HAN DYNASTY (206 B.C.-A.D. 220)
Bronze horse The Han dynasty ruled China after the Qin dynasty was overthrown in 207 B.C. The Hans expanded the Chinese empire westward during their four centuries in power. The Han dynasty is broken into two eras: the Western Han period (206 B.C.-A.D. 9) and the Eastern Han period (A.D. 25- 220 B.C.). When the Western Han dynasty collapsed the same family behind it regrouped and established a new dynasty in a new capital as the Eastern Han dynasty. [Main Source for the article: Mike Edwards, National Geographic, February 2004]
The Han dynasty is regarded as one of the greatest and most successful Chinese dynasties. The Han emperors ruled with an emphasis on tradition and order, setting the tone for more than 2000 years of imperial rule. They were also pragmatic and ruled with a lighter touch than heavy-handed rulers like Emperor Qin. The Chinese people call themselves Han in honor of the Han dynasty, which in turn is named after a river. The Hans were contemporaries of the Romans. Their empire was just as powerful, embraced as many people and was nearly as large as the Roman empire. The world population was around 180 million in A.D. 100 Four fifths of the world's population at that time lived under the Roman, Chinese Han and Indian Gupta empires.
The Han empire retained much of the Qin administrative structure but retreated a bit from centralized rule by establishing vassal principalities in some areas for the sake of political convenience. The Han rulers modified some of the harsher aspects of the previous dynasty; Confucian ideals of government, out of favor during the Qin period, were adopted as the creed of the Han empire, and Confucian scholars gained prominent status as the core of the civil service. A civil service examination system also was initiated. Intellectual, literary, and artistic endeavors revived and flourished. The Han period produced China's most famous historian, Sima Qian (145-87 B.C.?), whose Shiji (Historical Records) provides a detailed chronicle from the time of a legendary Xia emperor to that of the Han emperor Wu Di(141-87 B.C.). Technological advances also marked this period. Two of the great Chinese inventions, paper and porcelain, date from Han times. [Source: The Library of Congress]
“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 to Antioch, Baghdad, and Alexandria. The paths of caravan traffic are often called the "silk route" because the route was used to export Chinese silk to the Roman Empire. Chinese armies also invaded and annexed parts of northern Vietnam and northern Korea toward the end of the second century B.C. 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. [Ibid]
“After 200 years, Han rule was interrupted briefly (in A.D. 9-24 by Wang Mang, a reformer), and then restored for another 200 years. The Han rulers, however, were unable to adjust to what centralization had wrought: a growing population, increasing wealth and resultant financial difficulties and rivalries, and ever-more complex political institutions. Riddled with the corruption characteristic of the dynastic cycle, by A.D. 220 the Han empire collapsed. [Ibid]
The Han Dynasty featured some colorful emperors. Under the 32-year rule of strongman Guangwu Di, Luoynag grew into a city of around a half million people and the upper classes became quite wealthy and built extravagant palaces. Emperor Ai was gay. According to legend he said he would rather cut off the sleeve of his robe than disturb his male lover who had fallen asleep on it. Some still refer to homosexuality as “the passion of the sleeve.”Longdi (168-189) was a ruler “fond of foreign dress, foreign hangings, foreign beds, foreign harps, foreign flutes, foreign dances.”
