Emperors of China's Yuan Dynasty

1260 - 1368

Parnashavari at Yuan Dynasty Temple

Christian Kober / Getty Images

The Yuan Dynasty in China was one of the five khanates of the Mongol Empire, founded by Genghis Khan. It ruled most of the modern-day China from 1271 to 1368. Genghis Khan's grandson, Kublai Khan, was the founder and first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. Each Yuan emperor also served as the Great Khan of the Mongols, meaning that the rulers of the Chagatai Khanate, the Golden Horde, and the Ilkhanate answered to him (at least in theory).

Mandate of Heaven

According to official Chinese histories, the Yuan Dynasty received the Mandate of Heaven even though it was not ethnically Han Chinese. This was true of several other major dynasties in Chinese history, including the Jin Dynasty (265–420 CE) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).

Although the Mongol rulers of China adopted some Chinese customs, such as the use of the Civil Service Exam system based on the writings of Confucius, the dynasty maintained its distinctly Mongol approach to life and lordship. Yuan emperors and empresses were famous for their love of hunting from horseback, and some of the early Yuan era Mongol lords evicted Chinese peasants from their farms and turned the land into horse pastures. The Yuan emperors, unlike other foreign rulers of China, married and took concubines only from within the Mongol aristocracy. Thus, to the end of the dynasty, the emperors were of pure Mongol heritage.

Mongol Rule

For almost a century, China flourished under Mongol rule. Trade along the Silk Road, which had been interrupted by warfare and banditry, grew strong once again under the "Pax Mongolica." Foreign traders flowed into China, including a man from far-off Venice called Marco Polo, who spent more than two decades in Kublai Khan's court.

However, Kublai Khan over-extended his military power and the Chinese treasury with his military adventures overseas. Both of his invasions of Japan ended in disaster, and his attempted conquest of Java, now in Indonesia, was equally (although less dramatically) unsuccessful.

The Red Turban Rebellion

Kublai's successors were able to rule in relative peace and prosperity until the end of the 1340s. At that time, a series of droughts and floods produced famine in the Chinese countryside. People began to suspect that the Mongols had lost the Mandate of Heaven. The Red Turban Rebellion began in 1351, drawing its members from the hungry ranks of the peasantry, and would end up overthrowing the Yuan Dynasty in 1368.

The emperors are listed here by their given names and khan names. Although Genghis Khan and several other relatives were posthumously named emperors of the Yuan Dynasty, this list begins with Kublai Khan, who actually defeated the Song Dynasty and established control over greater China.

  • Borjigin Kublai, Kublai Khan, 1260–1294
  • Borjigin Temur, Temur Oljeytu Khan, 1294–1307
  • Borjigin Qayshan, Qayshan Guluk, 1308–1311
  • Borjigin Ayurparibhadra, Ayurparibhadra, 1311–1320
  • Borjigin Suddhipala, Suddhipala Gege'en, 1321–1323
  • Borjigin Yesun-Temur, Yesun-Temur, 1323–1328
  • Borjigin Arigaba, Arigaba, 1328
  • Borjigin Toq-Temur, Jijaghatu Toq-Temur, 1328–1329 and 1329–1332
  • Borjigin Qoshila, Qoshila Qutuqtu, 1329
  • Borjigin Irinchibal, Irinchibal, 1332
  • Borjigin Toghan-Temur, Toghan-Temur, 1333–1370
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Szczepanski, Kallie. "Emperors of China's Yuan Dynasty." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, thoughtco.com/emperors-of-chinas-yuan-dynasty-195260. Szczepanski, Kallie. (2020, August 25). Emperors of China's Yuan Dynasty. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/emperors-of-chinas-yuan-dynasty-195260 Szczepanski, Kallie. "Emperors of China's Yuan Dynasty." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/emperors-of-chinas-yuan-dynasty-195260 (accessed March 21, 2023).