Northern Yuan dynasty

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Northern Yuan

ᠤᠮᠠᠷᠳᠤ ᠶᠤᠸᠠᠨ ᠤᠯᠤᠰ
Umardu Yuwan Ulus
The Northern Yuan at its greatest extent
The Northern Yuan at its greatest extent
Common languages Mongolian, Chinese, Jurchen[1]
Shamanism, later Buddhism
Government Monarchy
• 1368–1370
Ukhaghatu Khan Toghon Temür
• 1370–1378
Biligtü Khan Ayushiridara
• 1378–1388
Uskhal Khan Tögüs Temür
Historical era Late middle ages
• Fall of Dadu to Ming forces
September 1368
• Dayan Khan reunites the Mongol nation
• Death of Ligdan Khan
• Ejei Khan submits to the Later Jin
Currency barter, Dirham
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Yuan dynasty
Four Oirat
Later Jīn
Kara Del
Today part of China
History of China
History of China
Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BCE
Xia c. 2070 – c. 1600 BCE
Shang c. 1600 – c. 1046 BCE
Zhou c. 1046 – 256 BCE
 Western Zhou
 Eastern Zhou
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   Warring States
Qin 221–207 BCE
Han 202 BCE – 220 CE
  Western Han
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin 266–420
  Western Jin
  Eastern Jin Sixteen Kingdoms
Northern and Southern dynasties
Sui 581–618
Tang 618–907
  (Wu Zhou 690–705)
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms

Liao 916–1125
Song 960–1279
  Northern Song Western Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan 1271–1368
Ming 1368–1644
Qing 1636–1912
Republic of China on mainland 1912–1949
People's Republic of China 1949–present
Republic of China on Taiwan 1949–present

The Northern Yuan (Chinese: 北元; pinyin: Běi Yuán) was a dynastic regime ruled by the Mongol Borjigin clan based in the Mongolian Plateau. It operated after the collapse of the Yuan dynasty of China in 1368 and lasted until its conquest by the Jurchen-led Later Jin dynasty in 1635. The Northern Yuan dynasty began with the end of Yuan rule in China proper and the retreat of the Yuan remnants led by Toghon Temür (Emperor Huizong of Yuan) to the Mongolian steppe. This period featured factional struggles and the often only nominal role of the Great Khan.

Dayan Khan and Mandukhai Khatun reunited the entire Mongol nation in the 15th century.[3] However, the former's distribution of his empire among his sons and relatives as fiefs caused the decentralization of the imperial rule.[4] Despite this decentralization, a remarkable concord continued within the Dayan Khanid aristocracy, and intra-Chinggisid civil war remained unknown until the reign of Ligdan Khan (1604–1634),[5] who saw much of his power weakened in his quarrels with the Mongol tribes and was defeated by the Manchus. The last sixty years of this period featured the intensive penetration of Tibetan Buddhism into Mongolian society.


The regime that existed between 1368 and 1635 is known by various names, including the Northern Yuan (dynasty).[6] The dynastic name of "Great Yuan" (Chinese: 大元; pinyin: Dà Yuán) was officially used between 1368 and 1388, as was the preceding Yuan dynasty. Following the death of Uskhal Khan Tögüs Temür, the "Great Yuan" dynastic name along with other Chinese-style imperial titles were abandoned by his successor Jorightu Khan Yesüder, hence the name "Northern Yuan" is sometimes limited in its usage to referencing only the period between 1368 and 1388.[7] The term "Northern Yuan" is derived from the corresponding term "北元" (Běi Yuán) in Chinese, in which the prefix "Northern" is used to distinguish between the Yuan dynasty established in 1271 from the one that existed after 1368. The "Great Yuan" dynastic title was briefly reintroduced during the reign of Dayan Khan whose regnal name "Dayan" came from the Chinese term "大元" (Dà Yuán; lit. "Great Yuan"). Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that Taisun Khan and Esen Taishi had also used the "Great Yuan" dynastic name and Chinese imperial titles during their rule.[8]

In English, the term "Northern Yuan (dynasty)" is generally used to cover the entire period from 1368 to 1635 for historiographical purpose. Apart from "Great Yuan" (before 1388 and during the rule of Dayan Khan), the Mongols called their nation "Ikh Mongol Uls", meaning the "Great Mongol State". It is also referred to as "Post-Imperial Mongolia", the "Mongol(ian) Khaganate" or the "Mongol(ian) Khanate"[9] in some modern sources,[10] although most of these English terms can also refer to the Mongol Empire or the Yuan dynasty in the 13th and the 14th centuries.