Websites and Resources
Accupuntcure needles found in
the Tomb of Liu Sheng Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia ; Early Imperial China e-asia.uoregon.edu ; National Geographic article nationalgeographic.com ; Battle of Red Cliff China Page ;Wikipedia
Links in this Website: IMPERIAL CHINA factsanddetails.com ; CHINESE ART FROM THE GREAT DYNASTIES factsanddetails.com/china ; CHINESE DYNASTIES Factsanddetails.com/China ; COURT LIFE AND EMPERORS Factsanddetails.com/China ; MANDARINS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; EUNUCHS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; SHANG DYNASTY (2200-1700 B.C.) AND XIA DYNASTY Factsanddetails.com/China ; ZHOU (CHOU) DYNASTY (1100-221 B.C.) Factsanddetails.com/China ; EMPEROR QIN AND THE QIN DYNASTY (221-206 B.C.) Factsanddetails.com/China ; HAN DYNASTY (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) Factsanddetails.com/China ; TANG DYNASTY (A.D. 690-907) Factsanddetails.com/China ; SONG DYNASTY (960-1279) Factsanddetails.com/China ; YUAN (MONGOL) DYNASTY (1215-1368) ; MING DYNASTY (1368-1644) Factsanddetails.com/China ; QING (MANCHU) DYNASTY (1644-1911) Factsanddetails.com/China ; THEMES IN CHINESE HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE FIRSTS--GUNPOWDER, MACHINES, FOODS AND CHAIRS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE FIRSTS--PAPER, MONEY, ASTRONOMY, CLOCKS Factsanddetails.com/China ; GREAT WALL OF CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Ancient China Life ancientchinalife.com ; 2) Ancient China for School Kids elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; 3) Oriental Style ourorient.com ; 4) Chinese Text Project chinese.dsturgeon.net ; 5) Minnesota State University site mnsu.edu/emuseum/prehistory ; 6) ChinaVoc.com ChinaVoc.com ; 7) Early Medieval China Journal languages.ufl.edu/EMC ; 8) History of China history-of-china.com ; 9) U.S.C. Education usc.edu/libraries/archives Books: Cambridge History of Ancient China edited by Michael Loewe and Edward Shaughnessy (1999, Cambridge University Press); The Culture and Civilization of China, a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); Mysteries of Ancient China: New Discoveries from the Early Dynasties by Jessica Rawson (British Museum, 1996)
Han Founder Liu Bang Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) Brooklyn College site academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge chinaknowledge.de ; 5) China History Forum chinahistoryforum.com ; 6) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; 7 ) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia
Emperor Liu Bang
Liu Bang founded the Han dynasty and was the dynasties first emperor. He seized power with the help of military leaders who had been dog butchers and proclaimed “at last the whole world is mine” after took the throne. He was the first of 27 Lius to hold power.
Liu Bang was a rather crude man who had been a minor official in a previous dynasty. He was known for his hatred for Confucians and other members of his family. The Han historian Sima Qian wrote that he once met a Confucian and “immediately snatched the hat from the visitor’s head and pissed in it.” When Liu Bang’s father was kidnaped with the ultimatum: “Surrender or I’ll boil your venerable alive”—Liu Bang responded: “Send me a cup of the soup.” (His dad survived and the kidnapper committed suicide with his concubine to avoid capture).
Liu Bang established his capital in Changan (present-day Xian). After Liu Bang’s death, his empress, Lu Zhi, murdered several of his sons and mutilated his favorite concubine and tossed her into a privy, in her attempt to claim the dynasty for her family. After replacing key generals and officials with her relatives, her family held power for about 15 years before they were ousted by Liu’s relatives with Liu Bang’s son, Emperor Wen, taking the throne. After that relatives and people connected with Lu Zhi were rounded up and disposed of.
Emperors Han Jing Di and Wu Di
Emperor Wu di Han Jing Di (ruled from 157 to 141 B.C.) was the forth emperor of the Western Han dynasty. Regarded as one of the greatest early Chinese emperors, he ruled cautiously and relied “on Taoist discretion” to solidify his power and paved the way for a long and glorious rule by his son Emperor Wu and the domination of his clan, who reigned for more than four centuries.
Han Jing Di governed by the Taoist saying: "Do nothing in order to govern." No major building projects took place under his rule, mandatory service was greatly reduced and peasants were only taxed 3 percent of their harvest (compared to 50 percent under Emperor Qin).
Emperor Wu Di (140-87 B.C.) was known as the “martial emperor.” Ruling for 54 years beginning at the age of 15, he elevated Confucianism to a cultural philosophy, royal religion and state cult. He was also known for having a terrible temper. He once killed his cousin with a board game after a quarrel. On another occasion, he ordered that a historian be castrated after he stood up for a disgraced general.
