Decline & Fall of Yuan Dynasty


Generally, there were two major factors that led to the decline of the Yuan Dynasty: one was the class conflict caused by the heavy taxation, the other one was the ethnic contradiction resulting from the 'Four Class System'.

The Yuan court actually first began to decline during the reign of Emperor Renzong, when peasant uprisings emerged in southern China. However, despite the warning of the uprisings, corruption of the Yuan court officials continued. Also, power struggles within the ruling class became more and more serious. For instance in the short period from the beginning of Emperor Wuzong's reign in 1308 to the start of Emperor Huizong's reign in 1333, there were eight emperors. During this period, the corruption became severe as subordinate officials were commonly appointed on the basis of bribery rather than merit; the land was gradually concentrated in the hands of Mongolian aristocrats and a select group of powerful Han landlords; a fiscal crisis in the Yuan court also broke out due to the luxurious lifestyles of the ruling class. Even worse, the Mongolian army became corrupt and gradually disintegrated.

During the reign of the last emperor, the real power of the Yuan regime fell into the hands of Cheng Xiang (prime minister) named Bo Yan, who was born of a Mongolian noble family. He was rather hostile to the Han people and introduced a series of policies unfavorable to the Han. This magnified the seriousness of the ethic contradiction. Misfortunes never come singly. The Yellow River burst its banks three times in the late Yuan Dynasty. As a result, serious natural disasters broke out and the masses were forced to live in dire poverty. Under such circumstances, groups of farmers left the land and successively launched armed uprisings. Although many peasants' uprisings were successfully suppressed by the Yuan army, the corrupt regime of the Yuan Dynasty was constantly impacted by this surging wave and teetered on the verge of collapse.


The Yuan Dynasty was eventually destroyed by the peasants' uprising. In 1351, the 'Hongjinjun (army with red head-scarves) Uprising', led by a man named Liu Futong, broke out in Yingzhou (in current Anhui Province). Fierce battles took place progressively between the Hongjinjun military force and the Yuan army.

Simultaneously, a group of the Hongjinjun military forces led by a man named Zhu Yuanzhang won a series of victories in battle, and his military forces gradually became stronger. In the management of military affairs, Zhu Yuanzhang set strict military discipline and was good at delegating duties to different human resources. Soon after, in 1356, his military forces captured Jiankang (currently Nanjing which later became their military base. With increasing military strength and more talented people joining him, Zhu's army succeeded in defeating the separatist military forces in the northern areas of China. In 1367, Zhu Yuanzhang officially launched a deadly attack on the Yuan regime which was riddled with corruption and intrigue. Within a year, Zhu's army captured Dadu (currently Beijing), the capital of Yuan. Soon after, a new dynasty - the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) displaced the Yuan Dynasty.
- Last updated on Aug. 09, 2022 -
Questions & Answers on Decline & Fall of Yuan Dynasty
Asked by Greg from GEORGIA | Nov. 08, 2018 10:53Reply
What effect do you think this could have had on history in general?
Answers (1)
Answered by Tina from MALAYSIA | Nov. 08, 2018 19:58

It has a positive effect to promote the cultural exchange not only among the domestic areas but also between China and the whole western countries. However, the rule of the Yuan Dynasty was also very cruel and people at that time lived a terrible life.
Asked by Matt Patt from USA | Sep. 21, 2015 10:52Reply
Were there any religious reasons that contributed to the peasants wanting to rebel?
Answers (1)
Answered by Mary from SINGAPORE | Sep. 22, 2015 03:27

Matt, I think religion played an important rule in peasants' rebellion in ancient China. Talking about Yuan's decline and fall, you should learn something about White Lotus Society. It was an organized religion, which was once popular in Yuan Dynasty. However, the rulers were afraid that White Lotus Society might menace their rules. Therefore, they banned this religion. As a result, the followers of White Lotus Society hated the ruler. When social conflicts reached its climax, White Lotus Society stood up to rebel against Yuan Dynasty. Han Xiantong, Liu Futong and Xu Shouhui who led the Red Scarf Army were all followers of White Lotus Society.

The same phenomenon happened in Han Dynasty. At the end of Eastern Han Dynasty, Zhang Jiao created Great Peace Taoism. Together with his two brothers, he finally led Yellow Turban Rebellion to rebel against Eastern Han.
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