The Chinese Dynasties

Han Dynasty

























































Han Dynasty
The History of Han Dynasty

~~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 family.

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 Mediterranean Sea.

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. Burton Watson).
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", Henry Yule).

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 brilliant examples.

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 his abdication.

In 311, around one hundred years after the fall of the Eastern Han, its capital Luoyang was sacked by barbarians.


The Kings of Han Dynasty
Back to Top
Posthumos Name Personal Name Period of Reign
Convention: "Han" + posthumous name, excepting Liu Gong, Liu Hong, Ruzi Ying, the Prince of Changyi, the Marquess of Beixiang, and the Prince of Hongnong.
Western Han Dynasty 206 BC ~9 AD
Gao Zu
Liu Bang
206 BC ~195 BC


Hui Di
Liu Ying
194 BC ~188 BC
Shao Di (Shao Di Gong)
Liu Gong
188 BC ~184 BC
Shao Di (Shao Di Hong)
Liu Hong
184 BC ~180 BC
Wen Di
Liu Heng
179 BC ~157 BC
Jing Di
Liu Qi
156 BC~141 BC
Wu Di
Liu Che
140 BC ~87 BC
Zhao Di
Liu Fuling
86 BC ~74 BC
The Prince of Changyi
Liu He
74 BC
Xuan Di
Liu Xun
73 BC ~49 BC
Yuan Di
Liu Shi
48 BC~33 BC
Cheng Di
Liu Ao
32 BC ~7 BC
Ai Di
Liu Xin
6 BC~1 BC
Ping Di
Liu Kan
1 ~5
Ruzi Ying
Liu Ying
6 ~8
Xin Dynasty (AD 9~23)
Xin Dynasty of Wang Mang ) 9 ~23  
Continuation of Han Dynasty
Geng Shi Di
Liu Xuan
Eastern Han Dynasty 25 ~220
Guang Wu Di
Liu Xiu
Ming Di
Liu Zhuang
Zhang Di
Liu Da
76 ~88
He Di
Liu Zhao
89 ~105
Shang Di
Liu Long
An Di
Liu Hu
Shao Di, the Marquess of Beixiang
Liu Yi
Shun Di
Liu Bao
Chong Di
Liu Bing
144 ~145
Zhi Di
Liu Zuan
145 ~146
Huan Di
Liu Zhi
146 ~168
Ling Di
Liu Hong
Shao Di, the Prince of Hongnong
Liu Bian
Xian Di
Liu Xie
  Back to Top