Han Dynasty

The Han Dynasty established by Liu Bang (Emperor Gaozu) was China's second powerful and unified great dynasty. It fell into two stages: when it took Chang'an (today’s Xi’an) as its capital, it was called the Western or Former Han (202B.C-8A.D); after it removed its capital to Luoyang, it was called the Eastern or the Later Han (24A.D-220A.D). It further consolidated and developed the multi-ethnic state funded by Shi Huandi of the Qin Dynasty. After a long time of living together, the ancient Chinese nation merged with some of its neighboring ethnic groups and gradually formed one big nation, the mainstay of which became known as the Han Nationality. Its accomplishments in the political, cultural and scientific fields made the Han Dynasty the most powerful country in the world at that time. Its impact on the evolution of mankind was so great that until today the international community still regards “Han” as the name for China or China’s ancient civilization.

Science and Culture of Han Dynasty

The Han Dynasty achieved splendidly in the areas of culture and science. In early years of the Eastern Han there was the outstanding materialist thinker Wang Chong. In historiography, the first dynastic history, the History of the Han Dynasty, appeared in this period. In literature, there were great prose writings and the yuefu poems. The "Seven Jian'an Men of Letters" were known for their poetic writings, which contributed directly to the outstanding culture status of the Wei Kingdom. Zhang Heng, who lived in the middle of the Eastern Han Dynasty, was not only a thinker and author, but also a scientist. The armillary sphere and the seismograph invented by him could be used to scientifically observe the universe and predict earthquakes. In the Western Han Dynasty people could made paper from silk and fiber of hemp. Later, Cai Lun perfected the technique of papermaking with plant fibers, which gave great impetus to the dissemination of human culture. Important accomplishments were also made in mathematics, agronomy and medicine. Buddhism was introduced into China from India in the end period of the Western Han Dynasty. Daoism, which later became profoundly and lastingly influential in Chinese thought, culture and society, appeared and flourished in this period also.

Western Han Dynasty

Political system and policy

Political systems in the Western Han mostly remained unchanged from those of the Qin, with "three Gongs and nine Qings" duke and ministers as the frame of its central administrative system. At the beginning of its regime, emperor ordained the heroes who made contributions to the founding of Han as Chief Minister. Having learned from the Qin's quick disappearance, Emperor Gaozu abandoned some of the Qin's harsh laws and introduced more humane policies. He practiced the policy "Relaxing the common people's burden", looking up to the school of Huang Lao's "inaction", which was a branch of Taoism. "Inaction" was further advocated with lowered rents and light taxes and fit punishment. And, reduced conscription and ordered officers, officials, soldiers, and refugees to return home with houses and fields provided. Han emperor feoffed the men who had military merits. The Han government tried to restrain wealthy merchants from annexing peasant land. Emperors Wen and Jing continued to encourage the development of agriculture by reducing conscription and taxes. Handicrafts and commerce also progress.

Because the Han Dynasty established many fiefdoms in its early years, the regional vassal lords quickly grew in power, resulting in the "Rebellion of the Seven States" during the reign of Emperor Jing. The suppression of the rebels greatly strengthened the central power while weakening the power of the fiefdoms.