In Mongolian chronicles, this period is also known as "The Forty and the Four", meaning forty tumen Eastern Mongols (Eastern Mongolia) and four tumen Western Mongols.[note 1] Furthermore, Mongolian historiography also uses the term "Period of political disunion", "Period of small khagans", "Mongolia's period of political disruption" and "Mongolia's 14th–17th century", etc.[11][12]


Retreating to Mongolia (1368–1388)

Ming Empire and the Northern Yuan Khaganate in the early 15th century. The Mongols lost some lands to China proper after its defeat of the Khagan Toghus Temur in 1388.

After the Division of the Mongol Empire in 1260, the Mongols under Kublai Khan (r. 1260–1294) a grandson of Genghis Khan (r. 1206–1227), established the Yuan dynasty in 1271 and conquered all of China by eliminating the Southern Song dynasty in 1276 and destroyed the last Chinese resistance in 1279. The Mongol-led Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) ruled all of China for about a century, and Mongols dominated Northern China for more than 140 years, since the time when the Jurchen Jin dynasty was annihilated. As Han Chinese people in the countryside suffered from frequent natural disasters such as droughts, floods and the ensuing famines since the late 1340s, however, the government's lack of effective policy led to a loss of popular support.[clarification needed] In 1351, the Red Turban Rebellion started and grew into a nationwide turmoil. Eventually, Zhu Yuanzhang, a Han Chinese peasant, established the Ming dynasty in South China, and sent an army toward the Yuan capital Khanbaliq or Dadu (present-day Beijing) in 1368. Toghon Temür (r. 1333–1370), the last ruler of the Yuan, fled north to Shangdu (located in present-day Inner Mongolia) from Dadu in 1368 after the approach of the forces of the Míng dynasty (1368–1644). He had tried to regain Dadu, but eventually failed; he died in Yingchang (located in present-day Inner Mongolia) two years later (1370). Yingchang was seized by the Ming shortly after his death.

The Yuan remnants retreated to Mongolia after the fall of Yingchang to the Ming dynasty in 1370, where the name Great Yuan was formally carried on, known as the Northern Yuan dynasty or simply Northern Yuan. The Genghisid rulers of the Northern Yuan also buttressed their claim on China,[13][14] and held tenaciously to the title of Emperor (or Great Khan) of the Great Yuan (Dai Yuwan Khaan, or 大元可汗)[15] to resist the Ming who had by this time become the real ruler of China. According to the traditional Chinese political orthodoxy, there could be only one legitimate dynasty whose rulers were blessed by Heaven to rule as Emperor of China (see Mandate of Heaven), so the Ming also denied the Yuan remnants' legitimacy as emperors of China, although the Ming did consider the previous Yuan which it had succeeded to be a legitimate dynasty.

The Ming army pursued the Mongol forces of the Northern Yuan into Mongolia in 1372, but were defeated by the latter under Ayushridar (r. 1370–1378) and his general Köke Temür (d. 1375). In 1375, Naghachu, a Mongol official of Biligtu Khan (Ayushridara) in Liaoyang province invaded Liaodong with aims of restoring the Mongols to power. Although he continued to hold southern Manchuria, Naghachu finally surrendered to the Ming dynasty in 1387–88 after a successful diplomacy of the latter.[16] The Yuan loyalists under Kublaid prince Basalawarmi (the Prince of Liang) in Yunnan and Guizhou were also killed by the Ming in 1381–82.[17]

The Ming tried again towards the Northern Yuan in 1380, ultimately winning a decisive victory over Mongol forces around the Buir Lake region in 1388. About 70,000 Mongols were taken prisoner and the Mongol capital Karakorum was sacked and destroyed.[18] It effectively destroyed the power of the Khaan's Mongols for a long time, and allowed the Western Mongols to become supreme.[19]

Field guns and hand cannons were used by the Northern Yuan army.

