Timeline Description: The Yuan dynasty (1271 - 1368) was the empire created by the Mongol leader Kublai Khan, who conquered the Song dynasty. It was the first foreign dynasty to rule in China and spanned most of modern-day China and Mongolia. The Yuan brought peace and stability to the region, and established rule by foreign administrators with Mongols at the top of the social hierarchy. Poor handling of money, a series of natural disasters, and loss of support ultimately led to the collapse of the Yuan.
|1271||Kublai Khan declares the Yuan dynasty.
Having constructed a new capital city, Dadu (now modern-day Beijing), Kublai Khan formally claims the Mandate of Heaven and declares the beginning of the Yuan dynasty in northern China. This declaration places him in line with traditional Chinese dynasties.
|1273||Kublai Khan issues paper currency.
While the Song dynasty introduced paper currency, the Yuan Empire is the first in the world to use paper currency as the predominant circulating note. It helps increase the empire's trade with the rest of the world, thus increasing the empire's wealth.
|1274||Kublai Khan attempts to invade Japan.
Kublai Khan sends between 800 and 900 ships to invade Japan, but a storm destroys several hundred ships. Japanese pirates and samurai destroy the rest of the troops, and Khan retreats, plotting his next attempt.
|1275||Marco Polo arrives in China.
The Italian merchant and explorer Marco Polo arrives in China, where he lives as one of Kublai Khan's court officials for about 17 years. His eyewitness account introduces Europe to the prosperity and advanced technology of China.
|1276||The Mongols seize the Song capital.
When the Mongols seize the Song capital at Hangzhou, loyalists flee. In the northern part of his empire, Kublai Khan focuses on building public schools, developing economic growth through rebuilding the Great Canal and extending highways, and reducing the control of regional governors.
|1279||The last of the Song emperors dies.
The Mongols defeat the Song loyalists at the battle of Yamen in 1279, and the 9-year-old emperor dies. This conquest unites northern and southern China for the first time in 300 years, and marks the first time a foreign leader has united China.
|1281||Kublai Khan attempts to invade Japan for a second time.
Khan orders a giant fleet of ships to invade Japan in 1280, but the Mongols cannot advance past a wall the Japanese have constructed. A typhoon destroys the rest of the fleet, making the invasion a costly defeat.
|February 18, 1294||Kublai Khan dies.
Beset by personal grief and growing internal strife, Kublai Khan dies. His next few successors are unable to rule with the same efficiency, and corruption sets in.
|1313||Traditional examinations are reintroduced for imperial officials.
The fourth Yuan emperor, Buyantu Khan, attempts to reform some of the corruption and flaws that have developed in the empire since Kublai's death. He reestablishes traditional imperial examinations, meant to test prospective officials, and codifies many laws, among other reforms. However, his reforms are unable to stem the collapse of the dynasty.
|1331||The bubonic plague ravages the empire.
Termed the "Black Death" in Europe, the bubonic plague pandemic enters the Yuan empire and ravages the population. Millions of people die, and the disaster contributes to political instability within the empire.
|1344||The Yellow River floods.
When the Yellow River shifts course in 1344, it causes a massive flood that destroys a key, populous region in the center of the empire. The river floods two more times under Yuan rule, thus increasing political instability.
|1350||The government attempts to correct inflation.(c. 1350)
The Yuan government, as well as private and provincial groups, continue to print paper money, despite growing problems with inflation. The government attempts to correct the situation around 1350, to little success.
|1351||The Red Turbans rebel against the empire.
The Red Turban Rebellion begins in 1351. The Red Turbans argue that the Yuan dynasty's poor rule caused natural disasters such as floods, drought, and disease, because they lost the Mandate of Heaven. Although the Yuan defeat the rebellion, more rebels begin uprisings soon afterwards.
|1356||Zhu Yuanzhang launches campaigns to defeat the Yuan.
Zhu Yuanzhang launches campaigns to defeat the Yuan. He calls for the overthrow of the Mongols and the restoration of the Han Chinese to power, and he gains popular support. He begins defeating rival armies in neighboring regions.
|1368||The Yuan dynasty falls.
Zhu's army reaches the capital of Dadu. The Yuan emperor flees to the north, where the dynasty continues, but he loses control of the rest of the empire. The dynasty ultimately retreats to Mongolia, and Zhu begins the Ming dynasty in China.