Understanding Yuan art and culture is a function of our contested present. Post-Yuan, late-imperial claims to Chinese cultural exceptionalism still pertain and are woven into the party-state’s sometimes rancorous claims to power and legitimacy. Yuan art’s troubled posterity in East Asian history saw the Mongols dubbed by the first modern art historians writing in English as philistines and a ‘world scourge’. Yuan’s status as jewel in the Mongol imperial crown has been seen to justify a Sinocentric approach to Yuan art or to validate Chinese cultural exceptionalism. Sumptuous possessions, spaces and lifestyles were governed by a sumptuary order imposed by the Mongol regime on Yuan society and its material culture, keyed to racial, social and official hierarchies. The Yuan was a high point of descriptive representation of flora and fauna in the arts, from painting to jade carving.