Rise of the Oirats (1388–1478)

Location of the Oirats

In 1388, the Northern Yuan throne was taken over by Yesüder, a descendant of Arik Böke (Tolui's son), instead of the descendants of Kublai Khan. After the death of his master Togus Temur (r. 1378–1388), Gunashiri, a descendant of Chagatai Khan, founded his own small state called Kara Del in Hami.[20] The following century saw a succession of Chinggisid rulers, many of whom were mere figureheads put on the throne by those warlords who happened to be the most powerful. From the end of the 14th century there appear designations such as "period of small kings" (Бага хаадын үе) for this period in modern historiography.[21] On one side stood the Oirats (or Western Mongols) in the west against the Eastern Mongols. While the Oirats drew their side to the descendants of Arik Boke and other princes, Arugtai of the Asud supported the old Yuan khans. Another force was the House of Ogedei who briefly attempted to reunite the Mongols under their rule.

The Mongols split into three main groups: western Mongols, the Mongol groups under the Uriankhai in northeast, and the Eastern Mongols between the two. The Uriankhai and some Borjigin princes surrendered to the Ming dynasty in the 1390s. The Ming divided them into Three Guards: Doyin, Tai'nin and Fuyu.

Periods of conflict with the Ming dynasty intermingled with periods of peaceful relations with border trade. In 1402, Örüg Temür Khan (Guilichi) abolished the dynastic name Great Yuan;[22] he was however defeated by Öljei Temür Khan (Bunyashiri, r. 1403–1412), the protégé of Tamerlane (d. 1405), in 1403. Most of the Mongol noblemen under Arugtai chingsang sided with Oljei Temur. Under Yongle (r. 1402–1424) the Ming dynasty intervened aggressively against any overly powerful leader, exacerbating the Mongol–Oirat conflict. In 1409 Oljei Temur and Arugtai crushed a Ming army, so that Yongle personally attacked the two on the Kherlen River. After the death of Oljei Temur, the Oirats under their leader Bahamu (Mahmud) (d. 1417) enthroned an Arik-Bokid, Delbeg Khan in 1412. Although, the Ming encouraged the Oirats to fight against the Eastern Mongols, they withdrew their support when the Oirats became powerful. After 1417 Arugtai became dominant again, and Yongle campaigned against him in 1422 and 1423. Bahamu's successor Toghan pushed Arugtai east of the Greater Khingan range in 1433. The Oirats killed him in the west of Baotou the next year. Arugtai's ally Adai Khan (r. 1425–1438) made a last stand in Ejene before he was murdered too.

Toghan died in the very year of his victory over Adai. His son Esen (r. 1438–1454) brought the Oirats to the height of their power. Under his Chinggisid puppet khans, he drove back the Moghulistan monarchs and crushed the Three Guards, Kara Del and the Jurchen. In 1449 he captured the Ming's Zhengtong Emperor, bringing about a wholescale collapse of the Ming northern defence line.[23] Esen and his father ruled as taishis of Chinggisid khans but after executing the rebellious khan Tayisung (r. 1433–1453) and his brother Agbarjin in 1453, Esen took the title khan himself.[24] He was, however, soon overthrown by his chingsang Alag. His death broke up the role of the Oirats until they revived in the early 17th century.

From Esen's death to 1481 different warlords of the Kharchin, the Belguteids and Ordos fought over succession and had their Chinggisid Khans enthroned. The Mongolian chroniclers call some of them the Uyghurs and they might have some ties with the Hami oasis.[25] During his reign, Manduulun Khan (1475–1478) effectively won over most of the Mongol warlords before he died in 1478.

Restoration (1479–1600)

Second reunion

Manduul's (Manduulun) young khatun Mandukhai proclaimed as khan a boy named Batumongke. The new khan, as a descendant of Genghis Khan, took the title Dayan meaning the "Great Yuan", with reference to the Yuan dynasty.[26] Mandukhai and Dayan Khan overthrew Oirat supremacy. At first the new rulers operated with the taishi system. The taishis mostly ruled the Yellow River Mongols. However, one of them killed Dayan Khan's son and revolted when Dayan Khan appointed his son, Ulusbold, as jinong (crown prince) over them. Dayan Khan finally defeated the southwestern Mongols in 1510 with the assistance of his allies, Unebolad wang and the Four Oirats.[27] Making another of his sons jinong, he abolished old-Yuan court titles of taishi, chingsang, pingchan and chiyuan.

