By the middle of the thirteenth century, the Mongols had successfully conquered north China, Korea, and the Muslim kingdoms of Central Asia. In addition, they had twice successfully invaded Europe. Kublai Khan (1215–94), a grandson of Genghis Khan (1167?–1227) and the supreme commander of the Mongol tribes, launched his campaign against the Southern Song using the resources of his huge empire. Genghis Khan was the founder of the Mongol Empire. Even before the Song dynasty came to an end, Kublai Khan formed the Yuan dynasty, which is considered to be the first foreign dynasty to dominate all of China (1279-1368).
The Mongols were not up to the challenge of governing China via China’s conventional institutions and utilising Chinese (Han) officials, despite the fact that they attempted to do so. The Han people faced social and political prejudice because of their ethnicity. When it came to filling positions for which no Mongols were available, the Mongols preferred to hire non-Chinese people from other parts of the Mongol domain, such as Central Asia, the Middle East, and even Europe. This was the case even when important central and regional posts were monopolised by the Mongols. The parts of the empire that were not mostly Chinese were the ones that hired the most Chinese people.
Throughout the Yuan dynasty, China was ruled by an alien power, and as was the case during past eras of foreign dynastic control in China, a rich cultural variety emerged. The growth of play and the novel, as well as a rise in the use of written vernacular, were the most significant accomplishments in terms of culture. The substantial Mongol trade with both West Asia and Europe resulted in a significant amount of cultural interchange on both continents. The Chinese performing arts were greatly benefited with the introduction of Western musical instruments. Beginning during this time period, an increasing number of Chinese people living in the northwest and southwest were influenced to become Muslim by Muslims living in Central Asia. Tolerance was also shown toward Nestorianism and Roman Catholicism during this time period. Lamaism, often known as Tibetan Buddhism, thrived during this time while local Taoism was persecuted by the Mongols. The Mongols brought back some Confucian governmental practises and examinations that were based on the Classics. These were practises that had fallen out of use in northern China during the period of disunity, but the Mongols brought them back in the hope that it would help them maintain order over the Han society. There have been significant developments in the subfields of travel writing, mapping and geography, as well as scientific education. Printing methods, the manufacture of porcelain, playing cards, and the writing of medical literature were some of the significant Chinese inventions that were sent to Europe. On the other hand, the fabrication of thin glass and cloisonne became famous in China. This is the historical period when Westerners are first documented to have travelled. The Venetian Marco Polo was the most well-known traveller of the time period. His description of his journey to “Cambaluc,” the capital of the Great Khan (which is now Beijing), and of life there shocked the people of Europe at the time. The Mongols were responsible for a substantial amount of public construction. Reorganization and enhancements were made to both the road and water communication systems. Granaries were commanded to be constructed around the empire in order to be prepared for any potential famines. The city of Beijing was completely redesigned, including the construction of new royal grounds that included man-made lakes, hills, and mountains, as well as parks. During the Yuan dynasty, Beijing was chosen to serve as the new endpoint of the Grand Canal after it was given a thorough makeover. These economically focused improvements fostered overland business as well as sea commerce across Asia, and they made it easier for the Chinese to make direct contact with Europeans. It was possible for Chinese and Mongol migrants to the West to contribute in fields such as hydraulic engineering, while also bringing new scientific discoveries and architectural advances back to the Middle Kingdom. Sorghum, a significant new food crop, was one of the many foreign foods and cooking techniques that were introduced to China as a result of China’s contacts with the West. Other foreign foods and cooking techniques were also brought to China.