The Mongols and China

Freshman (College 1st year) ・History ・Chicago ・5 Sources

The Mongol Conquer and Influence on the Chinese

The Mongols were nomads who depended on water and pasture. Their lands were dry most of the times and this led to intertribal conflicts. Apart from this, they also engaged in trade in which they exchanged goods such as wood, iron, cotton, silk and grains. Through their seasonal movement in search of pasture and water, they made contacts with various religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Manicheanism.

China had been ruled by different emperors from the ancient Han dynasty to the latest Qin dynasty. During the Song dynasty, which was back in 1279, there was a great war by the Mongolian empire who wanted to take over the whole China. Mark Elvin stated that since the Mongols had an organized big army, they fought the Song dynasty took over the whole of China. This was also contributed by the fact that they had good bows and arrows and a superior horsemanship. By this time, the leader of the Mongols was Genghis Khan. Through the 100 years ruling of China, there was interaction between the Mongols and the Chinese. Some of the results of this interaction is discussed below.

The major influence they came with was promotion of trade and opening of major trade routes. The Mongol Khans promoted trade in China and to other nations such as Eurasia, Japan, Iran and the Middle East. Mark Elvin also added that the trade was a secure a process aided by the PaxMongolica. Some of the items that moved from China to the West include gunpowder, mechanical printing and blast furnace. Others included silk and iron. Through the trade, the Chinese were able to learn different geographical and historical knowledge, agriculture and medicinal knowledge including astronomy. The Mongol ruler allowed different religions to get medical treatments from the West.

A marked inherited knowledge by the Yuan dynasty was the use of Cobalt blue dyes to decorate ceramics. Martin Stuart-Fox explained that this knowledge was inherited from the Ilkhanate who used it to paint domes of mosques. Chinese also adopted some of the cuisines from other countries they related with during trade. The majorly know dish that was adopted by both Chinese and the Turkish people was the pasta and spaghetti that was initially known to the Middle East people.

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Wurlig Borchigud also added that another important aspect of the trade interaction was the introduction of mathematics formulae that was adopted by the Muslims in the Mongol dynasty. They learnt how to use the numerical system including use of fractions and decimals including calculation of the pie formula (3.142). This was taught by the Indians who came for trade.

As people from different areas interacted to receive and give out goods, there was rise of diseases that spread all over the trade areas. Bubonic plaque affected many people in China, central Asia, to Mediterranean world and to Kaffa. Martin Stuart-Fox believed that this lead to death of many people especially young children.

Reviewing the economic elements of those times, the Mongol leader, Khan, came up with a tax farming system which was meant to increase cash for buying grains and silk. Henry Serruys is an analyst who believed that with time, the system led to inflation accompanied by increased prices of all goods. This crisis extended to 1349 after many attempts to ensure that prices went down.

Henry Serruys added that before the invasion of China by the Mongols, China was politically divided into three states: Jin, Tanggut and Southern Song. When Khan overtook the regions, the three states were merged to the one Yuan dynasty led by only one emperor. The good act that was shown by Khan was building the capital in Beijing with considerations of the Chinese culture, design and traditions.

Some of the political innovations made in the government included the introduction of hierarchical system that involved classifying status groups legally in terms of race and class. Stuart-Fox, Martin also added that the top class was the Mongols themselves, then the non-Han (Islamic population brought in China by the Mongols), the third group was the northern China and the last was Southern China.

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Unfortunately, the Confucians were given low regards in the system and were rarely recognized. The scholar officials were thought to be against the Mongols and would finally bring change therefore they were not respected. This was not the case for the merchants and doctors; these two groups were highly regarded during the Khan period. The leader, Khan, was very corrupted and practiced Nepotism to select those who were to lead the empire.

The improved social status during the Khan dynasty led the movement of the rich Chinese to the urban centers. Some of their recreational activities involved vernacular literature and poetry, music and dancing entertainment and picking of flowers by the rich women. During this period, cards and Chess were also commonly played games. In Wurlig Borchigud’s writing, he noted that many of the Chinese got involved in this activities especially those who came from poshy areas. In the rural areas, there were no recreational activities for the poor. The people were engaged in weaving, spinning and cotton growing so that they made a living. However, some of the rich people preferred villages since there were vast lands and peaceful scenic view of the rural areas.

The Mongols also introduced irrigation farming which supported large scale crop production. Wurlig Borchigud thought that this perhaps contributed to neglecting of the previously existing dams and dykes. New seeds were also brought in that improved production, many people could afford food. However, the rural farmers were brutalized and overtaxed; this instead made them top make less profits from the high produce they got.

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The Chinese also intermarried with the Mongols during the period the Mongols ruled China. Denny Roy thought that the intermarriage was as a result of daily interaction and trade. Some of the Chinese also relocated to other countries such as the Asia, Japan and Europe where the married the different races. In fact, Denny Roy believed that the result was reduced Chinese population by 40%. However, the population drop was also due to the killings that the Mongols subjected the Chinese to especially the people from the former Song dynasty.

As much as Confucianism was not given first priority in comparison with other religions, it was still dominating China in the courts and even among the Mongols. Through trade and ease of movement by the Silk Road, missionaries and merchants were able to access many parts of China and spread Buddhism. This was not only the religion that dominated the area. Some of the Chinese converted to Christianity while others became Muslims.

To Elvin Mark the most important change to recognize was the overthrowing of the most important education in China. The education system that was common during the other dynasties-Civil examination system- was scrapped out. This made many of the Chinese not go to school and learn. The ban was lifted in 1315 but never became the same again.

In sum, it is very evident that the Mongols brought more harm than good. Through them, diseases were introduced in China. There was also scrapping off of the education system, something that is a basic need. They did not only dictate but also disregarded the native Chinese, something that most colonists did.

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  1. Borchigud, Wurlig. "The impact of urban ethnic education on modern Mongolian ethnicity, 1949-1966." Cultural encounters on China's ethnic frontiers (1995): 278-300.
  2. Elvin, Mark. The pattern of the Chinese past: A social and economic interpretation. Stanford University Press, 1973. Roy, Denny. China's foreign relations. Rowman & Littlefield, 1998.
  3. Serruys, Henry. The Mongols in China During the Hung-wu Period (1368-1398). Institut belge des hautes études chinoises, 1980.
  4. Stuart-Fox, Martin. A short history of China and Southeast Asia: tribute, trade and influence. Allen and Unwin, 2003.
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