Toghon Temur Khan

Toghon Temur Khan
Toghon Temur Khan

Toghon Temur Khan was the last ruler of the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1279–1368). He ascended the throne at age 13 in 1333 and ruled until 1368 when his dynasty collapsed. His Chinese reign name was Shundi (Shun-ti).

Kubilai Khan, founder of the Yuan dynasty, ruled between 1279 and 1294. His son and heir predeceased him, and he appointed a grandson his successor, Temur Oljeitu, who ruled 1294–1307 and died without sons.

The throne then became disputed, with short-reigned rulers being deposed, murdered, or dying young from lives filled with alcohol and dissipation. Because of his youth Toghon Temur’s early years as emperor saw court intrigues and struggles for power. The most powerful man during 1333–40 was his chancellor Bayan.

Bayan’s goal was to restore the Yuan dynasty to its early glory by drawing a sharp line between Mongols and Chinese by forbidding Chinese to learn the Mongol language and banning intermarriages. He also banned Chinese from owning horses and iron tools, and, to combat opposition, he even proposed killing all Chinese bearing the five most common surnames.

Fortunately, by this time the government had insufficient resources to murder 90 percent of the total population who bore those surnames. In 1340 Bayan was ousted in a coup engineered by his nephew Toghto, who became chancellor.

Although now a grown man, Toghon Temur showed no interest in government, spending his time indulging in bizarre Lamaist Buddhist practices and general debauchery. Faced with a shortage of revenue he ordered printed huge amounts of inadequately backed paper money.

By the 1350s natural disasters combined with massive mismanagement had led to nationwide general uprisings as bandits, religious sectarians, and other dissidents ran amok, which the by now decadent Mongol military could not suppress.

The Yangzi (Yangtze) River valley first became the battleground of several Chinese rebel groups. Among them one leader of very humble origins, Zhu Yuanzhang (Chu Yuan-chang), emerged as a man of vision. In 1356 he seized Nanjing (Nanking) from the Mongols and made it his capital.

While this was taking place Toghon Temur continued his life of debauchery as Mongol princes intrigued and fought one another in northern China for control. Zhu left Nanjing in August 1368 heading north at the head of his army. Toghon Temur fled his capital Dadu (T’a-tu) on September 10, back to the steppes of Mongolia, and died two years later, in 1370.

Among his last recorded words were “My great city of Dadu, adorned with varied splendor; Shangdu [Shang-tu], my delectable cool summer retreat; and those yellowing plains, the delight and refreshment of my divine ancestors! What evil I have committed to lose my empire thus!”