.
As by then Toghon Temür Khaan had grown bored of governing,
Toghto was now the dominant figure of the Yuan realm.
Toghto ordered the printing of great sums of money to tackle his greatest scheme:
forcing back the Yellow River to once more enter the sea south of the Shandong peninsula.
Back in 1344, twenty days of nonstop rain caused the River to break its banks
and flood numerous districts and cities,
cutting off the Grand Canal and draining into the Huai River, which caused it to rise and
threaten the salt fields in Shandong and Hebei provinces.
All before settling into a course north of the Shandong Peninsula,
the threat to the salt fields was a particular concern,
as the salt trade and its taxes provided six-tenths of Yuan yearly revenue.
While the Grand Canal needed to be kept open
to transport rice and grain north to feed the capital of Dadu,
there was intense opposition to the project to reroute the Yellow River,
but Toghto forced the plan through.
Printing 2 million ingots worth of new currency to pay for it,
from May to December, 1351
150,000 labourers, and 20,000 soldiers
dug a 140-kilometer long channel to successfully reroute the river.
Once more the Grand Canal was fed,
the salt fields were protected and the Yellow River exited into the sea south of Shandong.
Toghto’s project was designed to protect the producers and economy of the Yuan Dynasty,
but it accidentally sparked off its ultimate collapse.
The large gathering of workers, hungry and weak from years of famine,
由于多年饥荒 工人们饥肠辘辘 体弱多病
punished by cruel overseers trying to meet a strict timetable,
and paid in money only a little above worthless,
was fertile soil for the Red Turbans.
Even as work continued on the canal, a massive revolt erupted in the Huai River valley.
The Yuan were taken by surprise, and a number of cities fell in quick succession,
with few city walls having been rebuilt after the initial conquest.
In the first engagements, the government forces were poorly prepared and beaten back,
including an army commanded by Toghto’s brother.
These are not the highly mobile horse archers of the conquest,
but generally local Chinese militias commanded by Mongols and Central Asians.
But Chancellor Toghto was custom-made for this emergency.
He immediately organized the defence, raise new armies and conscripted militias.
他立即开始进行防御 并组建了新的军队 征召了民兵
New training and command structures were implemented.
He knew he had to tread carefully,
lest mismanaged and underpaid troops join in the revolts.
以免管理不善 报酬过低 致使士兵不满从而加入叛乱
In a dizzying juggling effort, Toghto constantly shuffled larger military units,
transfering and reappointing commanders around the empire
to prevent them from forming alternate powerbases.
The Yellow Army, mostly Chinese volunteers,
under Mongol and Turkic commanders in yellow uniforms,
became Toghto’s “nationwide apparatus of pacification,”
as termed by historian John Dardess.
Leading the most important campaigns himself,
Toghto began to halt, then push back, and finally overrun the rebellion.
最初按兵不动 然后反击 最终平息了叛乱
By the end of 1352,
Toghto had brought the Huai River valley back under control.
Methodically, they retook cities and by the end of 1354,
Toghto was about to crush the final major figure of a largely broken movement,
Zhang Shicheng, now isolated in his capital at Gao-Yu.
And at the last moment, Toghon Temür Khaan snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
For unclear reasons, the Khaan ordered Toghto dismissed at the start of 1355.
A short-sighted and inept monarch,
perhaps fearful of Toghto’s growing might,
yet at the same time unable to replace him,
Toghon Temür ensured that Toghto’s carefully balanced military machine collapsed instantly
much of the army deserting, and the Red Turban rebellion exploded with new vigour.
Toghto, a loyal servant to the end,
accepted his dismissal and was assassinated the following year.
Toghon Temür sat almost idle as the Red Turban warlords
fought for the right to succeed the Yuan.
After the battle of Lake Poyang,
this was Zhu Yuanzhang who soon declared the Ming Dynasty.
Toghon Temür had little power over his remaining commanders,
who fought each other as much as the Red Turbans.
By the end of the summer of 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang, now enthroned as the Hongwu Emperor,
sent his trusted general Xu Da to take Dadu.
Toghon Temür and his heir Ayushiridara fled to Mongolia
only days before the arrival of the Ming armies.
And on the 20th of September, 1368,
Dadu came into Chinese rule for the first time in over 400 years.
The Hongwu Emperor renamed the city to Beiping, meaning ‘pacified north’.
In time, the city became the capital of the Ming Dynasty
and was renamed to Beijing, the name it holds today.
Aside from a few Yuan loyalists who held out for another twenty odd years,
Mongol rule in China ended in 1368.
The Yuan Dynasty, contrary to common depictions,
had responded vigorously to a dramatic climatic emergency,
but could not overcome such a massive crisis.
Few states, though, could have survived such a threat
while simultaneously suffering rampant political and economic turmoil
that was continually compounded by the environmental crisis.
In this respect, it remains impressive that the successors of Khubilai Khaan
lasted even 70 years.
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