Religion & Culture of Yuan Dynasty

Religion

Due to encouragement from the Mongolian rulers, the religious culture of the Yuan Dynasty received an all-round development. The Mongolians' own religion, Buddhism as well as the traditional Chinese religion of Taoism simultaneously acquired their positions in the Yuan society.

There were two original religions that belonged to the Mongolian Minority, respectively called Shamanism and Totemism. The followers of Shamanism believed in the existence of Jinn. Early in the period of the Mongolian tribes, Shamans were allowed to take part in the discussion of crucial issues, such as electing leaders and affairs of war and peace. Also, the practice of Totemism had a great psychological influence upon the Mongolian people. There were two principal totems - 'wolf totem' and 'deer totem' worshiped by the Mongolians. In the Mongolians' heart, wolf was their grandfather while deer was their grandmother. Genghis Khan always ordered that wolves and deer should be freed if caught during hunting.

Since the Mongolian people were keen academics, they were pleased to integrate religions from other ethnic minorities. That is why Tibetan Buddhism became the dominant religion of the Yuan Dynasty. Ever since Tibetan Buddhism came to the Mongol area, it was greatly advocated by generations of Khans. During the reign of Emperor Chengzong of Yuan, a great many Buddhist sutras were translated from Tibetan into Mongolian, which further contributed to the development of Tibetan Buddhism in the Yuan Dynasty. Meanwhile, the traditional Chinese religion of Taoism was also free to develop in a impartial atmosphere. As a branch of Taoism, the Quan Zhen religion was established in 1167 and was well developed under the favorable policy carried out by Yuan rulers. Emperor Taizu Genghis Khan authorized the master of Quan Zhen religion to govern the national Taoist groups.

Culture

We have to say that the scientific advancement was the highlight of the cultural development in this period. It is said that achievements in science and technology reached their peak during this period. In particular, advancements made in astronomy, mathematics and medicine were the forefront among the world. However, almost all these achievements were gained with the help of foreign experts.

As for astronomy, many astronomy books from foreign countries were introduced and translated during the reign of Kublai Khan. Later, a special astronomical observatory called 'Sitiantai' was constructed and a group of astronomers from Arabia and Persia were appointed to administrate the observatory. Among them a Persian named Zhama Lading made great contributions to Astronomical observations and the establishment of a calendar. Meanwhile, a Chinese astronomer (who was also a water scientist and mathematician) invented many Astronomical Instruments and also helped to establish a precise new calendar called 'Shoushili'.

In mathematics, the Arabic numbers were introduced to China during this dynasty, a golden period of China's mathematical development. At that time, Muslims coming to China brought a great amount of mathematical knowledge with them. Chinese mathematicians made many important discoveries during this period of enlightenment. Simultaneously, due to the medical communications between China and those Arabian countries, traditional Chinese medicine and pharmacy made great leaps forward in this dynasty. Many kinds of Arabic pharmacies were first introduced to China and gradually became widely used. Formal hospitals were also set up by some Muslims. Additionally, a comprehensive medical book containing both Chinese and western medical treatment, called HuiHui Prescription, was edited by the Hui people.

Nevertheless, the achievements in literature and art of this dynasty were no less than the previous dynasties. A new kind of literature form called Yuan drama was rather prosperous during that period. Together with the Tang poem and 'ci' poem in the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), this drama was one of the outstanding Chinese literary heritages. A large number of influential works successively came out. The most famous being, the Wang Shifu's Romance of the Western Chamber, Guan Hanqing's Dou E Yuan and many verses by Ma Zhiyuan. Also, novels from this dynasty had a great influence upon those of the Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) dynasties. With regard to art, the main contribution was in music - musical instruments of the Hui people, including Urheen, Huobusi and Sheng, were vigorously promoted. The Urheen and Sanxian (a three-stringed plucked instrument) have been widely used in Chinese opera music until the present day, becoming official members of China's national musical instrument collection.

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