At the time of Emperor Wu Di (156B.C.-87B.C.), the policy of "inaction" couldn't meet the requirements of the situation any more, so, he accepted advice ensuring the supremacy of Confucianism and set up an educational system of training the future officials with Confucian classics. Therefore, the highest seat of learning was founded in the court and learned men of the five classics were retained to strengthen the cultural. Confucianism thus entered the civil service. And in this period, a national library was built to collect and store books, which highly benefited cultural development. The reign of Emperor Wu was the golden age of the Han Dynasty. Historical records show that in those days most people were decently fed and clad, granaries were filled to overflowing, and the state budget showed a surplus. The central government unified coin mintage - all five-zhu coins were to be made by the central government - and forbade minting by local authorities or individuals. A state monopoly was decreed on iron smelting. Measures were taken to increase the revenue of the court. Emperor Wu also pursued an active foreign policy. Since the Xiongnu had been the great threat on the northern frontiers, Emperor Wu launched three campaigns against them, General Wei Qing and Huo Qubing went on lots of large-scale expeditions against Xiongnu, driving them to the far north of the Gobi so that the Hexi (western bank of the Yellow River) Corridor was kept safe. Then Emperor Wu began to practice land reclamation and built wall fortifications as well as beacon towers on the northwestern frontier. He sent Zhang Qian to the "western regions" (central Asia) as envoy, which opened up the road to central Asia and facilitated the economical and cultural communication and smooth the trade channels between the Han and countries in central Asia. Today we call that trade channels the Silk Road. The opening of the Silk Road promoted the cultural exchange between China and western countries. The Historical Records, the first chronicle of China written by the great historian Sima Qian, was also completed during the time of Emperor Wu.

At the period of of Emperors Zhao and Xuan, who brought a stable and prosperous scene, renowned as "peace and prosperity of Zhao and Xuan" Relying on its powerful military strengthe and brilliant culture, the empire of Han stood erect in the east of the world, shining in contrast with the Roman Empire which dominated the west. But potential crises began to surface - relatives of the empresses started to dominate the court, powerful lords got ambitious and the number of refugees went up. After Emperor Yuan, eunuchs and empresses' relatives gained even greater power, resulting in more corrupt politics, sharper class divisions and frequent peasant uprisings. During the time of Emperor Cheng, relatives of Empress Wang, the emperor's mother, actually controlled the state government. Four brothers of the Wang and their nephew Wang Mang were successively appointed Chancellor of Military Affairs and became very wealthy. In the reign of Emperor Ai, the Han Dynasty began to show signs of weakness due to a number of peasant uprisings. In 8 A.D, Wang Mang disthroned the little Emperor Ziying proclaimed himself emperor and named his regime the Xin Dynast. Western Han met thus met his end.

The Western Han was an important period in Chinese history because it was the time when the establishment of the Han nationality as the core nationality in China took place. The First Emperor's unification made possible the mixing of different cultures of the former warring states. By the Western Han period, institutions and regulations, the written language, culture and education, traditions and customs all became nationality, thus creating a common Chinese culture. The unified Han nationality became the nationality of China. The Han nationality and ethnic minorities were all members of the multi-nationality of the Han Dynasty. Due to its advanced civilization, the Han nationality assumed a dominant position in China. Although the names of later dynasties were changed, the dominance of the Han nationality in China has remained unchanged.

The Xin Dynasty (A.D. 9 - 23)
Wang Mang, founder of the Xin Dynasty, usurped the throne by taking advantage of the corrupt politics and the power of the empresses' relatives in the late Western Han. Wang Mang was the nephew of Wang Zhengjun who was the wife of Emperor Yuan of Han. In the time of Emperor Ping, Empress Wang dominated the court and appointed Wang Mang the Marshall of State and General-in-Chief, who had overall authority over the court affairs. After the death of Emperor Ping, Wang Mang made Ruzi Ying, two years old emperor. But less than three years later, he dethroned Ruzi Ying and proclaimed himself emperor and named his regime the Xin Dynasty.

A series of political and economic policies out of time were practiced led to widespread complaint and enmity. Persistent famine caused commodity prices skyrocketed and finally provoked large-scale peasant uprisings across the country.

Toward the end of the Xin Dynasty, peasant uprisings started along the northern frontiers broke out in the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys. Wang Kuang and Wang Feng gathered peasants in the Lulin (Green-wood) Hills to mount an insurrection, which had tens of thousands of people. The Nanyang landlord Liu Xiu also organised an army to join the insurgence. The Greenwood Army installed him as emperor. Meanwhile there was another army, the "Red Eyebrows Army", fighting against Wang Mang's forces at the Shandong. The Greenwood Army, in the flush of victory, advanced to Changan. In 23A.D, a major uprising broke out in Chang'an; Wang Mang was killed and the Xin Dynasty ended. Soon Liu Xiu declared himself emperor in the Hebei and established the Eastern Han Dynasty.

