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Toghon Temür

Toghon Temür
The 15th Khagan of the Mongol Empire
(Nominal due to the empire's division)
The 11th Emperor of the Yuan dynasty
Emperor of China
Khan of the Northern Yuan dynasty
Reign 19 July 1333 – 23 May 1370
Coronation 19 July 1333
Predecessor Rinchinbal Khan
Successor Biligtü Khan Ayushiridara
Born 25 May 1320
Died 23 May 1370 (aged 49–50)
Consort Danashri, Bayan Khutugh, Empress Gi
Full name
Mongolian: ᠲᠤᠭᠬᠣᠣᠨᠲᠥᠮᠥᠷ
Chinese: 妥懽帖睦尔
Ukhaghatu Khan Toghon Temür
Era dates
Zhishun (至順 Zhìshùn) 1333
Yuantong (元統 Yuántǒng) 1333–1335
Zhiyuan (至元 Zhìyuán) 1335–1340
Zhizheng (至正 Zhìzhèng) 1341–1370
Posthumous name
Short: Shundi (順帝)[1]
Full: Emperor Xuanren Pu Xiao (宣仁普孝皇帝)
Temple name
Huizong (惠宗)
House Borjigin
Dynasty Yuan
Father Khutughtu Khan Kusala
Mother Mailaiti of the Karluks

Toghon Temür (Mongolian: Тогоонтөмөр, Togoontömör; 25 May 1320 – 23 May 1370), also known by the temple name Huizong (Chinese: 惠宗) bestowed by the Northern Yuan dynasty in Mongolia and by the posthumous name Shundi (Chinese: 順帝; Wade–Giles: Shun-ti) bestowed by the Hongwu Emperor of the Ming dynasty China, was a son of Khutughtu Khan Kusala who ruled as emperor of the Yuan dynasty. Apart from Emperor of China, he is also considered the last Khagan of the Mongol Empire, although it was only nominal due to the division of the empire at the start of the Yuan dynasty.[2][3][4]

During the last years of his reign, the Yuan was overthrown by the Red Turban Rebellion, which established the Ming dynasty, although the Mongols remained in control of Mongolia.

Emperor Huizong was a Buddhist student of the Karmapas (heads of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism) and is considered a previous incarnation of the Tai Situpas. He also notably invited the Jonang savant Dölpopa Shérab Gyeltsen to teach him, but was rebuffed.[5]


  • Before succession 1
  • Reign 2
    • Struggles during the early reign 2.1
    • Administrations during the middle reign 2.2
    • Disorder during the late reign 2.3
  • Relations with other nations 3
    • Avignon papacy 3.1
    • Japan 3.2
  • Retreat to the north 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Depiction in art and media 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8

Before succession

A possible portrait of Toghon Temür's stepmother Babusha.

Toghon Temür was born to Kuśala, known as Khutughtu Khan or Emperor Mingzong, when he was in exile in Central Asia. Toghon Temür's mother was Mailaiti, descendant of Arslan, the chief of the Karluks.[6]

Following the civil war known as the War of the Two Capitals that broke out after the death of Yesün Temür (Emperor Taiding) in 1328, Toghon Temür attended his father and entered Shangdu from Mongolia. However, after Kuśala died and his younger brother was restored to the throne as Jayaatu Khan Tugh Temür (Emperor Wenzong), he was kept from the court and was banished to Goryeo (modern Korea) and later to Guangxi in South China. While he was in exile, his stepmother Babusha was executed.

When Emperor Wenzong died in 1332, his widow Budashiri respected his will to make the son of Kuśala's succeed to the throne instead of Wenzong's own son, El Tegüs. However, it was not Toghon Temür but his younger half-brother Rinchinbal, who was enthroned as Rinchinbal Khan (Emperor Ningzong). However, he died only two months into his reign. The de facto ruler, El Temür, attempted to install El Tegüs as emperor but was stopped by Dowager Empress Budashiri. As a result, Toghon Temür was summoned back from Guangxi. El Temür feared that Toghon Temür, who was too mature to be a puppet, would take arms against him since he was suspected of the assassination of Toghon Temür's father, Emperor Mingzong. The enthronement was postponed for six months until El Temür died in 1333.

