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When the Mongols invaded China and established the Yuan dynasty, why did they outlaw intermarriage and forbid the Chinese from learning the Mongolian language?

I am reading this from a textbook for AP World History, "Traditions & Encounters." I was wondering why the Mongols did not force upon the subject Chinese to make them assimilate into their culture fully. I've seen this trend many times in history where a dominating group tries to remove the subject group's culture in order to control them.

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    Hi Cubloxia and welcome to History SE. What have you found out so far? Can you tell us what sources you have looked at? – Lars Bosteen Oct 17 '18 at 4:32
  • Please edit that information into your question. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 17 '18 at 8:24
  • Consider the relative numbers of Chinese and Mongols, and think about who is going to be assimilated - as actually did happen. – jamesqf Oct 17 '18 at 17:27
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Under the Yuan Dynasty, although the Mongols were the most privileged group politically, they were not the dominant group demographically. In fact, Mongols were an extremely tiny minority in Yuan China. It's essentially impossible for <1% of the population to assimilate the rest - they're way more likely to be assimilated into the majority.

As such, it would've been more reasonable to assume that Mongols outlawed intermarriage in order to protect their cultural identity from being assimilated. However, that is not the case.


There's no evidence that Chinese/Mongolian intermarriage was forbidden.

Even though the idea of a ban gets repeated a lot, it is flatly contradicted by the historical record. Among royalty for example, Zhenjin's second son Darmabala is known to have married a Chinese woman with the surname Kuo. Intermarriage was even more common among lower class Mongolians. A study of Imperial Examination graduates found, staggeringly, that:

蒙古進士之母為漢族者佔總人數的 68.2%,妻子更高達71.4%

Among Mongolian jinshi, 68.2% had Chinese mothers; 71.4% married Chinese wives.

Hsiao Ch’i-ch’ing, "Backgrounds of the Mongol and Se-mu Chin-shih of the Yuan Dynasty: An Analysis". Chinese Studies, 18(1) 2000.

In fact, provisions exist in Yuan China's legal code, specifically to protect Mongolians in the case of intermarriage:

[I]f there were ambiguities in the application of law in a case of intermarriage, the disputes were to be adjudicated according to the husband's law. if the wife was a Mongol, however, the disputes automatically were to be decided by Mongolian law. Consequently, Mongolian law prevailed where a party to the intermarriage was a Mongol, be the person husband or wife.

Ch'En, Paul Heng-Chao. Chinese Legal Tradition under the Mongols: the code of 1291 as reconstructed. Princeton University Press, 2015.

This wasn't a later reform either. As early as in 1271, the year Kublai Khan proclaimed the Yuan Empire and promulgated a new legal code (replacing the previous Jin and Song laws):

至元八年二月,欽奉聖旨條畫內一款:諸色人同類自相婚姻者,各從本俗法,遞相婚姻者,以男為主。 蒙古人不在此限。

1271 February, Imperial Decree: Each race who marry their own kind should follow their own customary laws. Those who intermarriage, should follow the husband's law, except for Mongolians.

The Great Yuan Legal Compendium


Likewise, many Han Chinese studied the Mongolian language under Yuan China as a way of currying favour with Monglian nobility. The only reference I could find of any language ban dates to the premiership of Bayan, a nationalistic conservative who came to power in 1337. He proposed many policies to suppress the Chinese population, including a massive purge based solely on surnames.

However, Bayan was toppled by 1340 and his policies reversed. Thus, the idea of any language learning ban - if it was indeed implemented - is overstated.

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The forbidding of learning the Mongolian language stemmed from the idea of segregation. After becoming concerned with what they saw as the Mongol weakness in China, ministers decreed that the Chinese were not to learn Mongolian aspects of culture. The main effect of this was a lessening of cultural assimilation, as well an increased sense of segregation, as stated before.

The prevention of intermarriage between Chinese and Mongols also had the same origin ideals. Because of the segregation and ethnocentric sense of identity, the intermarriage was prevented. This had the effect of keeping the respective ethnicities "pure".

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    So the next question is "why did they see an advantage in segregation?". What was the perceived benefit of that for the Mongolian viewpoint? – Steve Bird Oct 17 '18 at 7:48

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