Yuan Dynasty: Religion, Art & Culture

Instructor: Margaret Moran
This lesson will shed some light on the Yuan Dynasty of China, who ruled for only 97 years. This lesson will also delve into some of the religion, art and culture for this era of China.


The Yuan Dynasty was a time of great cultural and industrial advancement in China. The innovations of the dynasty are impressive, especially in astronomy, mathematics, and medicine.

The Yuan were somewhat unique in their acceptance of foreign influence in their studies, they even imported and translated many foreign astronomy books. Soon after this, an observatory, called Sitiantai, was built and staffed with Arabian people while Persians were appointed to be the administrate. One of the Persians would come to make great contributions in the field, and would help establish a calendar for the country.

A golden period for math would arrive with the influx of Muslim immigrants into China, they would introduce Arabic numbers. These immigrants brought a lot of already known mathematical knowledge with them which they shared with their new homeland.

The Arabic world was again a help to China in the field of Medicine. The first formal hospitals in the dynasty were finally set up and staffed by the Muslims arriving in China. Also, a comprehensive book about both Chinese medicinal practices as well as the western style of treatment was publicized and used.


Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan Dynasty.

To say that the religious stance of Yuan Dynasty was interesting is an understatement, though it would only rule from 1271-1368CE. There were far too many religions in open practice to go into depth on them all here. Now, the two of the more common religions for the population to be fitted into was Buddhism and Islam. With the Yuan Dynasty establishing itself, the rise in the number of Muslims in China was also rising. Even with this rise, and unlike the western khanates, this dynasty never converted to officially Islam.

Due to the Yuan dynasty's founder, Kublai Khan, being in favor of the Tibetan style of Buddhism, this style became the official de facto religion for the state. Because of the view of Kublai Khan, a special top-level department and agency was established to help supervise the monks throughout the empire, the Bureau of Buddhist and Tibetan Affairs. Sadly, due to this favoritism towards Buddhism, the other religions slowly became less important, and tensions would grow between the government and the Muslim populace over the course of the dynasty's rule.

With the Yuan Dynasty originating from the Mongolian clans, many Central Asian Muslims were brought into China to serve as administrators. At the same time, the Mongols sent Han Chinese from China into the West to be administrators over the Muslim there. This was a rather smart move, to allow foreigners to administer over the local people, effectively cutting off any idea of favoritism.

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