In 1333, Toghon Temür first met Lady Gi, a Korean concubine with whom he fell deeply in love with.[7] Lady Gi had been sent to China sometime in the late 1320s as "human tribute" as the Korean kings were required to send a certain number of beautiful teenage girls to serve as concubines to their overlords, the Emperors of China.[8]


Struggles during the early reign

The new emperor appointed his cousin El Tegüs crown prince as he was ward of El Tegüs' mother Budashiri, but he was controlled by warlords even after El Temür's death. Among them, Bayan of the Merkid became as powerful as El Temür had been. He served as minister of the Secretariat and crushed a rebellion by El Temür's son. During his despotic rule, he made several purges and also suspended the imperial examination system. When Toghon Temür tried to promote Lady Ki to secondary wife, which was contrary to the standard practice of only taking secondary wives from Mongol clans, it created such opposition at court to this unheard of promotion for a Korean woman that he was forced to back down.[9] In 1339, when Lady Ki gave birth to a son, whom Toghon Temür decided would be his successor, he was finally able to have Lady Ki named his secondary wife in 1340.[10]

As Toghon Temür matured, he came to disfavor Bayan's autocratic rule. In 1340 he allied with Bayan's nephew Toqto'a, who was in discord with Bayan, and banished Bayan in a coup. He also removed El Tegüs and Budashiri from court. He also managed to purge officials that had dominated the administration with the help of Toqto'a.

Administrations during the middle reign

With the dismissal of Bayan, Toqto'a seized the power of the court. His first administration clearly exhibited fresh new spirit. The young leader was quick to distinguish his regime as something wholly different from Bayan's. A new Chinese era name, Zhizheng (Chinese: 至正), was decreed to show this. Bayan's purges were called off. Many of the great Chinese literati came back to the capital from voluntary retirement or from administrative exile and the imperial examination system was restored.

Toqto'a also gave a few early signs of a new and positive direction in central government. One of his successful projects was to finish the long-stalled official histories of the Liao, Jin and Song dynasties, which were eventually completed in 1345.

Toqto'a resigned his office with the approval of Toghon Temür in June 1344, which marked the end of his first administration. The several short-lived administrations that followed from 1344 and 1349 would develop an agenda very different from Toqto'a's. In 1347, the emperor forced Toqto'a into Gansu with assistance from former officers of Kuśala and Yesün Temür.

In 1349, Emperor Huizong recalled Toqto'a, which began Toqto'a's second and very different administration.

Disorder during the late reign

Since the late 1340s, people in the countryside suffered from frequent natural disasters; droughts, floods and the ensuing famines. The government's lack of effective policy led to a loss of the support from people. Illicit salt dealers who were disaffected with the government's salt monopoly raised a rebellion in 1348. It triggered many revolts around the empire. Among them, the Red Turban Rebellion, which started in 1351, grew into a nationwide turmoil.

Hsing-hua, 1362, Yuan dynasty. Much of Putian County was controlled by Chinese rebels.

In 1354, when Toghtogha led a large army to crush the Red Turban rebels, Toghon Temür suddenly dismissed him for fear of betrayal. It resulted in Toghon Temür's restoration of power on the one hand and a rapid weakening of the central government on the other. He had no choice but to rely on local warlords' military.

He gradually lost his interest in politics and ceased to intervene in political struggles. His son Ayushiridar, who became Crown Prince in 1353, attempted to seize power and came to conflict with Toghon Temür's aides who dominated politics instead of the khan. During this time, the Emperor lost interest in the affairs of state, and power increasingly come to be exercised by Lady Ki.[11] For her part, Lady Ki-who had a special office devoted entirely to imposing taxes for her own personal use-become known for her corruption and lavish spending on palaces and luxury goods, becoming a much hated figure.[12] In Korea itself, Lady Ki's family, who all enjoyed influential positions thanks to her influence, were equally hated for their corruption as much as Lady Ki was in China.[13] Chief Khatun Öljei Khutugh and his minister persuaded Ayushiridar to overthrow the latter. Toghon Temür was unable to conciliate the dispute but executed the minister. In 1364 the Shangxi-based warlord Bolad Temür occupied Khanbaliq and expelled the Crown Prince from the winter base. In alliance with the Henan-based warlord Köke Temür, Ayushiridar defeated Bolad Temür in the next year. This internal struggle resulted in further weakening of political and military power of the central government. In 1365, Toghon Temür finally promoted his much beloved Lady Ki to First Empress, and announced that his son by her would be the first in the line of succession.[14]

Relations with other nations

Avignon papacy

Monument in honor of the rebuilding of the Temple of Yan Hui in Qufu in Year 9 of the Zhizheng era (1349)

Pope John XXII and Pope Benedict XII successfully extended a network of Catholic churches throughout the Mongol Empire from Crimea to China between 1317 and 1343. The archbishop of Khanbaligh, John of Montecorvino, died in 1328. With the backing of the Toghon Temür, the Alans wrote to Pope Benedict XII in 1336 asking for a new metropolitan. In 1338, the pope sent back the embassy headed by Giovanni de' Marignolli, who stayed at Beijing three or four years. They brought gifts for Toghon Temür that included fine European horses.