Under Emperor Wu Di (Wu-ti), China was stable and secure, harvests were good, Confucian academies were established all over China and the treasury was full. One historian wrote “every family had enough to get along on.”
Colorful characters who left their mark after Wu Di’s death included Wu Di’s daughter who tried to take the throne with witchcraft but ended up getting hundreds executed; and Flying Swallow, a beautiful commoner who ruthlessly seized power and ushered in period of chaos that led to the ouster of the Liu family.
Han Jing Di's Pint-Size Terra Cotta Army
Han Jing Di's Terra Cotta Army (part the Tomb of Han Jing Di) is an impressive collection of 700 terra-cotta figures discovered in 1990 by a construction crew because it lay in the path of a highway project. Unlike the life-size figures found at the Emperor Qin site, the Emperor Jing figures are only two feet tall, or about one third life size. [Source: O. Louis Mazzatenta, National Geographic, August 1992]
Member of Han Jing Di's
Terra Cotta Army They are different in other ways too. First of all they are naked, with genitalia, and pieces of silk found at the site seem to indicate they were clothed when they were buried. Their faces are also more expressive (15 distinctive face types have been identified). Some soldiers had iron swords, leather armor, wooden shields or wooden arms.
In one vault the soldiers looked as if they were marching behind chariots pulled by wooden horses. In another they were lined up behind a cooking pot in what looked like a chow line. So far no archers or armored infantrymen have been found which mean the soldiers found so far are probably supply troops. There are also figures of eunuchs and women.
Paintings found in Xian show that the soldiers were mass produced in molds and then hardened in kilns. Craftsmen retouched the faces to give them individual expressions. They wore wooden armor in addition to their silk garments. Why the contained genitalia even though were clothed is not known.
Among the miniature items that archaeologists found with the soldiers were a hand-painted pigeon-size rooster, sculptured oxen, miniature granaries. Among the large collection of terra-cotta animals are 400 dogs, 200 sheep, pigs, piglets, goats, horses. Other objects found in the excavations include boxes filled with weapons, measuring instruments, chariots, chisels, gold chips, coins, lacquerware, adzes, wooden objects, coins, measuring cups bronze arrowheads, saws, stoves, steamers, government seals.
Expansion Under Emperor Wu Di
Under Emperor Wu Di, the boundaries of China expanded north into Mongolia, west into Turkestan, east into Korea and south into Indochina. In many cases the Han expanded to head off threats and create a buffer zone around the Han heartland. After lands were conquered settlers were encouraged to move there to firm up China’s claim on the land. Today "Han" Chinese make up 92 percent of China's 1.2 billion people.
Emperor Wu Di sent his emissary Zhang Qian on a westwards journey along the Silk Road to forge diplomatic and military ties in Central Asia. Among the treasures he brought back were the famed “heavenly horses” of the Fergana Valley.
The Chinese empire was expanded to an area more or less the same as present-day China by establishing command districts in Korea and much of Central Asia. Expansion to the south and west helped establish land and sea trade routes to India, southeast Asia and the Middle East.
"Expansion beyond the gate," a term referring to growth of the Chinese empire beyond the western end of the Great Wall, helped the Han secure power over a caravan route through Central Asia which developed into the Silk Road. To defend their vast territories in presen-day western China the Han built chains of earthen watchtowers that were used to send signals of approaching invaders. The tallest of these towers was 45 feet high.
The greatest challenge to the Han dynasty came from the Xiongu, a Mongol-like nomadic people in the northwest of teh Han empire. The Chinese beefed up the Great Wall to keep them out; presented them with Han princesses as gifts to appease them—but to no avail. In 133 B.C. there was a great battle between Han and Xiongu in which “the men and horses killed on the Han side amounted to over a hundred thousand.”
