Toqto’a (1314-1356) was a Yuan official historian and high-ranking minister of the Yuan dynasty.

In 1343, with an imperial order, Toqto’a led a team of officials to quickly compile dynastic histories of the Liao, Jin and Song dynasties.

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 take it as legitimate.

The compilation of the Liao Shi was finished in one year by highly skilled imperial historians, but without elaborate proofreading and textual criticism.

The History of Song or Song shi is the largest in volume (500 chapters or juan) among all the officially recognised 24 Chinese Historical Books. The immense work was also done within a relatively short period.  It has been argued the compilation team did not have suitable contextual material to provide an in-depth analysis, and audacious comments.

Toqto’a was born to the Merkid aristocrat Majarday (also rendered as Chuan). 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.

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 Red Turban Rebellion broke out in 1351, Toqto’a was ordered to lead his army for suppression. He was successful in defeating the rebels in most battles.

However his court rivals like Hama falsely accused him of corruption and induced the Khagan to strip him of his dignities in 1354.

With the emperor’s decree, Toqto’a was exiled to Yunnan, where he was poisoned by Hama’s assassins on January 10, 1356.

With his banishment and later murder, the Mongol Yuan court might have lost its last chance to totally defeat the Red Turban Rebellion.

By staff translator


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