Popular dissent of foreign rule erupted against the Mongol rulers in the late 13th century during the Yuan dynasty. These eventually became organized by the (first) White Lotus Society, a religious sect that was quickly declared illegal by the Mongol rule.

This society was characterized by Maitreyaism, a messiahist religion that believed in a particular person being an incarnation of the Maitreya Buddha, the "Eternal Mother" who will gather all her children into one family in paradise at the end of the millenium.

In the case of the White Lotus Society of the 13th – 14th centuries, this incarnation became attributed to Han Shantong, who led the Incense Army to first quickly take over northern China, and later regain all of the country. There was considerable public support of this rebellion, as the sect banned (for religious reasons) the pillaging of captured territory.

By 1368, the rebellion had claimed Beijing, and had control of all of China by 1387. By the capture of Beijing, Zhu Yuanzhang, a Buddhist monk prior to the rebellion, received the Mandate of Heaven and thus became emperor, thereby establishing the Ming dynasty.

The effect of the White Lotus Society on Buddhism is evident in political revolution of the largest and most powerful nation to contain Buddhism in the 14th century, and the growth of a temporarily successful messiahist "cult" that reinvigorated a Buddhist populace that was slowly becoming more and more lax in its religious fervor.