The Ming dynasty closed border-trade and killed his envoys. Dayan invaded China and subjugated the Three Guards, tributaries of the Ming. The Oirats assisted his campaign in China. The high point of Mongol power came again in 1517, when Dayan Khan moved on Beijing itself. The Mongolian armies raided the Ming dynasty not only in the north, but also in the hitherto quiet west. The Ming's Zhengde Emperor lost his protectorate Hami to the Turpans at the same time. In 1542 Dayan Khan defeated Chinese troops just before his death.[28] The Tümed Mongols ruled in the Ordos region and they gradually extended their domain into northeastern Qinghai.[29]

By that time, the Northern Yuan stretched from the Siberian tundra and Lake Baikal in the north, across the Gobi, to the edge of the Yellow River and south of it into the Ordos. The lands extended from the forests of Manchuria in the East past the Altai Mountains and out onto the steppes of Central Asia.[30]

Administrative divisions

The Tumens of Mongolia proper and relict states of the Mongol Empire by 1500

Dayan Khan reorganized the Eastern Mongols into six tümens (literally "ten thousand") as follows:

They functioned both as military units and as tribal administrative bodies who hoped to receive taijis, descended from Dayan Khan. Northern Khalkha people and Uriyankhan were attached to the South Khalkha of eastern Inner Mongolia and Doyin Uriyangkhan of the Three Guards, respectively. After the rebellion of the northern Uriankhai people, they were conquered in 1538 and mostly annexed by the northern Khalkha. However, his decision to divide the six tumens to his sons, or taijis, and local tabunangs-sons in law of the taijis created a decentralized system of Borjigin rule that secured domestic peace and outward expansion for a century. Despite this decentralization there was a remarkable concord within the Dayan Khanid aristocracy.

Last reunion

Temple at Erdene Zuu monastery established by Abtai Khan in the Khalkha heartland in the 16th century.

By 1540 new regional circles of Chingisid taijis and local tabunangs (imperial sons-in-law) of the taijis emerged in all the former Dayan Khanid domains. The Khagan and the jinong had titular authority over the three right wing tumens. Darayisung Gödeng Khan/Daraisun Guden khagan (r. 1547–1557) had to grant titles of khans to his cousins Altan, ruling the Tumed, and Bayaskhul, ruling the Kharchin. The decentralized peace among the Mongols was based on religious and cultural unity created by Chinggisid cults.

A series of smallpox epidemics and lack of trade forced the Mongols to repeatedly plunder the districts of China. In 1571 the Ming opened trade with the three Right Wing Tumens. The large-scale conversion to Buddhism in the Right Wing Tumens from 1575 on built on the amity of the Chinggisids. Tümen Jasagtu Khan appointed a Tibetan Buddhist chaplain of the Karma-pa order. In 1580 northern Khalkha proclaimed their leading Dayan Khanid prince, Abtai Sain Khan, as khan. Representatives from all Mongols, including Oirats, constituted the court of Tümen Jasagtu Khan, who had conquered Koko Nur and codified a new law.[32]

By the end of the 16th century, the Three Guards lost their existence as a distinct group. Their Fuyu was absorbed by the Khorchin after they had moved to the Nonni River. Two other, Doyin and Tai'nin, were absorbed by the Five Khalkhas.[33]

Fall (1600–1635)

The White House of Tsogt Taij (White Castle) was built in 1601.

In the 17th century, the Mongols came under the influence of the Manchus, who founded the Qing dynasty. The princes of Khorchin, Jarud and southern Khalkha Mongols made a formal alliance with the Manchus from 1612 to 1624.[34] Resenting this suborning of his subjects, Ligdan Khan, the last Khagan[35] in Chahar, unsuccessfully attacked them in 1625. He appointed his officials over the tumens and formed an elite military band to coerce opposition. The massive rebellion broke out in 1628. The Chahar under Ligdan defeated their combined armies and the Manchu auxiliary at Zhaocheng but fled a large Manchu punitive expedition. Only Tsogt Taiji (1581–1637) supported the Great Khan whilst other nobles of Khalkha remained neutral and inactive. Ligdan died on his way to Tibet to punish the dGe-lugs-pa order in 1634. His son, Ejei Khan, surrendered to the Manchus and was said to give the imperial seal of the Yuan rulers to Qing emperor Huang Taiji the next year (February 1635), ending the Northern Yuan.[36]

After the death of Dayan Khan most of Mongolia came under the rule of descendants of his youngest son, Gersendze Huangtaizi (Gersenz huntaij). By the early 17th century these formed four Khanates, from west to east:

  • The Altan Khans of Khotogoids in the far west, founded by Sholoi Ubashi, great grandson of Geresandza.
  • The Dzasagtu Khans, khanate founded by Laikhor-khan, a cousin of the Altan Khan.
  • The Tushetu Khans at Ulaanbaatar founded by Abatai, another grandson. This was the senior branch.
  • The Sechen Khans at the eastern end of modern Mongolia, founded by Sholoi, a great-grandson.