See Yellow River Floods
Chaos and the Establishment of Eastern Han Dynasty
The Yellow River flooded in A.D. 11 causing a famine and mass migration that was followed by a massive drought that helped set off a series of rebellions that led to the ouster of Wang Mang and the downfall of the first the Han Dynasty. By A.D. 25 a descendants of Western Han royalty had retaken the throne, establishing the eastern Han Dynasty which lasted another 200 years.
Towards the end of Wu Di’s rule the treasury was running low as a result of resources spent on military campaigns and expansion and money embezzled by corrupt officials. In the meantime local aristocrats were bleeding the peasantry dry with high taxes, creating conditions ripe for revolt and chaos.
In A.D. 9, Wang Mang usurped the throne from the Liu family. To this day Liu men are reluctant to marry women from the Wang family because it is believed they bring disaster. In any case, Wang Mang tried to right some of the wrongs committed against the peasantry but was ultimately driven from power in riots that occurred after terrible Yellow River floods and had his head chopped off by a group who splashed paint on their foreheads and called themselves the Red Eyebrows.
While the Red Eyebrows were sacking Changsan, a new member of the Liu clan, Liu Xui, established a new capital in Luoyang, ushering in the Eastern Han dynasty. The Liu’s remained in power for another 195 years in Luoyang.
Imperial Bureaucracy and Religion During the Han Dynasty
Han-era jade tiger Under the Han, government became more centralized, a large bureaucracy with a rigid hierarchy was established, and Confucianism was adopted as a state ideology, a moral guide and model for government. Administrators and local officials were selected on their performance on an exam that measured their knowledge of Confucian classics and then trained at provincial schools and the imperial university.
The Imperial Chinese bureaucracy, launched during the Han Dynasty, remained virtually intact as an institution until the 19th century. Local officials reported to central officials in the capital and they in turn reported to the Emperor. A postal system and network of roads was set up to speed communications and tax collections.
The invention of paper in the 2nd century A.D. helped the bureaucratic system to grow. The world's first recorded census was taken in China during the Han dynasty in A.D. 2. It counted 57,671,400 people. The ancient Chinese took censuses to determine revenues and access military strength in each region.
In the Han period, Confucianism was established as the state orthodoxy; Buddhism was introduced in China by monks traveling from India; and Taoism merged with popular superstitions and increased its following. Taoists and Buddhist monasteries multiplied in the turbulent centuries after the collapse of Han dynasty. See Religion
Confucians were first brought in by the Han court to clear up unresolved matters concerning rites and ceremonies. Later they began educating the children in royal household as well as students at the Imperial University. Emperor Wu (140-87 B.C.) elevated Confucianism to a cultural philosophy, royal religion and state cult. Within the Han dynasty, the Mandate of Heaven became state ideology.
Tomb of Liu Sheng By the Han Dynasty it was common for emperors and other noblemen to decorate their tombs with pottery replicas of warriors, concubines, servants, horses, domestic animals, trees, plants, furniture, models of towers, granaries, mortars and pestles, stoves and toilets—almost everything found in the real world so the deceased could have them in the next world.
Peter Hessler wrote in National Geographic, compared to the Zhou “the Han, left a collection of funeral goods that is less military in character. The tomb of Han Jing Di, who ruled from 157 to 141 B.C., has yielded an amazing array of spirit goods designed to reflect the needs of everyday life: reproductions of pigs, sheep, dogs, chariots, spades, saws, adzes, chisels, stoves, measuring devices. There are even official chops, or ink stamps, to be used by netherworld bureaucrats.”[Source: Peter Hessler, National Geographic, January 2010]
Even people outside the Imperial court had elaborate tombs. A relatively modest tomb that probably belonged a high military officer yielded 2,000 figures. In 2002, a terra-cotta army comprised of hundreds of foot-tall soldiers was found near the Weishan mountains in Shandong Province, about 300 miles south of Beijing. The soldiers were part of a massive tomb believed to belong to a nobleman closely connected to the ruling family in the first half of the Han Dynasty. The figures were well organized. At the front were cavalrymen on red horses, followed by ranks of infantrymen with some brightly-painted musicians thrown in. The site was discovered by tree planters. Only a small portion of the site has been excavated thus far. Archeologists believe there could be thousands of clay soldiers at the site.
