An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Yuan-Period Literature

Right: Example of the Pags-pa script based on the Tibetian Brahmi alphabet

Chinese scholars were only used by the Yuan government because it was necessary to employ them, and without their access to high officials, there was no political and very few philosophical literature under Mongol rule. The Yuan rulers tried to adopt the traditional Chinese governmental system, and one part of this very effective system was Confucianism. In 1313 the teachings of the Neo-Confucian philosopher Zhu Xi were declared as orthodox and kept this place until the end of the Chinese empire. High literature instead concentrated on science and technique. There exist many books about mathematics (Suanxue qimeng 算學啟蒙 , Siyuan yujian 四元玉鑑 ), navigation (Haidaojing 海島經), medicine, geography (the atlas Yuditu 輿地圖), engineering and agronomy (Nongsang jiyao 農桑輯要 and Wang Zhen's 王禎 Nongshu 農書 ). Wenxian tongkao 文獻通考 by Ma Duanlin 馬端臨 , published in 1317, is an institutional encyclopaedia. One private encyclopaedia of a Song scholar named Wang Yinglin 王應麟 was only published under the Yuan Dynasty, the Yuhai 玉海 "Jade Ocean". On the other side, it was the popular literature that now caught up-wind. Songs of the taverns, sung on the market places, and popular theatre plays, were written down. The typical song and poem of the Yuan Dynasty is the qu 曲 or aria that was also part of operas or theatre plays. But other types of poetry were still in use and are collected in Yuan poetry anthologies, like Yuanweilei or Huangyuan Fengya. The oldest collection of different writings (congshu 叢書) named Baichuan xuehai 百川學海 "A sea of scholarship, nourished from hundred rivers" was published in 1273, showing the trend to private libraries. Under the guidance of a Mongol official named Tokto (Tuotuo 脫脫 ), the official imperial histories of the Song, Liao and Jin Dynasties were written (Songshi 宋史, Liaoshi 遼史, Jinshi 金史 ). A very interesting historiographical writing is the Secret History of the Mongols (Mengu mishi 蒙古密史), the biography of Činggis Qaɣan, written in Mongol language but using Chinese characters as a phonetical vehicle for the Mongol words. The official dynastic history of the Yuan Dynasty Yuanshi 元史 was written under the guidance of the Ming official Song Lian 宋濂 . A more objective version called Xinyuanshi 新元史 was published in 1920, compiled under the guidance of Ke Shaomin 柯劭忞 . Some scholars count this book as a part of the official dynastic histories, making up 26 of them: Ershiliushi 二十六史, instead of the traditional 25 Official Histories. An unofficial history of the Yuan is Tu Ji's 屠寄 Mengwu'er shiji 蒙兀兒史記.

Right: Example of the Mongolian script based on the Syrian-Uighurian alphabet

The Mongol rulers did not only rely on Chinese for the administration of their empire. It was, like later for the Manchus, important to make use of a script for their own language to process documents among the Mongolian members of the officialdom. Khubilai Khan had therefore created a script by the Tibetian monk 'Aphags-pa ("Pakesiba" or "Pasiba", in the West also known as Passepa and 'P'ags-pa) based on the Tibetian seal script, but written in columns from left to right. This script - in Mongolian called "Baghsba" - was introduced in 1269. Although this script served as script for official documents like the letter to the French king Philippe le Beau, the last documents of this script date from the mid-13th century while the other Mongolian script survived in the Manchu script until the 19th century. This more successful script was actually the Uighurian chancery script that was created on the base of Syrian-Nestorian alphabet and the Baghsba alphabet. It is called the Galik alphabet and was created by the Tibetian lama Č’os-kyi-’od-zer (in Mongolian "Tsordji Osir") at the end of the 13th century. For daily use, the Galik script was simplified to have an alphabet at hand that could serve the requirements of the Mongolian language that had become the lingua franca in Mongolian Central Asia and had replaced Uighurian. This script was still in use during the19th century for Mongolian texts and is revived since 1993 to replace the Kyrillic alphabet that was introduced in 1950 in the People's Republic of Monglia. In the Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia (Neimenggu zizhiqu 內蒙古自治區) the traditional Mongol script is still in use today as script of one of the four great languages of the National Minorities.