|Conventional Long Name:||Han Dynasty|
|Year Start:||206 BC|
|Event End:||Abdication to Cao Wei|
|Event2:||Battle of Gaixia|
|Date Event2:||202 BCE|
|Event3:||Interruption of Han rule|
|Image Map Caption:||The Han Dynasty in 87 BCE (not shown is the protectorate in the Tarim Basin, and areas of fluctuating control north of the border shown)|
(206 BC–9 AD, 190 AD-195 AD)
(25 AD–190 AD, 196 AD)
(196 AD–220 AD)
|Religion:||Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion|
|Leader1:||Emperor Gaozu of Han|
|Year Leader1:||202 BC - 195 BC|
|Year Deputy1:||206 BC - 193 BC|
|Year Deputy3:||189AD - 192AD|
|Year Deputy4:||208 AD - 220 AD|
|Year Deputy5:||220 AD|
The Han Dynasty (; 206 BC–220 AD) followed the Qin Dynasty and preceded the Three Kingdoms in China. The Han Dynasty was ruled by the family known as the Liu clan who had peasant origins. The reign of the Han Dynasty, lasting over 400 years, is commonly considered within China to be one of the greatest periods in the history of China. To this day, the ethnic majority of China still refer to themselves as the "Han people".
During the Han Dynasty, China officially became a Confucian state and prospered domestically: agriculture, handicrafts and commerce flourished, and the population reached over 56 million people. Paper was invented during this period. The ideas of acupuncture and feng shui were promulgated during this time. Meanwhile, the empire extended its political, cultural influence, and territory over much of Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Central Asia before it finally collapsed under a combination of domestic and external pressures.
The first of the two periods of the dynasty was the Former Han Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 前漢; Simplified Chinese: 前汉; Pinyin: Qiánhàn) or Western Han Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 西漢; Simplified Chinese: 西汉; Pinyin: Xī Hàn) 206 BC–AD 9, seated at Chang'an. The Later Han Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 後漢; Simplified Chinese: 后汉; Pinyin: Hòu Hàn) or Eastern Han Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 東漢; Simplified Chinese: 东汉; Pinyin: Dōng Hàn) AD 25–220 was seated at Luoyang. The western-eastern Han convention is currently used 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.
The Han Dynasty was notable also for its military prowess. The empire expanded westward to the Tarim Basin (in modern Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region), with military expeditions as far west as beyond the Caspian Sea, making possible a relatively safe and secure caravan and mercantile traffic across Central Asia. The paths of caravan traffic came to be known as the "Silk Road" because the route was used to export Chinese silk. Chinese armies also invaded and annexed parts of northern Korea (Wiman Joseon) (as well as establishing colonies and trading posts that eventually integrated with the locals) and northern Vietnam toward the end of the 2nd century BC. The borders near the peripheral territories were often tense with possible conflict with other states. To ensure peace with non-Chinese 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.
See main article: History of the Han Dynasty.
Within the first twenty-seven months after Qin Dynasty Emperor Qin Shi Huang's death at Shaqiu, widespread revolts by peasants, prisoners, soldiers and descendants of the nobles of the six Warring States sprang up all over China. Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, two in a group of about 900 soldiers assigned to defend against the Xiongnu, they were the leaders of the first rebellion. Continuous insurgence finally toppled the Qin dynasty in 206 BC. The leader of the insurgents was Xiang Yu, an outstanding military commander without political expertise, who divided the country into 19 feudal states to his own satisfaction.
The ensuing war among those states signified the five years of Chu Han Contention with Liu Bang, the first emperor of the Han Dynasty, as the eventual winner with the help of Zhang Liang and Han Xin. Initially, "Han" (the principality as created by Xiang Yu's division) consisted merely of modern Sichuan, Chongqing, and southern Shaanxi and was a minor humble principality, but eventually grew into an empire; the Han Dynasty was named after the principality, which was itself named after Hanzhong (Traditional Chinese: 漢中; Simplified Chinese: 汉中; Pinyin: hànzhōng)—modern southern Shaanxi, the region centering the modern city of Hanzhong. The beginning of the Han Dynasty can be dated either from 206 BC when the Qin dynasty crumbled and the Principality of Han was established or 202 BC when Xiang Yu committed suicide.
