Genghis Khan was the founder, Khan (ruler) and Khagan (emperor) of the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous empire in history. His empire stretched across most of Eurasia, including modern-day China, Korea, the Caucasus, Central Asian countries, and substantial portions of modern Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
The Yuan Dynasty (Mongolian: Dai On Yeke Mongghul Ulus), lasting officially from 1271 to 1368, followed the Song Dynasty and preceded the Ming Dynasty in the historiography of China. The dynasty was established by ethnic Mongols, and it had nominal control over the entire Mongol Empire (stretching from Eastern Europe to the fertile crescent to Russia); however, the Mongol rulers in Asia were only interested in China. Later successors did not even attempt to stake claim over the Khakhan title and saw themselves as Emperor of China, as the Yuan Dynasty grew from being an imperial Mongol administration under Kublai Khan to becoming a basically Chinese institution under his successors.
Temujin, later to be more prominently known as Genghis Khan, was officially the first in the line of Yuan Dynasty emperors. He was the son of Yesugei, the tribal chief of the Kiyad - a tribe in fragmented Mongolia under nominal control of the Jin Dynasty at the time. His father was killed in his early life by a rival tribe, leaving him the heir. This led to bitterness on the part of Senggum, Wang's former heir, who planned to assassinate Temujin. Temujin learned of Senggum's intentions however, and a large civil war broke out among the Mongols. Eventually Temujin defeated Senggum and succeeded to the title of Wang Khan. Temujin created a written code of laws for the Mongols called Yassa, and he demanded it to be followed very strictly.
Temujin followed with attacks on other neighboring tribes, which further increased his power. By combining diplomacy, organization, military ability, and brutality, Temujin finally managed to unite the tribes into the single nation, a monumental feat for the Mongols, who had a long history of internecine dispute. In 1206 Temujin successfully united the formerly fragmented tribes of what is now Mongolia. At a Khurultai (a council of Mongol chiefs), he was named the "Genghis Khan", or the "Universal Ruler". The birth of Mongolia marked the start of what would become the largest continuous empire in history, ruling large parts of Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe, over the following two centuries. While his empire extended in all directions, Genghis Khan's main interest was always with China, specifically Western Xia, Jin Dynasty and Southern Song Dynasty.
At the time of the Khuriltai, Genghis was involved in a dispute with Western Xia, which eventually became the first of his wars of conquest. Despite problems in taking well-defended Western Xia cities, he substantially reduced the Western Xia dominion by 1209, when peace with Western Xia was made. He was acknowledged by their emperor as overlord. This marks the first in a line of successes in defeating all the kingdoms and dynasties in China, which wasn't complete until Kublai Khan's rule. A major goal of Genghis was the conquest of the Jin Dynasty, allowing the Mongols to avenge earlier defeats, gain the riches of northern China and mostly to establish the Mongols as a major power among the Chinese world order.
He declared war in 1211, and at first the pattern of operations against the Jin Dynasty was the same as it had been against Western Xia. The Mongols were victorious in the field, but they were frustrated in their efforts to take major cities. In his typically logical and determined fashion, Genghis and his highly developed staff studied the problems of the assault of fortifications. With the help of Chinese engineers, they gradually developed the techniques to take down fortifications. Islamic engineers joined later and especially contributed counterweight trebuchets, "Muslim phao", which had a maximum range of 300 metres compared to 150 metres of the ancient Chinese predecessor. It played a significant role in taking the Chinese strongholds and was as well used against infantry units on battlefield. This eventually would make troops under the Mongols some of the most accomplished and most successful besiegers in the history of warfare.
As a result of a number of overwhelming victories in the field and a few successes in the capture of fortifications deep within China, Genghis had conquered and consolidated Jin territory as far south as the Great Wall by 1213. He then advanced with three armies into the heart of Jin territory, between the Great Wall and the Huang He. With the help of Chenyu Liu, one of the top officers who betrayed Jin, Genghis defeated the Jin forces, devastated northern China, captured numerous cities, and in 1215 besieged, captured, and sacked the Jin capital of Yanjing (later known as Beijing). But the Jin emperor, Xuan Zong, did not surrender, but moved his capital to Kaifeng. There his successors were eventually defeated in 1234.
