9.3 The Mongol Empire and Ming China

In the early 1200s, a new wave of invaders swept into China from the north and overran Song lands. The invaders were the Mongols, who had burst out of Central Asia to conquer a vast empire across Asia and Europe.

Illustration of a bearded man in a robe and head wrap riding a horse, with a quiver of arrows and bow.

Mongol archers on horseback, as shown in this Ming illustration, were tough warriors who could swiftly shoot arrows at enemies from all sides.


  • Summarize how Mongol armies built an empire.
  • Describe China under Mongol rule.
  • Understand how the Ming restored Chinese rule.
  • Explain why the Ming explored the seas for only a brief period.

Key Terms

  • steppe
  • Genghis Khan
  • Kublai Khan
  • Yuan dynasty
  • Marco Polo
  • Ming dynasty
  • abacus
  • Zheng He

Mongols Build an Empire

The Mongols were a nomadic herding people who grazed their horses and sheep on the steppes, or vast, treeless plains, of Central Asia. Rival Mongol clans spent much of their time warring with one another. In the early 1200s, however, a brilliant Mongol chieftain united these warring tribes. This chieftain took the name Genghis Khan, meaning “Universal Ruler.” Under his leadership, Mongol forces conquered a vast empire that stretched from the Pacific Ocean to Eastern Europe.

Mongols Conquer China

Genghis Khan imposed strict military discipline and demanded absolute loyalty. His highly trained, mobile armies had some of the most skilled horsemen in the world. Genghis Khan had a reputation for fierceness. He could order the massacre of an entire city. Yet he also could be generous, rewarding the bravery of a single fighter.

Mongol armies conquered the Asian steppe lands with some ease, but as they turned on China, they encountered the problem of attacking walled cities. Chinese and Turkish military experts taught them to use cannons and other new weapons. The Mongols and Chinese launched missiles against each other from metal tubes filled with gunpowder. This use of cannons in warfare would soon spread westward to Europe.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments