10 Major Achievements of the Yuan Dynasty of China


Yuan Dynasty ruled over China from 1271 to 1368. Many developments in economy, science, engineering, mathematics, printing, astronomy, medicine, painting, poetry, calligraphy and other forms of art took place during its reign. Here is a list of the 10 major achievements and accomplishments of Yuan Dynasty to inform you about its contribution to China and the world.


#1 Yuan Dynasty unified China after a period of more than 300 years

One of the most significant changes with the advent of Yuan Dynasty was the unification of the whole territory of China. Kublai Khan’s conquest of all the separatist military forces by 1279 unified China after a period of more than 300 years. Unification of China enhanced communication between different ethnic minorities and strengthened the process of national integration. Also as the Mongol Empire stretched far beyond China, the Yuan Dynasty era was a period of more-extensive foreign trade and foreign intercourse than at any other time previously in China.

Yuan Dynasty Map
Map of reunified China under Yuan Dynasty


#2 The first paper currency to be used predominantly was Yuan’s official banknote Chao

The world’s earliest true paper money was issued during the reign of Song Dynasty of China (960 – 1279). The official banknote of the Yuan Dynasty was Chao. Made from the bark of mulberry trees, Chao was the first paper currency to be used as the predominant circulating medium in history. The Yuan government used woodblocks to print paper money. The Imperial Mint was located in the capital city Khanbaliq. Regional capitals were also sometimes authorized to print money.

Yuan dynasty banknote
Yuan dynasty banknote with its printing plate (1287)


#3 Yuan astronomer Guo made the most accurate calendar built till then in China

The top astronomer and engineer during the Yuan era was Guo Shoujing. He was the leading astronomer in a team given the task to make an accurate calendar. Guo completed his calendar, known as the Shoushi Li or Calendar for Fixing the Seasons, in 1280. It calculated a year to be 365.2425 days, just 26 seconds off the year’s current measurement. His calendar would be used for the next 363 years, the longest period during which a calendar would be used in Chinese history.

Statue of Guo Shoujing
Statue of Guo Shoujing – Yuan Dynasty astronomer and mathematician


#4 Chinese algebra was taken to its highest level by Yuan mathematician Zhu Shijie

Among the greatest mathematicians of Yuan Dynasty period was Zhu Shijie. His masterpiece Jade Mirror of the Four Unknowns took Chinese algebra to its highest level. In it, Zhu solved simultaneous equations with up to four unknowns using a rectangular array of coefficients, equivalent to modern matrices. He also showed how to solve systems of linear equations by reducing the matrix of their coefficients to diagonal form. His methods predate Blaise Pascal, William Horner, and modern matrix methods by many centuries.


#5 Novel was developed as a literary form

Among the major cultural achievements during the reign of the Yuan Dynasty were the development of drama and the novel. Major works in theater and fictional literature during the Yuan period would later set the standard for subsequent eras. Two of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature – The Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin are believed to be written during the Yuan era.

Water Margin scene depiction
A 19th-century mural depicting a scene from the famous novel Water Margin


#6 Major development in landscape painting was the emphasis on personal expression

Painting during the period was dominated by the Four Masters of the Yuan dynasty (Huang Gongwang, Ni Zan, Wang Meng, and Wu Zhen). They were major exponents of “literati painting”, which was concerned more with individual understanding than with outward representation and immediate visual appeal. These works were revered by later generations and shifted the focus of landscape painters from an emphasis on close representation of nature to a personal expression of nature’s qualities. The four masters also spurred experimentation with novel brushstroke techniques.

Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (1347-50)
Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (1347-50) – Huang Gongwang


#7 Movable type printing was made efficient during their reign

Though movable type printing was invented during the Song Dynasty period, it was during the reign of Yuan Dynasty that the process was first made efficient. The credit for this goes to Yuan inventor Wang Zhen, whose improved wooden movable type printing system laid the basis for further perfections in the field. Also Zhen’s masterpiece Nong Shu, or Book of Agriculture, illustrated the use and application of medieval Chinese technology. Most importantly it helped rural farmers to maximize yields through various agriculture tools.

Revolving typecase for movable type printing
Revolving typecase for movable type printing – Diagram from the agricultural book Nong Shu written by Wang Zhen


#8 Blue and white porcelain reached its pinnacle; and teapot was invented

A blue and white porcelain jar made during the Yuan dynasty was auctioned for the equivalent of 230 million yuan in 2005. This was the highest price ever paid for a piece of porcelain. Experts believe the reason for the high price is that it represents the pinnacle of development of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. Prior to Yuan Dynasty, tea was served in bowls. The teapot was invented in China during the Yuan Dynasty allowing tea leaves to be steeped easily in boiling water.

A Yuan dynasty blue-and-white porcelain dish
A Yuan dynasty blue-and-white porcelain dish


#9 The art form known as Three Perfections saw great advancement

Three Perfections piece of art by Wu Changshi
A famous 1919 Three Perfections piece of art by Wu Changshi

In the field of poetry, the main development was in the Qu form, which consists of words written on set tone patterns, based upon the tunes of various songs. Qu form reached its heights during the Yuan era and was used by famous poets of the period. Three perfections is the gathering of the arts of poetry, calligraphy and painting to create an artwork. The resulting product is a painting that includes the work of a calligrapher to write a poem. Three perfections saw major development during the Yuan period.

#10 Deficiency diseases were discovered and described in detail

There were several advances made in medical science during the Yuan period. Wei Yilin was one of the leading physicians of the period. Wei invented a new technique for restoring dislocated joints using a suspension method, which he described in his famous treatise in orthopedics titled Shiyi Dexiaofang (Efficacious Remedies of the Physicians). Another leading physician of the time was Hu Sihui, whose book Yinshan Zhengyao (Important Principles of Food and Drink) became a classic in Chinese medicine. The book was the first to describe how diseases are connected to deficiency of certain components in food.

3 thoughts on “10 Major Achievements of the Yuan Dynasty of China”

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