China Under the Mongols and the Ming (1200-1500)
Standards: 7.3.4
  • Understand to get the meaning of the importance of both overland trade and maritime trade expeditions between China and other civilizations in the Mongol Ascendancy and Ming Dynasty.
Standards: 7.8.3
  • Understand to get the meaning of the effects of the reopening of the ancient "Silk Road" between Europe and China, including Marco Polo's travels and the location of his routes.
Historical Interpretation 1
  • Students explain the central issues and problems from the past, placing people and events in the matrix of time and place.
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The Mongol Ascendancy rise to a position of power

Key Terms and People

ascendancy: rise to a position of power

steppe: a large dry grass-covered plain

khan: ruler

Genghis Khan: a strong leader who united the Mongols under his rule

catapult: a device used to hurl heavy rocks

Kublai Khan: Genghis's grandson, took over northern China

Marco Polo: He was the first European to visit China and write about his travels.


Section Notes

The Mongol Conquests

  • Throughout its history, China fought barbarian tribes on its borders. In the 1200s, one tribe, the Mongols, conquered China. The Mongols came from the steppes northwest of China. The Mongols were nomads who herded cattle and sheep. By 1206, Genghis Khan united the Mongols under his rule. Various factors contributed to the conquests by the Mongols under Genghis Khan. First, Genghis was a brilliant military leader. Second, Genghis was ruthless in battle. Third, the Mongols were fierce warriors and expert horsemen. Fourth, Genghis adapted new weapons from the Chinese. Finally, Genghis maintained law and order among the Mongols.
  • After uniting the Mongols, Genghis turned to foreign conquest. They had conquered most of northern China. Then they slipped across Central Asia as far as southern Russia. By the time Genghis Khan died in 1227, the Mongols control the vast territory stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea.

The Yuan Dynasty

  • despite their great success in the West, it took the Mongols in the 20 years to conquer China. In 1260 Genghis is grandson Culiacan took over northern China. In 1279, the Mongols finally gained control of all of China. Kublai declared himself the ruler of a new dynasty, the Yuan. Yuan means "the origin, or beginning."
  • Kublai kept much of the Song bureaucracy. He also adopted rituals of the Chinese court. However Kublai changed China's government. He reduced the power of Confucian officials. He suspended the civil service examinations and placed his followers in office. Kublai also gave more power to regional offices.
  • The greatest change under the Mongols was the creation of a new social order. Society was divided into four groups. At the top where the Mongols. Next came other foreigners. Then came the northern Chinese. At the bottom were the recently conquered southern Chinese. To further limit Chinese influence, the Mongols welcomed a strong foreign presence in China.
  • The Mongols encouraged trade and commerce. They reopened the ancient Silk Road across Central Asia. Traders carried silk, porcelain, spices and other luxury goods to the Islamic empire and to Europe.
  • The Silk Road provided a route for Europeans and other foreign travelers to enter China during the Yuan Dynasty. The most famous of the European visitors was Marco Polo. Polo arrived in China in 1275 and stayed for the next 17 years. Polo was a favorite guest of Kublai Khan. The ruler and Floyd Polo as a diplomat and official sending him on various missions around the Empire. After his return to Europe in 1295 Polo published an account of his travels. Polo's book gave Europeans their first glimpse of China. However some readers doubted his fantastic tales.


Summary: The Mongols conquered a vast empire in Asia and establish the Yuan Dynasty in China. The Mongols promoted trade and reopened the Silk Road that linked China to Europe.

Study Guide Questions

Why were the Mongols able to build an empire?

What changes did the Mongols bring to China?

Name two factors that help the Mongols succeed.

Which factor was so important that the Mongols probably would not have succeeded without it?

Who was the first Mongol ruler of China?

Why do you think the first Mongol ruler of China tried to limit Chinese influence?

Practice Test

Homework: Choose one
  1. Workbook Chapter 11, section 1 (Page 132)
  2. Answer three of the study guide questions using complete sentences.
  3. Draw a picture of something important from this section and summarize this section of the text (three sentences minimum).