Yuan Dynasty (1271 AD – 1368 AD)
A great leader, Tie Muzhen (铁木真) , was to emerge from among the nomadic tribes of the Mongolian during the 13th Century. As skilled horsemen, they were to become a formidable fighting force once the tribes had united under Tie Muzhen's leadership. In 1227 he defeated the Western Xia and defeated the Jin in 1234. This was to open the way to unify the whole of China for the first time under a non-Chinese regime. Following Tie Muzhen' death, his grandson succeeded him and as Hu Bilie (忽必烈) , the new leader established the Yuan Dynasty in 1271, with his capital city at Dadu， In 1279 , Guangzhou fell into Mongol hands, which marks the end of the Southern Song and the onset of China under the Mongols.
The Mongol Khans (可汗) increasingly adopted the role and style of Chinese emperors because of lacking of governmental experiences . However, they failed to unite the people and caused further dissension by forming them into clearly defined ethnic groups. The same applied in so far as taxation and the penal code were concerned as this had a very divisive effect on the population as a whole. Mixed marriages were forbidden and it was impossible to gain promotion from one group to another.
A rich cultural diversity developed during the Yuan dynasty. The major cultural achievements were the development of drama and the novel and the increased use of the written vernacular . Trades between East and West flourished after given the unified rule of central Asia . The Mongols' extensive West Asian and European contacts produced a fair amount of cultural exchange. Western musical instruments were introduced to enrich the Chinese performing arts. From this period dates the conversion to Islam , by Muslims of Central Asia, of growing numbers of Chinese in the northwest and southwest. Nestorianism (景教) and Roman Catholicism also enjoyed a period of toleration. Lamaism (Tibetan Buddhism) flourished, although native Taoism endured Mongol persecutions. Advances were realized in the fields of travel literature, cartography , and geography , and scientific education. Certain key Chinese innovations, such as printing techniques, porcelain production, playing cards, and medical literature, were introduced in Europe, while the production of thin glass and cloisonne became popular in China. The first records of travel by Westerners date from this time. The most famous traveler of the period was the Venetian Marco Polo (马可波罗) , whose account of his trip to " Cambaluc ," the Great Khan's capital (now Beijing ), and of life there astounded the people of Europe.
The Mongols undertook extensive public works as well. Road and water communications were reorganized and improved. To provide against possible famines, granaries were ordered built throughout the empire. The city of Beijing was rebuilt with new palace grounds that included artificial lakes, hills and mountains, and parks. During the Yuan period, Beijing became the terminus of the Grand Canal, which was completely renovated. These commercially oriented improvements encouraged overland as well as maritime commerce throughout Asia and facilitated the first direct Chinese contacts with Europe. Chinese and Mongol travelers to the West were able to provide assistance in such areas as hydraulic engineering, while bringing back to the Middle Kingdom new scientific discoveries and architectural innovations. Contacts with the West also brought the introduction to China of a major food crop, sorghum, along with other foreign food products and methods of preparation
Because of rivalry between various factions at court, rampant corruption and a succession of natural calamities, internal political cohesion disintegrated during the 1340's and 1350's. These elements all resulted in rebellion. Mutinying workers, smugglers, pirates and rebel peasants ultimately were victorious in their fight with Mongol troops and the Yuan Dynasty was overthrown. Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋) led the final onslaught against the Yuan in 1368 AD and he was to become the first Ming Emperor. The Yuan Dynasty lasted ninety-eight years with eleven emperors.