Yüan (yüän), Mongol dynasty of China that ruled from 1271 to 1368. It was a division of the great empire conquered by the Mongols. Kublai Khan, who adopted the Chinese dynastic name Yüan in 1271, swept down from N China, which the Mongols had ruled since the 1230s, and finally defeated the Sung dynasty in 1279. The Mongols set up a government in some ways modeled on the traditional Chinese administrative system, kept key government positions to themselves, and hired people from Central Asia to serve in the government. The Mongols adopted policies that discriminated against the Chinese, and to prevent rebellion Mongol troops were deployed all over the country. In its early period the Yüan dynasty developed a fine postal system and an extensive network of roads and canals reaching to the distant Mongol domains of Turkistan, Persia, and S Russia. There was continuous overland contact with the West and exchange of products, and in this period gunpowder, the compass, and printing seem to have been introduced to Europe from China. The best known of the European travelers to Yüan China is Marco Polo. Tibetan Buddhism was officially patronized by the Mongol court, but other religions were tolerated. Resentful of alien rule, many talented Chinese withdrew from political life and turned to theater and other forms of artistic activity. As a result the Yüan dynasty was a period of great accomplishments in the theater, arts, fiction, and painting. The Yüan dynasty was overthrown by the messianic religious rebellions that broke out in the 1350s. One of the rebel leaders was Chu Yüan-chang, who founded the Ming dynasty in 1368.
See M. Rossabi, Khubilai Khan (1988); J. W. Dardess, Conquerors and Confucians (1973); E. Endicott-West, Rule in China: Local Administration in the Yüan Dynasty (1989).