Toghon Temur: Final Khagan of the Mongol Empire

Toghon Temur: Final Khagan of the Mongol Empire


Toghon Temur (May 1320 to May 1370), also known by the Northern Yuan dynasty's temple name Huizong and the Hongwu Ruler of the Ming dynasty's posthumous name Emperor Shun, was the son of Khutughtu Khan Kusala, the Yuan dynasty's emperor. He is also known as the final Khagan of the Mongol Empire and becoming Emperor of China. The Yuan dynasty was toppled by the Red Turban Rebellion in the latter years of his reign, resulting in the establishment of the Ming dynasty. At the same time, Yuan remnants remained in control of northern China and the Mongolian Plateau. As a result, he was the Yuan dynasty's penultimate king and the first ruler of the Northern Yuan dynasty. Emperor Huizong was a former incarnation of the Tai Situpas and a Buddhist student of the Karmapas (leaders of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism). He also invited Dölpopa Shérab Gyeltsen, a Jonang savant, to educate him, but he was turned down.

Before Succession

When Kuala, also known as Khutughtu Khan or Emperor Mingzong, was in exile in Central Asia, he had Toghon Temur. Mailaiti, a descendant of Arslan Khan, the Karluks' chief, was Toghon Temur's mother. According to tradition, Zhao Xian, the former Chinese Southern Song Emperor Gong of Song, had an affair with Yuan Empress Mailaiti. As a bastard kid, Zhao Xian is said to have fathered Yuan Toghon Temur with Mailaiti. A similar tale concerning the Yongle Emperor spread among the Mongols. Toghon Temur accompanied his father and invaded Shangdu from Mongolia when the civil conflict known as the War of the Two (2) Capitals erupted following the death of Yesun Temur (Emperor Taiding) in 1328. However, after Kuala died and his younger brother, Jayaatu Khan Tugh Temur (Emperor Wenzong), was reinstated to the throne, he was exiled to Goryeo (modern Korea) and then to Guangxi in South China. Babusha, his stepmother, was executed while he was in exile. When Emperor Wenzong died in 1332, his widow, Empress Dowager Budashiri, honoured his wish that the throne is given to Kuala's son instead of Wenzong's son, El Tegus. As a result, Toghon Temur's younger half-brother Rinchinbal, not Toghon Temur, was enthroned as Rinchinbal Khan (Emperor Ningzong). However, he died only two months after assuming the throne. El Temur, the de facto ruler, sought to install El Tegus as emperor, but Empress Budashiri intervened. Toghon Temur was called from Guangxi as a consequence. Since he was accused of assassinating Toghon Temur's father, Emperor Mingzong, El Temur worried that Toghon Temur, who was too old to be a puppet, might take up arms against him. El Temur died in 1333; therefore, the enthronement was postponed for six months. Toghon Temur first encountered Lady Ki, a Korean concubine, in 1333 and fell in love with her. Lady Ki was transported to China in the late 1320s as "human tribute" following the Mongol invasions when the monarchs of Goryeo were compelled to send a set number of beautiful young females to Yuan to serve as concubines.


Early Reign

Because he was a ward of El Tegus' mother, Empress Dowager Budashiri, the new emperor named his cousin El Tegus crown prince, although warlords still ruled him after El Temur's death. Bayan grew to be as strong as El Temur among them. He served as the Secretariat's minister and put down a revolt led by El Temur's son, Tang Ki-se. Several purges were carried out during his dictatorial leadership, and the imperial examination system was stopped. When Toghon Temur attempted to elevate Lady Ki to secondary wife, which was counter to the usual practice of only accepting secondary spouses from Mongol clans, he was forced to back down due to court resistance to this unprecedented advancement for a Korean woman. Lady Ki was ultimately appointed Toghon Temur's secondary wife in 1340 after giving birth to a boy whom Toghon Temur determined would be his successor. Toghon Temur grew to dislike Bayan's authoritarian leadership as he grew older. In a coup in 1340, he united with Bayan's nephew Toqto'a, who was at odds with Bayan and exiled Bayan. El Tegus and Empress Budashiri were both expelled from court. He was also able to remove bureaucrats who had controlled the government with the aid of Toqto'a.

Middle Reign

Toqto'a gained control of the court after Bayan was dismissed. A vibrant new attitude marked his first term in office. The youthful commander was keen to point out that his rule was not at all like Bayan. To demonstrate this, a new Chinese period name, Zhizheng, was decreed. Bayan's purges have been halted. The imperial examination system was reinstated after many famous Chinese literati returned to the city after voluntary retirement or administrative exile. Toqto'a also showed some early indicators of the central government taking a fresh and good approach. One of the top notable accomplishments was completing the long-stalled official histories of the Liao, Jin, and Song dynasties, which was finally completed in 1345. In June 1344, Toqto'a resigned his position with Toghon Temur's permission, bringing his first administration to a close. From 1344 through the year 1349, numerous short-lived governments would adopt agendas that were substantially different from Toqto'a's. With the help of former officers of Kuala and Yesun Temur, the emperor pushed Toqto'a into Gansu in the year 1347. Toghon Temur recalled Toqto'a in 1349, beginning the second and radically different administration of Toqto'a.

