~~The Han Dynasty ;
Wade-Giles: ; 202 BC - AD 220) followed the Qin Dynasty and preceded
the Three Kingdoms in China. The dynasty was founded by the Liu
The Chinese people consider the Han Dynasty to be one of the greatest
periods in the entire history of China. As a result, the members
of the ethnic majority of Chinese people to this day still call
themselves "people of Han," in honor of the Liu family
and the dynasty they created.
During the Han Dynasty, China officially became a Confucian state
and prospered domestically: agriculture, handicrafts and commerce
flourished, and the population reached 50 million. Meanwhile, the
empire extended its political and cultural influence over Vietnam,
Central Asia, Mongolia, and Korea before it finally collapsed under
a combination of domestic and external pressures.
The first of the two periods of the dynasty, namely the Former
Han Dynasty (Qian Han) or the Western Han Dynasty (Xi Han) 206 BC
- AD 9 seated at Chang'an. The Later Han Dynasty (Hou Han ) or the
Eastern Han Dynasty (Dong Han ) 25 - 220 seated at Luoyang. The
western-eastern Han convention is used nowadays to avoid confusion
with the Later Han Dynasty of the Period of the Five Dynasties and
the Ten Kingdoms although the former-later nomenclature was used
in history texts including Sima Guang's Zizhi Tongjian.
Intellectual, literary, and artistic endeavors revived and flourished
during the Han Dynasty. The Han period produced China's most famous
historian, Sima Qian (145 -87 BC?), whose Records of the Grand Historian
provides a detailed chronicle from the time of legendary Xia emperor
to that of the Emperor Wu ( 141- 87 BC). Technological advances
also marked this period. One of the great Chinese inventions, paper,
dates from Han times.
It is fair enough to state that contemporary empires of the Han
Dynasty and the Roman Empire were the two superpowers of the known
world. Several Roman embassies to China are recounted in Chinese
history, starting with a Hou Hanshu (History of the Later Han) account
of a Roman convoy set out by emperor Antoninus Pius that reached
the Chinese capital Luoyang in 166 and was greeted by Emperor Huan.
The Han dynasty was notable also for its military prowess. The
empire expanded westward as far as the rim of the Tarim Basin (in
modern Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region), making possible relatively
secure caravan traffic across Central Asia. The paths of caravan
traffic are often called the "Silk Road" because the route
was used to export Chinese silk. Chinese armies also invaded and
annexed parts of northern Vietnam and northern Korea (Wiman Joseon)
toward the end of the second century BC. Han control of peripheral
regions was generally insecure, however. To ensure peace with non-Chinese
local powers, the Han court developed a mutually beneficial "tributary
system." Non-Chinese states were allowed to remain autonomous
in exchange for symbolic acceptance of Han overlordship. Tributary
ties were confirmed and strengthened through intermarriages at the
ruling level and periodic exchanges of gifts and goods.
Beginning of the Silk Road
From 138 BC, Emperor Wu also dispatched Zhang Qian twice as his
envoy to the Western Regions, and in the process pioneered the route
known as the Silk Road from Chang'an (today's Xi'an, Shaanxi Province),
through Xinjiang and Central Asia, and on to the east coast of the
Following Zhang Qian' embassy and report, commercial relations
between China and Central as well as Western Asia flourished, as
many Chinese missions were sent throughout the 1st century BC, initiating
the development of the Silk Road:
"The largest of these embassies to foreing states numbered
several hundred persons, while even the smaller parties included
over 100 members... In the course of one year anywhere from five
to six to over ten parties would be sent out." (Shiji, trans.
China also sent missions to Parthia, which were followed up by reciprocal
missions from Parthian envoys around 100 BC:
"When the Han envoy first visited the kingdom of Anxi (Parthia),
the king of Anxi dispatched a party of 20,000 horsemen to meet them
on the eastern border of the kingdom... When the Han envoys set
out again to return to China, the king of Anxi dispatched envoys
of his own to accompany them... The emperor was delighted at this."
(Shiji, 123, trans. Burton Watson).
The Roman historian Florus describes the visit of numerous envoys,
included Seres (Chinese), to the first Roman Emperor Augustus, who
reigned between 27 BC and 14 AD:
"Even the rest of the nations of the world which were not
subject to the imperial sway were sensible of its grandeur, and
looked with reverence to the Roman people, the great conqueror of
nations. Thus even Scythians and Sarmatians sent envoys to seek
the friendship of Rome. Nay, the Seres came likewise, and the Indians
who dwelt beneath the vertical sun, bringing presents of precious
stones and pearls and elephants, but thinking all of less moment
than the vastness of the journey which they had undertaken, and
which they said had occupied four years. In truth it needed but
to look at their complexion to see that they were people of another
world than ours." ("Cathey and the way thither",
Han foreign relations CE 2.
Rise and Fall of Eastern Han Dynasty
A distant relative of Liu royalty, Liu Xiu, led the revolt against
Wang Mang with the support of the landholding families and merchants.
He "re-established" the Han Dynasty at Luoyang, which
would rule for another 200 years, and became Emperor Guangwu.
In 105, During Eastern Han Dynasty, an official and inventor named
Cai Lun invented the technique for making fine paper. The invention
of paper is considered a revolution in communication and learning,
dramatically lowering the cost of education.
A horse of the Late Han Dynasty (2nd century AD).Nevertheless the
Eastern Han emperors failed to put forward any groundbreaking land
reforms after the failure of its precedent dynasty. Rife bureaucratic
corruption and bribery contributed into lingering adverse consequences
of land privatizations throughout the dynasty. Prestige of a newly
founded dynasty during the reigns of the first three emperors was
barely able to hinder the corruption; however Confucian scholar
gentry turned against eunuchs for their corrupted authorities, while
consort clans and eunuchs struggled for power in subsequent reigns.
None of these three parties was able to improve the harsh livelihood
of peasants under the landholding families. Land privatizations
and accumulations on the hands of the elite affected the societies
of the Three Kingdoms and the Southern and Northern Dynasties that
the landholding elite held the actual driving and ruling power of
the country. Successful ruling entities worked with these families,
and consequently their policies favored the elite. Adverse effects
of the Nine grade controller system or the Nine rank system were
Taiping Taoist ideals of equal rights and equal land distribution
quickly spread throughout the peasantry. As a result, the peasant
insurgents of the Yellow Turban Rebellion swarmed the North China
Plain, the main agricultural sector of the country. Power of the
Liu royalty then fell into the hands of local governors and warlords,
despite suppression of the main upraising of Zhang Jiao and his
brothers. Three overlords eventually succeeded in control of the
whole of China proper, ushering in the period of the Three Kingdoms.
The figurehead Emperor Xian reigned until 220 when Cao Pi forced
In 311, around one hundred years after the fall of the Eastern
Han, its capital Luoyang was sacked by barbarians.