Yuan Dynasty

The Yuan (New Beginning) Dynasty marked the subjugation of China by foreign conquerors. In this domination of the millions (Han Chinese) by the hundreds of thousands (Mongols,) Chinese values and institutions proved their durability. Kublai Khan completed the conquest of Sung China in 1279, assuming the title of Emperor, as well as that of Great Khan. This formal portrait shows him in traditional Mongol rather than Chinese imperial regalia.

(Hearn 66)


Kublai Khan discontinued the Imperial Academy and the civil service examinations but continued to employ artists and artisans at his court in present day Beijing. No longer drawn to government service, many of the Chinese literati or intellectuals turned to more introspective forms of expression and creativity. Despite the harshness of Yuan rule, especially at the outset, the arts in China did not languish. Monumental landscape painting continued to be a major part of the genre, combining the traditions of painting, calligraphy, and poetry, as seen in Chao Meng-fu's "Autumn Colors on the Ch'iao and Hua Mountains." Art critics have described this beautiful work of art as a "rich tapestry of sensuous textures and abstract rhythms..." (Hearn 69).

(Hearn 69)

In ceramics, the major innovation can be seen in the emergence of striking blue and white porcelain objects. Potters in Jiangsi province experimented with a cobalt underglaze; the cobalt was presumably imported from the Near East. Many of these beautiful, decorative vessels and objects were made for the export trade, which flourished on the well-policed and maintained Silk Road during the Yuan Dynasty. Indeed the early Yuan emperors encouraged the manufacture and export of ceramics which came, along with that of silk, to be major components in China's international commercial relations.

(Dragon 116)

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Hearn, Maxwell. Splendors of Imperial China. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1997.

What Life Was Like in the Land of the Dragon. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1998.