Toqto'a (Yuan dynasty)

Toqto’a (Mongolian: ᠲᠣᠭᠲᠠᠭᠠ Toqtogha; Cyrillic: Тогтох; simplified Chinese: 脱脱; traditional Chinese: 脫脫; pinyin: Tuōtuō; 1314-1356), also known as "The Great Historian Tuotuo" was a Yuan official historian and the high-ranking minister of the Yuan dynasty of China. With his banishment and later murder, the Mongol Yuan court might have lost its last chance to defeat the Han Chinese Red Turban Rebellion, which started in the early 1350s against their rule. He was Bayan's nephew and Bayan Khutugh's brother.


Toqto’a was born to the Merkid aristocrat Majarday (also rendered as Chuan) in 1314. His uncle was Bayan (d. 1340), who had been raised to the rank of grand councillor during the reign of Toghon Temur (r.1333–1370), the last Yuan emperor.

Toqto’a was given a Confucian education. Fearing that his uncle's ambitious character would harm their family's prestige, Toqto’a and his father, allied with the Khagan, organized a plot to dismiss Bayan. In March 1340, they closed the gates of the palace walls while Bayan was hunting in the nearby countryside. They refused to let him in and soon afterwards arrested him. Bayan was sent into exile and Toqto’a toppled him. In November Toqto’a replaced Bayan as grand councillor.

In 1343 Toqto’a led a team of officials to quickly compile dynastic histories of the Liao, Jin[1] and Song dynasties.[2] The immense work was done within a relatively short period (a few years), which caused a lack of proofreading and textual criticism.[3] The three works produced were:

At the time some Chinese scholars argued that as the Khitans were former non-Chinese Barbarians, their Liao dynasty did not deserve a compiled standard official history.[3] Due to the dispute over whether the Liao dynasty should be considered a legitimate dynasty, the Liao Shi was not officially compiled until 1342–1343, when Toqto’a finally decided to treat the Liao, Jin, and Song dynasties all as legitimate dynasties in Chinese history. The compilation of the Liao Shi was finished in one year[3] by highly skilled imperial historians, but without elaborate proofreading and textual criticism.[3] Because of this double time and lack of supporting context, the Liao Shi is known for its technical errors, naiveness, lack of precision and over-lapsing. It has been argued the compilation team did not have suitable contextual material to provide an in-depth analysis, and audacious comments.[3]

In 1344, however, a grand plan to divert the Yongding River to facilitate water transport to the capital of Dadu (modern Beijing) generated heavy opposition, and Toqto’a resigned, joining his father in Gansu. During the 1330s, plague and famine devastated the Huai River area, while unrest appeared in South China, Manchuria, and the Sino-Tibetan borderlands. Massive flooding of the Yellow River inundated more than a decade of cities, putting the Grand Canal out of service and beginning the river’s migration to a new channel north of the Shandong peninsula. Meanwhile, piracy made the sea route for transporting South Chinese grain to the capital increasingly risky. Toqto'a's successor, the new councillor, Berke-Buqa, was too weak to handle all those issues. In August 1349, Toqto’a was recalled to the imperial capital and reappointed grand councillor.

In the winter of 1350–51, Toqto'a's attempt to suppress the activities of the pirate chief Fang Guozhen failed. With the support of Emperor Toghan-Temür, Toqto’a advocated rerouting the Yellow River back to its southern channel as a way to repair the Grand Canal. In April 1351, he began his great project, employing 150,000 civilian workers, 20,000 soldiers, and 1,845,636 yastuq of paper currency. Earlier issues of paper currency had been limited by silver reserves, but Toqto’a issued 2 million ding of unbacked paper currency to pay for labor and materials. This certainly affected the empire's overall economy.

When the religiously oriented Red Turban Rebellion broke out in Yingzhou in 1351, the Yuan attacks failed. Toqto'a was ordered to march against them and assembled an army of mostly Chinese volunteers in 1353–54. He was successful in defeating the rebels. On October 23, 1352, he retook the strategic city of Xuzhou after a six-day siege. Other provincial officials raised Chinese, Mongol, and Miao armies to attack the rebels. By winter of 1353–54, the “Red Turban” movement was virtually extinct. Even so, piracy and the occupation of the Grand Canal at Gaoyou by the salt smuggler Zhang Shicheng still blocked grain shipments from the south and caused hunger in the capital. Toqto’a proposed another grand plan for rice farming in central Hebei, importing 2,000 South Chinese farmers and spending 5 million ding of currency, all the while assembling another army to attack Gaoyou and reopen the Grand Canal.

However, Toqto'a's former protégé and now court rival Hama of the Qanqli and the heir apparent, Ayushiridara, backed by the Emperor's Korean consort Lady Ki, falsely accused him of corruption and induced the Khagan to strip him of his dignities in 1354. They quickly arranged his dismissal and banishment by imperial decree, just as the siege of Gaoyou was nearing victory.

Although Toqto’a had a vast number of loyal troops under him, on January 7, he accepted the Khagan (Emperor)'s decree and gave instructions to his soldiers that they must respect their new commander who had come to replace him. Because of his popularity, many of the troops under his command refused to serve under a new commander and left the army or joined the rebels. While Toqto'a was in exile in Yunnan, he was poisoned by Hama's assassins on January 10, 1356.


  1. Heming Yong; Jing Peng (14 August 2008). Chinese Lexicography : A History from 1046 BC to AD 1911: A History from 1046 BC to AD 1911. OUP Oxford. pp. 382–3. ISBN 978-0-19-156167-2.
  2. p. 177.
  3. Xu Elina-Qian, p.22
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