See main article: History of the Han Dynasty. The new empire retained much of the Qin administrative structure, but retreated somewhat from centralized rule by establishing vassal principalities in some areas for the sake of political convenience. After the establishment of the Han Dynasty, Emperor Gao (Liu Bang) divided the country into several "feudal states" to satisfy some of his wartime allies, though he planned to get rid of them once he had consolidated his power.
The central government quickly clashed with these feudal states. The first state to rebel against central authority was the state of Zhao. The king of the state of Zhao, Zhang Kung, was Liu Bang's son-in-law. Nevertheless, Liu Bang suspected him of rebellion. When he intercepted Zhang's correspondence with the Xiongnu Khan, his suspicions were confirmed, and the central army was quickly sent in. Zhang was defeated and he fled to the Xiongnu Khan.
Using Zhang as an example, Liu Bang proceeded to destroy the other feudal states by dismissing their kings. The great general Han Xin, who had helped Liu Bang achieve emperorhood, was executed. Another state, Liang, rebelled after Zhang, but was quickly crushed. Through these campaigns, Liu Bang established a unitary state. However, Liu Bang proceeded to recreate these feudal states, using his own family members as their kings. This lead to more problems.
After Liu Bang's death, his wife seized power and acted as regent. After his wife died however, her family members tried to seize power. Only a revolt by the chi state kept the throne in the hands of the Liu family. However, these feudal states attempted to usurp the throne despite the fact their rulers were relatives of the emperor, threatening the central government. These lead to the rebellion of the seven states.
The emperor, threatened by the rebellion, called on Zhou, an old general whose father which had served under Liu Bang, to crush the rebels. Zhou employed a strategy of defence, while sending cavalry to cut the supply lines of the rebels. After a three month stalemate, the rebel armies collapsed after running out of supplies, and the power of the feudal states were crushed for good  .
During the Era of Wen and Jin, China was able to maintain peace with the Xiongnu by paying tribute and marrying princesses to them. During this time, the dynasty's goal was to relieve the society of harsh laws, wars, and conditions from both the Qin Dynasty, external threats from nomads, and early internal conflicts within the Han court. The government reduced taxation and assumed a subservient status to neighboring nomadic tribes. During this era, the government reduced its role in civilian lives (Traditional Chinese: 與民休息; Simplified Chinese: 与民休息; Pinyin: yǔ mín xiūxi)and initiating a period of stability known as the Rule of Wen and Jing (; Pinyin: Wén-Jǐngzhīzhì), named after the two Emperors of this particular era.
See main article: Emperor Wu. However, under Emperor Wu, who reigned over one of the most prosperous periods of the Han Dynasty, the Empire was able to reassert its power. At its height, Han China incorporated present day Qinghai, Gansu, and northern Vietnam into its territories. The state mounted military expeditions into Siberian lands beyond Lake Baikal in the northern extremities and established military bases on the shores of the Caspian Sea at its western extremity.
Emperor Wu also decided that Taoism, which had influenced the conduct of his predecessors, the emperors Wen and Jin, was no longer suitable for China and officially declared it a Confucian state; however, like the Emperors of China before him, he combined Legalist methods with the Confucian ideal. This official adoption of Confucianism led not only to a civil service nomination system, but also compulsory knowledge of Confucian classics among candidates for the imperial bureaucracy, a requirement that lasted up to the abolition of the civil service examination system in 1905. Confucian scholars gained prominent status as the core of the civil service.
See main article: Sino-Xiongnu War. The Xiongnu, northern barbarians inhabiting Mongolia and speculated to be ancestors of the Huns which would devastate the Roman Empire 400 years later, were enemies of the dynasty since day one. The first campaign against them, however, was a disaster; lead by Liu Bang himself, the Han army was trapped by the Huns after advancing too quickly into Xiongnu territory, and was only able to retreat after paying a large ransom to the Shanyu's wife.