Late Reign

Natural calamities, droughts, floods, and subsequent famines have plagued the region since the late 1340s. People's support dwindled due to a lack of effective government policies. In 1348, a revolt led by illegal salt merchants who were dissatisfied with the government's salt monopoly sparked a wave of revolts across the empire. The Red Turban Rebellion, which began in the year 1351 and spread over the country, was one of them. Toghon Temur dismissed Toqto'a for fear of treachery in 1354, when he led a huge army to destroy the Red Turban insurgents. Toghon Temur's power was restored as a consequence, but the central government was rapidly weakened. As a result, he had very little choice but to rely on local warlords' armies. Toghon Temur's interest in politics waned with time, and he stopped intervening in political disputes. Biligtu Khan, who succeeded his father as Crown Prince in 1353, sought to take power and clashed with Toghon Temur's advisers, who dominated politics instead of the khan.

Lady Ki began to wield more authority during this period. Biligtu Khan was overthrown after Chief Empress Lady Ki, and his minister convinced him. Toghon Temur, unable to resolve the conflict, executed the minister. Bolad Temur, a Shanxi-based warlord, seized Khanbaliq in 1364 and evicted the Crown Prince from his winter stronghold. In the next year, Biligtu Khan conquered Bolad Temur with the help of the Henan-based warlord Köke Temur. The central government's political and military strength was further weakened as a result of this internal conflict. Toghon Temur eventually raised Lady Ki to First Empress in 1365 and stated that his son with her would be the first in the line of succession. Under the Yuan dynasty, one of Confucius' descendants, Kong Shao, who was one of Duke Yansheng Kong Huan's sons, went from China to Goryeo era Korea and formed the Gong clan of Qufu after marrying a Korean lady (Jo Jin- gyeong's daughter during Toghon Temur's leadership.

Relations with Other Nations

Avignon Papacy

Between 1317 and 1343, Pope John XXII and Pope Benedict XII succeeded in extending a network of Catholic churches across the Mongol Empire, from Crimea to China. John of Montecorvino, the archbishop of Khanbaligh, died in the year 1328. The Alans petitioned to Pope Benedict XII in 1336, requesting a new metropolitan with the support of the Toghon Temur. The pope returned the mission led by Giovanni de' Marignolli, which had been in Beijing for three or four years, in the year 1338. They presented Toghon Temur with excellent European horses as gifts.


The Goryeo court sent a captured Japanese fishing ship to their ruler, the Yuan emperor Toghon Temur, who deported the fishermen back to Japan. To convey its appreciation, the Ashikaga shogunate despatched an embassy led by a monk.

Retreat to the North

Zhu Yuanzhang enthroned as the Hongwu Emperor led military operations to North China and destroyed the Yuan army in 1368 after absorbing the Chen Han dynasty, conquering Southern China, and creating the Ming dynasty. Toghon Temur abandoned Khanbaliq and retreated to his summer camp, Shangdu, after losing fights against Ming commander Xu Da as Ming soldiers neared Hebei. Toghon Temur escaped northward to Yingchang, which is now part of Inner Mongolia, in the year 1369, after Shangdu fell under the Ming's control. In the year 1370, he died there, and his son, Biligtu Khan Ayushiridara, succeeded him as Biligtu Khan Ayushiridara and fled to the Karakorum the same year. The Yuan dynasty's remains governed northern China and the Mongolian Plateau while claiming the title of Emperor of China, earning the name Northern Yuan dynasty. After Kublai Khan, he was Yuan China's longest-reigning ruler. The Northern Yuan retained its power at the time of his death, extending its dominance from the Sea of Japan to the Mountains Altai. In Yunnan and Guizhou, there were also pro-Yuan, anti-Ming troops. The Ming believed that the Yuan lost the Mandate of Heaven when it abandoned Khanbaliq and that the Yuan was toppled in 1368, although its rule over China was not yet solid. After 1368, the Ming did not recognize Toghon Temur or his successor Ayushiridar as legitimate rulers. Toghon Temur was given the posthumous title of Emperor Shun by the Ming, implying that he followed the Mandate of Heaven and ceded his realm to the Ming. However, the Northern Yuan dynasty bestowed upon him the posthumous titles of Emperor Xuanren Puxiao and Huizong Temple. Even after Toghon Temur, Yuan resistance to the Ming continued in the south. Basalawarmi, the self-styled "Prince of Liang," founded a Yuan resistance movement in Yunnan and Guizhou that was not put down until 1381 in southern China.


The Lament of Toghon Temur is a poem found in Mongolian chronicles such as the Erdeniin Tobchi. It is about his grief following Khanbaliq's death (Beijing).

Popular Culture

Ji Chang-Wook portrayed Empress Ki in the MBC TV series Empress Ki, from 2013 to 2014.

Last updated: 2021-October-28
Tags: Mongol Empire Yuan Dynasty
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