When the Koreans captured a Japanese fishing ship they thought was spying, the Goryeo court sent it to their overlord, the Yuan emperor Toghon Temür, who then sent the fishermen back to Japan. In reply, the Ashikaga shogunate sent an embassy led by a monk to express its gratitude.

Retreat to the north

A statue of Toghon Temür in Mongol Castle

Unifying rebel groups in Southern China and establishing the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang - crowned as the Hongwu Emperor - conducted military expeditions to North China and defeated the Yuan army in 1368. When Köke Temür lost battles against the Ming general Xu Da and Ming troops approached Hebei, Toghon Temür gave up Khanbaliq and fled to his summer base, Shangdu.

In 1369 when Shangdu also fell under the Ming's occupation, Toghon Temür fled northward to Yingchang, which was located in present-day Inner Mongolia. He died there in 1370; his son succeeded him as Biligtü Khan Ayushiridara and retreated to Karakorum in the same year. The Yuan remnants ruled Mongolia and continued to claim the title of Emperor of China, from which point they are referred to as the Northern Yuan dynasty.

At the time of his death, the Mongolia-based empire maintained its influence, stretching the domination from the Sea of Japan to Altai Mountains. There were also pro-Yuan, anti-Ming forces in Yunnan and Guizhou. Even though its control over China had not been stable yet, the Ming considered that the Yuan lost the Mandate of Heaven when it abandoned Khanbaliq, and that the Yuan was overthrown in 1368. The Ming did not treat Toghon Temür after 1368 and his successor Ayushiridar as legitimate emperors.

The Ming gave Toghon Temür the posthumous name Shundi (順帝), which implied that he followed the Mandate of Heaven ceding his empire to the Ming. But the Northern Yuan dynastygave him their own posthumous name Xuanren Pu Xiao Huangdi (宣仁普孝皇帝) and temple name Huizong (惠宗).

Even after Toghon Temür, there was still Yuan resistance to the Ming in the south. In southwestern China, Basalawarmi, the self-styled "Prince of Liang", established a Yuan resistance movement in Yunnan and Guizhou that was not put down until 1381.


Mongolian chronicles such as the Erdeniin Tobchi include a poem known as the Lament of Toghon Temür. It deals with his grieving after the loss of Khanbaliq.

Depiction in art and media

Ji Chang-wook portrayed his role as Toghon Temur in 2013 South Korean TV series, Empress Ki

See also


  1. ^ The posthumous name Shundi was given by the Ming dynasty.
  2. ^ Michael Prawdin The Mongol Empire and its Legacy
  3. ^ J. J. Saunders The History of Mongol Conquests
  4. ^ René Grousset The Empire of Steppes
  5. ^ Stearns, Cyrus (2010). The Buddha from Dölpo : a study of the life and thought of the Tibetan master Dölpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (Rev. and enl. ed.). Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications. pp. 30–31.  
  6. ^ Andreas Radbruch, ed. Flow Cytometry and Cell Sorting. Berlin: Springer, 1992 or 2000 ISBN 0-387-55594-3 ISBN 3540656308, p. 129
  7. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Palgrave, 2010 page 56
  8. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Palgrave, 2010 page 56
  9. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Palgrave, 2010 page 56
  10. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Palgrave, 2010 page 56
  11. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Palgrave, 2010 page 57.
  12. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Palgrave, 2010 page 57.
  13. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Palgrave, 2010 page 57.
  14. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Palgrave, 2010 page 57.
Toghon Temür
Died: 1370
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Rinchinbal Khan, Emperor Ningzong
Great Khan of the Mongol Empire
(Nominal due to the empire's division)

Mongol Empire fell
Succeeded by Northern Yuan dynasty
Emperor of the Yuan dynasty
Yuan dynasty ended
Succeeded by Northern Yuan dynasty
Emperor of China
Succeeded by
The Hongwu Emperor of the Ming dynasty
Emperor Zhaozong (Claimant)
New title
Northern Yuan dynasty established
Khan of the Northern Yuan dynasty
Succeeded by
Biligtü Khan Ayushiridara
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