Following this disaster, the Han emperors attempted to keep the peace by giving the Xiongnu supplies of food, fodder and other goods, but the Xiongnu continued to raid the Han frontiers.This eventually lead to a response. Under Wudi, the Han army campaigned extensively against the Xiongnu, trying to trap them at Mayi. Although the attempt failed, the war was sparked. Throughout these campaigns, generals such as Wei Qin and Hui zhu Bin gained fame.
The first of these campaigns were failures; in one campaign, out of four columns sent to engage the enemy, only wei qin was victorious. However, the Han began to learn from the mistakes; they began employing heavy cavalry, with crossbowmen to support them, as well as infantry. Several years later, at the battle of Mobei, the Xiongnu were crushed; their stores were captured, and thousands of men and women were captured by the Han army. A Xiongnu song from the era states that (Chinese:忘我祁連山,使我六畜不蕃息。亡我焉支山,使我婦女無顏色 )
After Wudi's death, the Xiongnu and Han were both exhausted. Although the Han were victorious and had conquered Inner Mongolia, Dzungaria and Central Asia from the Xiongnu, they too were exhausted; the expense of continuous warfare was immense. The Han agreed to make peace with the Xiongnu in exchange for the Xiongnu recognizing their superiority. The result of these campaigns were that the Xiongnu never recovered; they were gradually driven westward and marginalized by both the Han and other nomadic nations. Although the Xiongnu continued to raid the Han time after time, after Wudi's campaigns they were no longer a serious threat. One example of their weakness occurred during the Eastern Han dynasty; a prefect of the Han, gathering a few thousand troops, was able to capture the Xiongnu khan, decapitated him, and dictate to the Xiongnu who was to be their king .
Through these campaigns the Han also conquered Dzungaria and subjugated a number of states in central Asia. These conquests brought the Han Empire into contact with Parthia, the Roman Empire, and opened up the famed silk road. Large amounts of Roman silver flowed into China through this trade.
The Han paid no attention to the south until Wu di's reign. When Nanyue state, located in Vietnam and southern china, was in chaos, Wu di sent an army to restore the deposed king, which favored peaceful annexation. However, the king was murdered. In his rage, wu di sent an army against the state; following only a few battles, Nanyue was conquered. The Han continued southwards until their armies reached the Mekong, and the area was conquered by the Han.While the area was subject to several rebellions by the natives such as the rebellion of the Trung sisters, the area was relatively peaceful .
See main article: 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's 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 foreign 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).By AD 97 the Chinese general Ban Chao dispatched Gan Ying to establish contact with the Roman Empire, yet he was held up by Parthians in and around the Persian Gulf.
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. Good exchanges such as Chinese silk, African ivory, and Roman incense increased the contacts between the East and West.
See main article: History of the Han Dynasty. To secure funding for his triumphant campaigns against the Xiongnu, Emperor Wu relinquished land control to merchants and the rich, and in effect legalized the privatization of lands. Land taxes were based on the sizes of fields instead of on income. The harvest could not always pay the taxes completely as incomes from selling harvest were often market-driven and a stable amount could not be guaranteed, especially not after harvest-reducing natural disasters. Merchants and prominent families then lured peasants to sell their lands since land accumulation guaranteed living standards of theirs and their descendants' in the agricultural society of China. Lands were hence accumulating into a new class of landholding families. The Han government in turn imposed more taxes on the remaining independent servants in order to make up the tax losses, therefore encouraging more peasants to come under the landholding elite or the landlords. This could be seen through such examples as the written evidence in the Yan Tie Lun (Discourses on Salt and Iron), written about 80 BC, where the Lord Grand Secretary is quoted in this passage in his support of nationalizing the salt and iron industries:
Ideally the peasants pay the landlords certain periodic (usually annual) amount of income, who in turn provide protection against crimes and other hazards. In fact an increasing number of peasant population in the prosperous Han society and limited amount of lands provided the elite to elevate their standards for any new subordinate peasants. The inadequate education and often complete illiteracy of peasants forced them into a living of providing physical services, which were mostly farming in an agricultural society. The peasants, without other professions for their better living, compromised to the lowered standard and sold their harvest to pay their landlords. In fact they often had to delay the payment or borrow money from their landlords in the aftermath of natural disasters that reduced harvests. To make the situation worse, some Han rulers double-taxed the peasants. Eventually the living conditions of the peasants worsened as they solely depended on the harvest of the land they once owned.