In the north, from 1583, Russian adventurers gained control of the forest tribes of Siberia but did not attempt to interfere with the numerous and warlike peoples south of the forests. They had some dealings with the Altan Khan who is said to have introduced them to Chinese tea.[citation needed]

To the east, in 1582–1626, Nurhaci unified the tribes of Manchuria. His son, Huang Taiji (1626–1643) consolidated the new state and incorporated parts of Inner Mongolia and Liaodong, founding the Qing dynasty in 1636. At his death Dorgon became regent for his 6-year-old son and was in charge when the Qing took Beijing (1644).

To the west in Dzungaria, about 1600–1620 the Oirats became united under Khara Khula and formed the Dzungar Khanate. This unification was partly driven by their wars with the Altan Khans.

The Qing completely exterminated one branch (Ligdan Khan's descendants) of the Borjigids after an anti-Qing revolt in 1675 by Ejei's brother Abunai and Abunai's son Borni against the Qing.[37] The Qing Emperors then placed the Chahar Mongols under their direct rule.


In 1662 the Altan Khan attacked and put to death his eastern neighbor. This caused the senior Tushetu Khan to drive him out, but he was restored with Dzungar and Qing support. In 1682 he was captured by the next Dzashgtu Khan and his Khanate disappeared from history. The loss of the westernmost Khalkha Khanate opened the way for the Dzungars. In 1672 Galdan became Khan of the Dzungars. After conquering the northern Tarim Basin from Kashgar to Hami he began to dream of uniting the Mongols although as an Oirat Khan he was of non-Chingisid lineage unlike the Khans of the Khalkha Mongols.

The Dzungars in the Dzungar Khanate actively tried to resist the Manchu Qing dynasty. The Oirat Dzungar leader Erdeni Batur and Buddhist monk Zaya Pandita tried to form an alliance of Oirats and Khalkhas against the Qing and Russian Empire, drawing up a single legal code for all the Mongols, banning Shamanism, and declaring Tibetan Buddhism to be the sole religion of the Mongol peoples, by calling up a Kurultai (Congress) in 1640 which Dzungar Oirats, Khoshut Oirats from Qinghai (Kokonor), Torghut Oirats, Khalkha Mongols, and Tibetans attended.[38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51][excessive citations]

Galdan allied with the Zasagtu Khan against the Tushetu Khan, who in turn attacked the Dzashgtu Khan (who drowned while trying to escape) and then invaded Dzungar territory where he killed one of Galdan's brothers. Galdan responded (1688) by annihilating the Tushetu Khan's army near the Tarim River and plundering the tombs at Karakoram. The Tushetu Khan and the other Khalkha leaders fled to Hohhot at the northeast corner of the Ordos Loop and beseeched Qing for help. By 1690, Galdan had controlled the whole Khalkha country as far as the edge of Manchuria, before turning his attention east towards Beijing. This direct threat to Qing led the Kangxi Emperor (Enh-Amgalan khaan-in Mongolian) to block Galdan who withdrew to the northwest in late 1690. In May 1691 the Emperor held a Kurultai at Dolon Nor (Dolonnuur) where the Khalkha chiefs declared themselves vassals of the Qing Emperors. In 1695 Galdan moved east again. The Emperor sent a massive army and defeated him near Ulan Bator (at Jao Modo or Zuunmod on June 12, 1696). Galdan fled with a few followers and later died. Outer Mongolia was thus incorporated into the Qing Empire, and the Khalkha leaders returned to Outer Mongolia as Qing vassals. A Qing garrison was installed at Ulaanbaatar. The Qing forces occupied Hami but did not advance into Dzungaria. Oirats later expanded into Tibet and Kazakhstan and they tried to control all Mongols.

See also


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