Art During the Han Dynasty
Han bronze The Han era is known for its rich cultural, intellectual and political achievements. Some Chinese consider anything after the Han dynasty to be modern history. Musicians composed with lyres and flutes and landscape painters perfected their skills. The Hans believed that writing was “a manifestation of one’s moral character.” The wrote a lot—on paper, bamboo strips, wooden tablets. The Book of Odes was a collection of songs and poems etched on lapis lazuli.See Literature, Dance
Objects unearthed from Han-era tombs include gilded silkworms; stones with humans battling bears; golden belt buckles with a bear and a tiger devouring a horse; bronze incense burners held by an image of an immortal; horned terra cotta heads used to ward off evil; and pear ornaments with girls holding lamps that would show the way to the afterlife.
Perhaps the greatest testimony of Han dynasty artistic achievement and skill was the "Flying horse," an A.D. second century bronze sculpture of an entire horse supported on the hoof of one leg found in the grave of a Han general. A famous gilded bronze horse is another treasure. It is thought to have been given as gift from Emperor Wu to his sister. Horses were valued for practical and spiritual reason. They carried the Han to Central Asia and were believed to carry the emperor to heaven.
Art from India and Central Asia made its way into China in great amounts between the 1st and 5th centuries. During this period Buddhist art was created on the cave walls of Yungang and many Buddhist scriptures were translated into Chinese. Great works were created by the painter Gu Kazhi and the calligrapher Wang Xizhi and the poet Tao Yuanmung,
Many great works of pottery and ceramic art came from the Han Dynasty. Lovely vessels and objects were buried with the dead and have been excavated by archeologists and looters. The first use of glazes on Chinese pottery dates back to this period. Han emperors and noblemen commonly decorated their tombs with pottery replicas of warriors, concubines, servants, horses, domestic animals, trees, plants, furniture, models of towers, granaries, mortars and pestles, stoves and toilets, and almost everything found in the real world so the deceased would have everything he needed in the next world.
Pictorial art during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) took the from of stone engraving, wall painting, and paintings on silk. Paintings mentioned in the Han period texts include Picture of Riding the Dragon to Ascend the Clouds, Picture of the Eastern Wall and Picture of the Western Wall, and Scripture of Grand Harmony. None of these remain today and we have no clue what they looked like. Han painting is thought to have had a solemn style and didactic function. The main objective of painting during this period was to educate people.
Jade Suits and Pieces from Han Dynasties
During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), the imperial family held jade in great esteem. While alive they wore jade pendants and ingested jade powder. When they died were covered and stuffed with jade. Banners and tomb tiles were imprinted the round pi disk, which was believed to assist the deceased reach the next world quicker.
In the Han period, jade objects were believed to possess auspicious meaning, their uses and functions multiplied. Circular jades—often containing images of twin-bodied animals, mask patterns, grain seeds, rush mat designs, curling chih dragons, and round tipped nipples—decorate buildings. Engraved dragon and phoenix patterns were popular in the Han imperial court.
The greatest expressions of the quest for immortality were the jade suits that appeared around the 2nd century B.C. About 40 of these jade suits have been unearthed. The jade suit of the 2nd century B.C. Prince Liu Sheng unearthed near Chengdu, Sichuan province was made of 2,498 jade plates sewn together with silk and gold wire. Liu Shen was buried with his consort who was equally well clad in a jade suit. Sufficient room was made for the prince's pot belly.
Jade suits were believed to slow decomposition and effectively preserve the body after death. A jade suit unearth in Jiangxi Province was made of roughly 4,000 translucent pieces of jade held together with gold wire. Designed to form fit and cover the body, it has the shape of a robot from 1950s B science fiction movie.