The landholding elite and landlords, for their part, provided inaccurate information of subordinate peasants and lands to avoid paying taxes; to this very end corruption and incompetence of the Confucian scholar gentry on economics would play a vital part. Han court officials who attempted to strip lands out of the landlords faced such enormous resistance that their policies would never be put in to place. In fact only a member of the landholding families, for instance Wang Mang, was able to put his reforming ideals into effect despite failures of his "turning the clock back" policies. The Han government kept records on people's property to assess taxes. Yet government officials and secretaries weren't the only ones documenting property. In the Han period the prototype of contractual language and privately signed contracts appear for those wishing to keep their own private documents on their property for later use in court if necessary. However, creating signed contracts with documented witnesses and scribes was not in common use until the Tang period (618 - 907), while contractual language did not "permeate Chinese life" until the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), according to historians Valerie Hansen and Timothy Brook.
See main article: Xin dynasty. After 200 years, Han rule was interrupted briefly during AD 9–24 by Wang Mang, a reformer and a member of the landholding families. The economic situation deteriorated at the end of Western Han Dynasty. Wang Mang, believing the Liu family had lost the Mandate of Heaven, took power and turned the clock back with vigorous monetary and land reforms, which damaged the economy even further. The people quickly rebelled against Wang Mang, and by AD 24, his dynasty, the Xin, had been overthrown.
See main article: History of the Han Dynasty. A distant relative of Liu royalty, Liu Xiu, prevailed after a number of agrarian rebellions had overthrown Wang Mang's Xin Dynasty, and he reestablished the Han Dynasty (commonly referred to as the Eastern Han Dynasty, as his capital was at Luoyang, east of the old Han Dynasty capital at Chang'an) in AD 25. He and his son Emperor Ming of Han and grandson Emperor Zhang of Han were generally considered able emperors whose reigns were the prime of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Their rule is noted as another period of benevolent and peaceful rule, known as the rule of Ming and Zhang, and also as the Resurgence of Guangwu. In addition, a number of eminent scientists appeared in this period, such as Zhang Heng.
Military speaking, a new golden age also reappeared. In 97, Ban Chao and his troops went as far to reach the Caspian Sea, while this family also provide notorious generals and historians. The Eastern Han dynasty reestabelished Chinese control over the Tarim basin. In the north, the Xiongnu who had threatened the Western Han dynasty were split up into two groups, the Southern Xiongnu, who accepted Han patronage and the Northern Xiongnu, who moved westwards and were believed by some historians, such as Edward Gibbons, as the ancestor of the Huns who invaded the Roman Empire. However, towards the later part of the Eastern Han dynasty, the threat of the northern invader was reignited by the migration of the xianbei, another barbarian people who replaced the Xiongnu. The Han also suppressed a rebellion in the South, that of the Trung sisters in Vietnam.
See main article: End of Han Dynasty. After Emperor Zhang, however, the dynasty fell into states of corruption and political power struggles among three groups of powerful individuals --eunuchs, empresses' clans, and Confucian scholar-officials. 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.
Emperor Liu Bei of Shu Han, one of the three successor states to the Han dynasty, was a direct descendant of Emperor Jing of the Han Dynasty. He claimed to be the legitimate successor to the Han throne, a claim that had been contested by both contemporaries and later historians.
See main article: Economy of the Han Dynasty.