Eastern Han Dynasty

As the Western Han Dynasty was later weakened by corruption, Liu Xiu, taking advantage of the strength of peasant uprisers, replaced the Western Han Dynasty and Xin Dynasty with the Eastern Han Dynasty founded in AD25. He was called Emperor Guangwu. From this time onward economy, science and culture continued to progress.

In 25A.D, Liu Xiu proclaimed him emperor, then, he moved capital to Louyang so that it is named Eastern Han Dynasty.

In A.D. 36, after the Gong Sunshu Uprising in Sichuan having been put down, the whole country was again unified. Emperor Guangwu (Liu Xiu) was very magnanimous and good at employing talents. He limited the power of the relatives of his mother or wife in interfering in state affairs, and prevented the heroes who made contributions to the country from taking control of the armed forces. He then issued six decrees to set free family slaves, which effected the emancipation of the productive forces. He ordered a country-wide check-up on land reclamation and census so as to strike the landlords. And he changed the tithe into one thirtieth so that the society became more stable.

The improvement of iron-smelting techniques led to mass production of steel and advancement of iron farming tools. Irrigation works built across the country sped up the recovery and development of agriculture, also, due to the spreading of ox was put in use of plough. Copper smelting, production of copper utensils and silk fabrication made remarkable progress. Commerce developed further in the Eastern Han Dynasty and Luoyang became the business centre of the whole country. In southern towns like Yangzhou, Jingzhou and Yizhou, the handicraft industry and commerce were booming. The urban population rapidly increased.
In the early time of Eastern Han Dynasty, Xiongnu grew strong, posed a threat to Han again and once even intruded some counties of northern bordering area. But soon after, Xiongnu was divided into two groups- northern group and southern group. Southern Xiongnu moved to northern and southern side area of Great Wall, attach themselves to Eastern Han. Northern Xiongnu moved to Mongolia tableland and controlled Western Regions and often invaded the south. Eastern Han sent troops to attack it so as to protect the four counties west of the Yellow River and sought chances to recover transportation with Western Regions. Under the attack of Han Dynast time and again, northern Xiongnu moved further towards the west. In 73 A.D., Eastern Han set up Western Region Official Residence (a local government of Han) again, that one was first set up in 60 B.C. in Western Region. In 92 A.D., Minister Ban Chao who was famous for military affairs and diplomatist was appointed as the highest administrative commanding officer of the Western Regions. Later, more than fifty states on the western regions to the authority of Han. Ban Chao's management of the western frontier territories consolidated the unification of the country and made the "Silk Road" a trade thoroughfare. In 97 A.D., Gan Ying was sent on a mission to Daqing (Roman Epoire), he was blocked at the Persian Golf and therefore returned.  

At the middle age of Eastern Han, eunuchs and relatives of the emperor on the side of his mother or wife conflicted with each other, causing more chaos in the political situation. Meanwhile, the power of landlords and influential families gradually increased. They had their own farms and armies. There were cases of empresses serving as regents and their relatives and eunuchs alternatively controlling the court. The protracted control of the court by influential families gave rise to monopolised powerful-family politics after the middle of the Eastern Han Dynasty. In the late Eastern Han era, eunuchs became even more rampant. They openly sold official ranks and titles. Their extremely corrupt practices not only created thousands of refugees and vagrants but also provoked frequent uprisings. At last, in 184 A.D., the well-organised Yellow Turbans Movement broke out in the north, which eventually led to the disintegration of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The powerful landlords who had powerful armies all over the country took this advantage and opportunity to develop their forces and rise. At last, they formed different separate regimes. Those separate regimes were set up by different military forces, leading to mix-up everywhere, and fought against each other. The Emperor of Eastern Han was control by them. Finally, it resulted in the Three Kingdoms situation.