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next   When China fell to the Mongols, it became part of a vast empire that stretched northward into Siberia and westward to Europe’s Danube. As Kublai Khan completed his conquest of China, he moved his capital to Dadu, today’s Peking. Adopting China’s traditions, Kublai declared himself the Emperor Shih-tsu and his dynasty the Yüan.
Shang (1523-1027 BC)  
Chou (1027-221 BC)  
Ch'in (221-206 BC)  
Han (206 BC-AD 220)   Mongol rule fell heavy upon the conquered. The examination system was scrapped, and no Chinese could occupy any key bureaucratic position. The native people were relegated to a position beneath not only the Mongols but any foreigner. Peasants suffered most. Many were pressed into military service or forced labor. Others were stripped of their land so that the Emperor could grant it to those he favored.
Three Kingdoms (220-581)  
Sui (581-618)  
T'ang (618-907)  
Sung (907-1279)  
Ming (1368-1644)  
Ch'ing (1644-1912)   And Kublai was hungry for more land. His armies conquered Korea, Vietnam, Burma and twice tried to conquer Japan only to have the Mongol fleets destroyed by “divine winds” of typhoons.
Opening the Door (1844-1911)  
The Period of Revolution (1912-1949)  
Mao's Dynasty (1949-1976)  
Raising the Bamboo Curtain (1972-1979)   As the empire neared its end, epidemics (contemporaneous with the Black Death in Europe) swept the land. Severe weather battered and scorched those who did not succumb to disease, and poor government following Kublai’s death yielded to widespread gangsterism.
Into the Next Millennium (1979-  
cizou ware jar
Cizou ware Jar
1280 - 1368
Yüan Period
11 in.

Courtesy The University of Michgan Art Museum
  Until the Mongols arrived, China was, in the words of one historian, “as familiar to the West as the other side of the moon, except that the moon was an established fact.” Yet amid the misery of Mongol rule the West first learned of this ancient and civilized China. Because it was made a part of the vast Mongol empire, news of it spread to Europe.
  When two Italian merchants arrived in Cathay (as the Europeans called China) in 1268, word began to pour forth. Fame came to one of their sons, Marco Polo, who first appeared in Kublai’s court in 1275. He spent twenty years traveling China on behalf of the Great Khan. Upon returning to Italy, his tale was recorded by a friend. Reprinted, it spread through Europe causing a sensation as it went. Still, the West was another four hundred years from getting to know China well.