The Mongol way of life is to conquer. They believe that a tribe that does not conquer will dissipate. With this mindset, it is no surprise that the Mongols set their goals to conquering China. In the early thirteenth century, the Mongols pushed their way into North China and in 1234, defeated the Jin dynasty and conquered the land. However, that was not enough and they set their minds to controlling China and conquering the Southern Song Dynasty.
Although the original Mongol leader that had begun the conquest in China, Genghis Khan, had long passed, his grandson, Kublai Khan, achieved the goal of establishing the first alien dynasty to rule all of China. He named it the Yuan Dynasty. Unlike the previous dynasties that had ruled in China, Kublai Khan could not use the, Heaven’s Mandate, a concept the explained that kings had the authority to rule because they had the approval of Heaven, to justify his rule. Instead, he claimed that the Mongols had earned the right to rule China because by establishing the Yuan dynasty, China was once again united. The last time China had been united was at the establishment of the Tang Dynasty, which ruled from 618-907.
In order to gain acceptance from the Chinese people, the Mongols maintained some of the Chinese traditions. One of the more important traditions of the Chinese, was to give the regime the status of a Chinese dynasty. Kublai Khan did this by declaring the establishment of the Great Yuan and writing official dynastic histories of all 3 of its predecessors. However, the Mongols did not stop there and started the first national gazetteer in order keep a history of the Yuan dynasty. In this gazetteer they kept records of a comprehensive geography, administrative roster, and prosopography of all places in the realm.
Just like in all periods of foreign rule of China, the Yuan dynasty brought a development of rich cultural diversity. The Mongols had previously entered Europe, Korea, and Muslim kingdoms. As a result, they introduced a variety of cultures. There was development in drama, novel, and an increase in the use of written language. The Mongols reinstated the Confucian governmental practices and examinations that had been abandoned during the times of disunity in North China in order to maintain order. Travel literature, cartography, geography, and scientific education made advances during this period of time and some Chinese innovations, such as playing cards and printing techniques spread to Europe.
The Yuan dynasty was also a time of improvement in infrastructure in China. The Mongols worked to improve road and water communications, build granaries, rebuild the capital, and much more. As a result of the improvements in road and water communications, trade and business on both land and over sea were accessible and encouraged. The new granaries worked to prevent famines. The reconstruction of Beijing involved a larger palace with new palace grounds, artificial lakes, hills and mountains, and parks. New contacts from Western countries introduced to new foods to the Chinese along with foreign food products and new ways of preparing them.
Brook, T. (2010). History of Imperial China, Volume 5 : Troubled Empire : China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.
Poon, L. (2009). The Imperial Era: III. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.chaos.umd.edu/history/imperial3.html