The vassal emperor of Western Xia had refused to take part in the war against the peoples of the Khwarizm, and Genghis had vowed punishment. While he was in Central Asia, Western Xia and Jin had formed an alliance against the Mongols. After rest and a reorganization of his armies, Genghis prepared for war against his biggest foes. By this time, advancing years had led Genghis to prepare for the future and to assure an orderly succession among his descendants. He selected his third son Ogedei as his successor and established the method of selection of subsequent khans, specifying that they should come from his direct descendants. Meanwhile, he studied intelligence reports from Western Xia and Jin and readied a force of 180,000 troops for a new campaign.
A rich cultural diversity developed during the Yuan dynasty. The major cultural achievements were the development of drama and the novel and the increased use of the written vernacular. Given the unified rule of central Asia, trades between East and West flourished. The Mongols' extensive West Asian and European contacts produced a fair amount of cultural exchange.
Western musical instruments were introduced to enrich the Chinese performing arts. From this period dates the conversion to Islam, by Muslims of Central Asia, of growing numbers of Chinese in the northwest and southwest. Nestorianism and Roman Catholicism also enjoyed a period of toleration. Tibetan Buddhism flourished, although native Taoism endured Mongol persecutions. Confucian governmental practices and examinations based on the Classics, which had fallen into disuse in north China during the period of disunity, were reinstated by the Mongols in the hope of maintaining order over Han society. Advances were realized in the fields of travel literature, cartography, and geography, and scientific education.
Certain Chinese innovations and products, such as purified saltpetre, printing techniques, porcelain, playing cards and medical literature, were exported to Europe and Western Asia, while the production of thin glass and cloisonne became popular in China.
The first records of travels by Europeans to China and back date from this time. The most famous traveler of the period was the Venetian Marco Polo, whose account of his trip to "Cambaluc," the Great Khan's capital (now Beijing), and of life there astounded the people of Europe. The account of his travels, Il milione (or, The Million, known in English as the Travels of Marco Polo), appeared about the year 1299. The works of John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck also provided early descriptions of the Mongol people to the West.
The Mongols undertook extensive public works. Road and water communications were reorganized and improved. To provide against possible famines, granaries were ordered built throughout the empire. The city of Beijing was rebuilt with new palace grounds that included artificial lakes, hills and mountains, and parks. During the Yuan period, Beijing became the terminus of the Grand Canal, which was completely renovated. These commercially oriented improvements encouraged overland and maritime commerce throughout Asia and facilitated direct Chinese contacts with Europe. Chinese travelers to the West were able to provide assistance in such areas as hydraulic engineering. Contacts with the West also brought the introduction to China of a major food crop, sorghum, along with other foreign food products and methods of preparation.
The last years of the Yuan Dynasty were marked by successions of struggle, famine, and bitterness by the populace. In time, Khubilai's successors became sinicized, then lost all influence on other Mongol lands across Asia, while the Mongols beyond the Middle Kingdom saw them as too Chinese. Gradually, they lost influence in China as well. The reigns of the later Yuan emperors were short and were marked by intrigues and rivalries. Uninterested in administration, they were separated from both the army and the populace. China was torn by dissension and unrest; bandits ranged the country without interference from the weakening Yuan armies.
In Late Yuan times, agriculture was in shambles. When hundreds of thousands of civilians were called upon to work on the Yellow River, war broke out. A number of Han Chinese groups revolted, and eventually a rebel group led by Zhu Yuanzhang, assisted by an ancient and secret intellectual fraternity called the Summer Palace people, established dominance. The rebellion succeeded and the Ming Dynasty was established in Nanjing in 1368.
The Mongols retreated to Mongolia, where the Yuan Dynasty remained. It is now called the Northern Yuan by modern historians. According to Chinese political orthodoxy, there could be only one legitimate empire, and so the Ming and the Yuan denied each other's legitimacy. Historians tend to regard the Ming dynasty as the legitimate dynasty.
In the 17th century, the Mongols came under the influence of the Manchu, who founded the Later Jin Dynasty. In 1634, Ligdan Khan, last Mongol khagan of the Borjigin clan, died on his way to Tibet. His son, Ejei Khan, surrendered to the Manchu and gave the great seal of the Yuan Emperor to its ruler, Hong Taiji. This event prompted Hong Taiji to establish the Qing Dynasty in 1636 as the successor of both the Northern Yuan Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty in 1644.