Life During the Han Dynasty
Han musicians Looking good and wearing make up appears to have been highly valued based on the number of cosmetic boxes found in the graves of Han women. Small vessels featured acrobats doing stunts; figures playing the board game Liud;, and tomb murals depicting partygoers, jugglers, musicians and dancers seems indicate entertainment was also valued. In A.D. 2, a rhinoceros from an unidentified country was delivered to China. It was a bit hit in the court of the emperor. Eight years later an ostrich was delivered. It too was a big hit.
Confucian customs like respect towards elders were strictly enforced while women’s rights were ignored. There was one law that stated that any wife who beat a grandfather was to be chopped to death in the marketplace. Slandering an old person was also a serious offense, but beating a wife wasn’t even a crime.
Accupuncture needles and figurines with meridian lines drawn on them have been found, indicating that some form of acupuncture was practiced.
Clasped hands was a sign of greeting. People who addressed the emperor were allowed to do so only after their breath has been sweetened with “odoriferous pistols”—Javanese cloves.
The rich clearly lived a privileged life, enjoying concubines, servants, slaves, pearls, jade and fine clothes One observer wrote that people in Luoyang “are extravagant in clothing, excessive in food and drink.’. Rich men convicted of a crime could hire peasants to fulfill their sentences. Over time, peasants were squeezed off their land and many became unhappy indentured servants, increasing the likelihood of a rebellion,
Han Dynasty Scholarship, Technology and Economy
Emperor Qin Shihuang is usually given credit fot unifing the Chinese writing system but a careful look reveals the system was largely standardized in the Han dynasty. The Han produced the first Chinese dictionary, the first official history, gave names to the dynasties that preceded them and made a concerted effort to unify China’s diverse ethnic groups with a single writing system.
Water clocks and sundials were used; paper was invented; astronomy flourished; and complex mathematical problems were solved. Han scholars wrote detailed histories and collected statistics.
Centuries before they were used in the West, the Han were using pulleys and wheelbarrows to transport goods. Water-powered trip hammers were used to crush ores and grain. Bellows pumped air into furnaces; umbrellas collapsed using a designs that remains in use today. See Earthquake Devise.
The Han period was a time of economic expansion. Agriculture and irrigation were improved. Advanced ironworking created strong tools and weapons. Unlike Rome, which relied heavily on slavery, the Han dynasty built its economy on the labor of free peasants that were forced to give up their surpluses as taxes. .
The silk trade was vital to the economy. Garments made with silk, brocades, damasks and gauze found in tombs indicates that Han weaving was done with elaborate looms.The Silk Road opened up under the Han. The Hans traded with Rome through Central Asian middlemen. see Silk Road
Romans, Han Dynasty Were Greenhouse Gas Emitters
“A 200-year period covering the heyday of both the Roman Empire and China's Han dynasty saw a big rise in greenhouse gases, according to a study that challenges the U.N. view that man-made climate change only began around 1800,” Alister Doyle of Reuters wrote. “A record of the atmosphere trapped in Greenland's ice found the level of heat-trapping methane rose about 2,000 years ago and stayed at that higher level for about two centuries. [Source: Alister Doyle, Reuters, October 3, 2012]
Methane was probably released during deforestation to clear land for farming and from the use of charcoal as fuel, for instance to smelt metal to make weapons, lead author Celia Sapart of Utrecht University in the Netherlands told Reuters. "Per capita they were already emitting quite a lot in the Roman Empire and Han Dynasty," she said of the findings by an international team of scientists in the journal Nature. Rates of deforestation "show a decrease around AD 200, which is related to drastic population declines in China and Europe following the fall of the Han Dynasty and the decline of the Roman Empire," the scientists wrote.
Mankind's emissions 2,000 years ago, when the world population was an estimated 300 million, were discernible but tiny compared with current levels caused by a population of 7 billion. Sapart estimated that methane emissions until 1800 were about 10 percent of the total for the past 2,000 years, with 90 percent since the Industrial Revolution.
Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas behind carbon dioxide, emitted by human burning of fossil fuels. Methane is generated from human sources including burning of forests and fossil fuels, rice paddies, livestock or landfills. Natural sources include wetlands, wildfires or mud volcanoes. The findings by Sapart's team questioned the view by a U.N. panel of climate scientists that man-made climate change started with the surge in use of fossil fuels during the Industrial Revolution. "The pre-industrial time was not a natural time for the climate - it was already influenced by human activity," she said. "When we do future climate predictions we have to think about what is natural and what did we add. We have to define what is really natural," she said.
The scientists, in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, the United States and France, noted a second rise in methane in Medieval times, coinciding with a warm period from 800 to 1200 that also saw Europe's economy emerge from the Dark Ages. That spike might be because population growth in Asia and Europe led to more deforestation for farming. Rates then fell, perhaps partly because factors such as the Black Death cut the population. Methane levels rose a third time around the start of a cool period known as the Little Ice Age in the 1500s, perhaps also reflecting strong population growth after the plague.
The scientists used variations in the chemical make-up of methane in the ice to try to distinguish background natural sources from man-made emissions. Ice cores from Greenland - made up of layers of compacted snow that give a year-by-year record - found concentrations of methane rose from about 600 parts per billion around 2,000 years ago to above 700 ppb by 1800. They are now at about 1,800 ppb.
Supernova Seen by Ancient Chinese Observers
The oldest recorded supernova was from A.D. 185: a "guest star" observed in ancient China for eight months before disappearing. In 2011 astronomers announced they had discovered they were witnessing a massive supernova 8,000 light-years away. New infrared observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have revealed how the first supernova ever recorded occurred and how its shattered remains ultimately spread out to great distances.
In October 2011, AFP reported: “The findings show that the stellar explosion took place in a hollowed-out cavity, allowing material expelled by the star to travel much faster and farther than it would have otherwise. The Spitzer Telescope doesn't just spot supernovae, but also planetary collisions
"This supernova remnant got really big, really fast," said Brian Williams, an astronomer at North Carolina State University and lead author of a new study detailing the telescope's findings online in the Astrophysical Journal."It's two to three times bigger than we would expect for a supernova that was witnessed exploding nearly 2,000 years ago. Now, we've been able to finally pinpoint the cause," he added.
In 185 A.D., Chinese astronomers noted a "guest star" that mysteriously appeared in the sky and stayed for about eight months. By the 1960s, scientists had determined that the mysterious object was the first documented supernova.Later, they pinpointed the object, known as RCW 86, as a supernova remnant located about 8,000 light-years away but remained puzzled at how the star's spherical remains were larger than expected. "With multiple observatories extending our senses in space, we can fully appreciate the remarkable physics behind this star's death throes, yet still be as in awe of the cosmos as the ancient astronomers," said Bill Danchi, Spitzer and WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Jade suit of Liu Sheng, 113 B.C.
End of the Han Dynasty
After four centuries the Han dynasty was on the verge of collapse. The Xiongnu people in the north created a tribal federation and weakened the Han empire with repeated raids. Corruption and competition destroyed the Han court from within.
In the A.D. 1st century the Xianbei replaced the Xiongnu as the dominate horseman group in Mongolia. They raided and intermingled with the Han Chinese in China. The origin of the Xianbei is not known. They are thought to a mix of Turkic and Iranian clans.
Towards the end of the A.D. 1st century, the Liu emperors repeatedly died young without male heirs. Figurehead power was passed on to child cousins while corrupt regents pulled the strings behind the scenes. Eunuchs became increasingly powerful and increasingly corrupt.
Confucian scholars and students staged demonstrations. Peasant uprisings spread “like a billowing sea” and threatened the capital. In A.D. 197, a general seized power, executed the eunuchs and placed a child Liu puppet, Liu Xie, on the throne. Warlords began battling one another. Luoyang was burned to the ground
In A.D. 220, the Han dynasty formally ended when Liu Xie abdicated and dynasty generals clashed with each other. China was divided into the Three Kingdoms and would not be unified again until three and half centuries later. But the Han Dynasty did not die completely; it lived on like Greece and Rome did in the legacy of its government, ideas and art.