See main article: Government of the Han Dynasty.
The bureaucratic system of the Han Dynasty can be divided into two systems, the central and the local. As for the central bureaucrats in the capital, it was organized into a head cabinet of officials called the Three Lords and Nine Ministers (三公九卿). This cabinet was led by the Chancellor (丞相), who was included as one of the three lords. Officials were graded by rank and salary, were appointed to posts based on the merit of their skills rather than aristocratic clan affiliation, and were subject to dismissal, demotion, and transfer to different administrative regions. The local official during the former Han Dynasty was different from that of the later Han Dynasty. As for the former Han, there were two administered levels, the county (郡) and the xian (縣). In the former Han Dynasty the xian was a subdivision or sub-prefecture of a county. During the Han period, there were about 1,180 of these xian, or sub-prefectures. The entire Han Empire was heavily dependent upon its county governors (郡太守), as they could decide military policy, economic regulations, and legal matters in the county they presided over. According to historians Ebrey, Walthall, and Palais:
The main tax exacted on the population during Han times was a poll tax, fixed at a rate of 120 government-issued coins for adults. For adults there was also the addition of mandatory labor service for one month out of the year. Besides the poll tax, there was also the land tax administered by county and commandeer officials. This was set by the government at a relatively low rate of one-thirtieth of the collected harvest.
With a large amount of revenue in stable times, the Han government was able to fund various public works projects and state infrastructure. In the year 3 AD, a formalized nationwide government school system was established under Emperor Ping of Han, with a central school located in the capital Chang'an and local schools in the prefectures and counties.
As a result of the recorded debate The Discourses on Salt and Iron (Chinese: Yan Tie Lun) about state control over non-renewable resources in China, the state decided to impose government monopolies on salt and iron in the 1st century BC. The government monopoly on salt remained a distinctive feature of the Chinese bureaucracy in subsequent dynasties, although it fell out of use at certain times when merchants were allowed to mine it, refine it, and sell it in free trade.
The intellectual, literary, and artistic endeavors revived and flourished during the Han Dynasty. The Han period produced by birth China's most famous historian, Sima Qian (145–90 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 the Han Dynasty, largely attributed to the court eunuch Cai Lun (50 - 121 AD). By the first (1st) century BC, the Chinese had discovered how to forge the highly durable metal of steel, by melting together wrought iron with cast iron. There were great mathematicians, astronomers, statesmen, and technological inventors such as Zhang Heng (78 - 139 AD), who invented the world's first hydraulic-powered armillary sphere.  He was also largely responsible for the early development of the shi poetry style in China. Zhang Heng's work in mechanical gear systems influenced countless numbers of inventors and engineers to follow, such as Ma Jun, Yi Xing, Zhang Sixun, Su Song, etc. Zhang Heng's most famous invention was a seismometer with a swinging pendulum that signified the cardinal direction of earthquakes that struck locations hundreds of kilometres away from the positioned device.   There was also continuing development in Chinese philosophy, with figures such as Wang Chong (27 - 97 AD), whose written work represented in part the great intellectual atmosphere of the day. Among his various written achievements, Wang Chong accurately described the water cycle in meteorology. Zhang Heng argued that light emanating from the moon was merely the reflected light that came originally from the sun, and accurately described the reasons for solar eclipse and lunar eclipse as path obstructions of light by the celestial bodies of the earth, sun, and moon.
Military technology in the Han period was advanced by the use of cast iron and steel, which the 1st century engineer Du Shi had made easier by applying the hydraulic power of waterwheels in working the bellows of the blast furnace. The military of the Han Dynasty also engaged in chemical warfare, as written in the Hou Han Shu for the governor of Ling-ling, Yang Xuan, who fought against a peasant revolt near Guiyang in 178 AD:
There were other notable technological advancements during the Han period. This includes the hydraulic-powered trip hammer for agriculture and iron industry, the winnowing machine for agriculture, and the rotary fan and Cardan suspension of Ding Huan (fl. 180 AD).