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The Mongols, used to the bleak steppes and deserts of the north, were attracted by the populous regions of China. Under the leadership of Genghis Khan, the nomadic warriors on horseback systematically encircled the western and southern outer regions and destroyed the Song army.

Genghis Khan’s Mongols the first non-Chinese people to hold sway over the Middle Kingdom – destroyed the basis of the agricultural economy in northern China. They settled in the north and established a new capital in Khanbaliq, modern Beijing. The conquerors transformed the farmland into pasture and confiscated the horses, which were used in the north as beasts of burden. Used to a nomadic existence and rearing livestock, the Mongols found it hard to abide by the rules of a long-established, peasant society, to settle down in one place and to come to terms with a subtle, sophisticated bureaucracy and the administration of an empire with centuries of tradition.

Under Mongol rule a four-class system soon emerged. Street directory asia travel singapore map The Mongols and to a lesser extent the peoples of the western regions demanded privileges and their own political rights, while the Han Chinese in the north and south had to endure a subordinate role, paying heavy taxes and deprived of their tools and arms. The repressive atmosphere and the withdrawal of rights from the indigenous population inevitably led to the demise of the Mongol Empire a hundred years later.

The Mongols strengthened the borders and frontier forces, not just because they were waging war with such countries as Burma and Japan, but also because they wanted to make the northern and western trade routes from Asia and the Mediterranean countries accessible again. Unlike the Han, the Mongols were more tolerant of peoples from different backgrounds, cultures and religion and wished to increase contact with the rest of the world.

The Mongols were undoubtedly aware of the enormous potential wealth to be derived from the southern agricultural and industrial regions, the source of much of the trade that they were promoting. They therefore took care not to destroy the agricultural systems in place there. In fact they sought to improve production and the hydraulic installations, provided more favourable trade links between north and south and safeguarded their craftsmen’s markets. The Han’s resistance to Mongol rule soon culminated in armed rebellion. After 20 years of struggle, the Yuan Dynasty was overthrown. China entered a new era, a period which historians describe as late feudalism.

After the new Ming emperors had pushed the Mongols back beyond the Great Wall – from where they repeatedly threatened China’s bor-ders-the emphasis was laid on restoring agricultural land inthe north. Fallow land was cultivated, the Han were encouraged to settle in the peripheral regions, cotton plantations were extended, new hydraulic installations were constructed and taxes were reduced in order to accelerate production and as an incentive for the peasants and farmers.

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