Han Dynasty Archeology
T.R. Kidder, a geoarchaeologist at Washington University in St. Louis, is working with Chinese archeologists to excavate a 2,000-year-old, Han-era rural homestead in an peanut fields and peach trees in the northern part of China's Henan Province, near the village of Sanyangzhuang. Archaeologists working there have discovered an entire landscape sealed away by the of the Yellow River. Initially discovered by a construction team digging an irrigation ditch, the site may have been buried by a Yellow River flood in A.D. 11 that caused a famine and mass migration and help set off a series of rebellions that led to the ouster of Wang Mang in A.D. 25 and the downfall of the first phase of the Han Dynasty. [Source: Lauren Hilgers, Archaeology magazine, March/April 2011]
The homestead consists of compounds that have been dated to around 100 B.C. to A.D. 40 based on the type of roof tiles found on the dwellings (roof tiles are often key to dating Han era and other very old Chinese sites) . Each compound consists of a house, made of a series of covered rooms and courtyards surrounded by rammed-earth walls. One compound is surrounded by a moat; another by trees. Each is within about a half kilometer of the nearest compound. Roof tiles were carefully stacked outside one houses, ready to be used for repairs. Weights used for weaving rest under a loom.
The largest of the four compounds, excavated as of March 2011, covers an area of equal to that of a modern warehouse and embraces a house, a well, part of a field and a large depression thought to be a seasonal well. The house features a large entry courtyard and a smaller courtyard in the back. Large ceramic pots, perhaps used for storage, coins, bronze and stone tools and other pieces of pottery have been unearthed.
A corner roof tile of one dwelling is decorated with the characters for “long life,” indicating the occupants were probably relatively well off. Other signs of affluence include an indoor toilet, brick-covered floors (the norm was packed dirt), and roof tiles that are among the largest ever recorded in the Han Dynasty. The discovery of mulberry tree stumps and imprints of mulberry leaves offers evidence of silk production. Archeologist hope to uncover a bamboo book, in which wealthy families recorded their daily affairs.
One thing that is striking about the site is that compounds are relatively unprotected. They are relatively far apart and they appear to be far away from the safety of a well-defended fortress or walled city. This seems to imply that the people lived during a period of peace and security in which they could live outside a walled city and not worry too much about attackers or brigands. During the Warring States Period farmers lived inside walled cities and only went out to work their fields during the day.
The Sanyangzhuang site is amazingly well-preserved and rich in artifacts thanks to the nature of the Yellow River and the way it floods like a flowing mudslide. The Yellow River normally carries an enormous amount of silt and the amount increases when it floods. During a 1958 flood sediment levels were measured at 35 pounds per square foot, causing the river to be come so mud-like the surface “wrinkled.” When the floods occurred in the Han-ear they occurred suddenly enough so that people had to quickly evacuate, leaving many of their possessions behind, which have provided valuable artifacts to archeologists today. But at the same time the silt-rich flood waters moved in slowly enough so they didn’t topple the dwelling and the high volume of silt preserved the structures and artifacts entombed underneath it after the water drained away. If there was less silt or faster moving water the settlements would have been knocked down and washed away.
Image Sources: 1, 2) Bronze horse and Han founder, Brooklyn College; 3) Wu Di China Page website; 4) Han dynasty map, St Marin edu; 5) Han tomb, University of Washington; 6) Musicians, All Posters.com http://www.allposters.com/?lang=1 Search Chinese Art ; 7) Accupuntcure needle, University of Washington ; Others Nolls website, Wiki Commons, Wikipedia, Palace Museum tapei, CNTO
Text Sources: Main Source for the article: Mike Edwards, National Geographic, February 2004; Also New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated December 2012