HAN DYNASTY (206 B.C. - A.D. 220)

HAN DYNASTY (206 B.C. – A.D. 220)

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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. Although the Han Dynasty saw China reunited after a civil war, it actually consisted of many commanderies and semi-autonomous kingdoms. 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 native Han dynasty period has traditionally deemed China's imperial age. It noteworthy for long peaceable rule, expansionist policies, and great artistic achievement. The Han period saw the invention of paper and the introduction of Buddhism into China. China expanded westward, defeated Mongol-like tribes to the north and made contacts with Central Asia, the West, and even Rome. The Han Dynasty also saw the introduction of many of elements that would become primary features of Chinese society. Perhaps the most important of these was the Imperial Examination System, which recruited members of the civil service based on merit rather than ancestry and connections. This system remained in effect until the 20th century and influenced other countries in Asia.[Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007; Eleanor Stanford, Countries and Their Cultures, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

There is evidence the Han Dynasty and the Roman Empire were in contact and traded. The Roman historian Florus wrote of envoys between the “Seres” or Chinese and the Emperor Augustus (ruled 27 B.C. to A.D. 14). Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius sent a convoy to the then Chinese capital of Luoyang in A.D. 166. The Persian Empire also traded with China about this time.

Good Websites and Sources: Han Dynasty Wikipedia ; Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; 2) Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu

Han Dynasty Achievements

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Accupuntcure needles found in
the Tomb of Liu Sheng
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.

During the Han Dynasty the Silk Road was developed — not one road really, but several possible routes through the mountains that traders followed. Agriculture grew as people developed iron tools, made more use of oxen to pull plows, improved irrigation systems and practiced crop rotation. The expansion of trade and the increase in agricultural crops led to the growth of new urban centers where people of all classes could purchase goods. Education became more important and the emperor of the time (141-86 B.C.) established Confucianism as.the basis for correct official and individual conduct. Intellectual activities, literature, and art flourished during the Han Dynasty, which was also known for its military might. The invention of paper took place during this time, [Source: Fowler Museum at UCLA]

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The ultimate success of the Han lay in the patience of its rulers. The Han was, as a species of rule, not very different from the Qin. But its early rulers, in some cases consciously, in others not, allowed the complex processes of intellectual adaptation to run their course while the dynasty grafted naturally to China over time. By the time that the last era we will examine, the reign of Wu-di (140-87 B.C.), had taken full shape, those who championed the Classical hopes for the future could no longer see how that vision differed from the real shape of the Han present. The present seemed good enough – about what the sages had hoped for. The revolutionary hopes of the Classical era had been tamed, and despite a persistent awareness of some disparity between the Classical vision and the imperial reality, over the following two thousand years few understood the depth of that disparity, and even fewer were willing to risk the comfortable benefits of bureaucratic autocracy in order to pursue the utopian ideals of the Classical age. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Han Dynasty Rulers and Why the Han Dynasty Is Divided in Two

Emperor Wu Di

According to the Columbia Encyclopedia: The Han emperors ruled for 400 years with one interruption; in A.D. 8 an agrarian reformer usurped the throne and established the Hsin dynasty. This short-lived dynasty has come to mark the division between the Early, or Western, Han period and the Later, or Eastern, Han period, which began B.C. 25, when the Han capital was moved east to Luoyang. The entire Han era was one of political and cultural centralization and expansion. The dynasty collapsed A.D. and was followed by some 350 years of smaller political units, including the Three Kingdoms and the Jin dynasty. China was eventually reunited under the Sui dynasty. |[Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed]

Dr. Eno wrote: “The Han Dynasty is usually viewed as having extended from 206 (or 202) B.C. until A.D. 220, with an interregnum during the period A.D. 9 - 23. Over those intervening years, China was ruled by a man named Wang Mang who, as a powerful minister in during a period of weak child emperors, dethroned the line of the Lius and established his own dynasty, the Xin. Wang Mang was in turn overthrown by relatives of the imperial branch of the Liu clan, who chose to establish their legitimacy by claiming to be restoring the Han Dynasty, rather than founding a new one. Thus, the Han Dynasty is a very long dynasty divided in two: the Former Han (206 B.C. - A.D. 8) and the Latter Han (A.D. 25 - 220). (These periods are also called the Western Han and the Eastern Han, because the capital shifted from Chang’an to Luoyang: almost identical to the shift that marked the Western and Eastern Zhou periods.)” [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

Western (Former) Han (206 B.C.– B.C. A.D. 9) Rulers: Gaodi (Lui Bang, 206–195 B.C., Gao-di – Founding Emperor — is Liu Bang’s official posthumous title. Texts more commonly refer to him as Gaozu — Founding Ancestor); Huidi (195–188 B.C.); (Lu Hou) (Empress Lü, Regent 188–180 B.C.); Wendi (180–157 B.C.); Jingdi (157–141 B.C.); Wudi (141–87 B.C.); Zhaodi (87–74 B.C.); Xuandi (74–49 B.C.); Yuandi (49–33 B.C.); Chengdi (33–7 B.C.); Aidi (7–1 B.C.); Pingdi (1 B.C.– A.D. 6); Ruzi (A.D. 7–9); Wang Mang (A.D. 9–23). [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

Eastern (Later) Han (A.D. 25–220) Rulers: ; Guang Wudi (A.D. 25–57); Mingdi (A.D. 57–75); Zhangdi (A.D. 75–88); Hedi (A.D. 88–106); Shangdi (A.D. 106); Andi (A.D. 106–125); Shundi (A.D. 125–144); Chongdi (A.D. 144–145); Zhidi (A.D. 145–146); Huandi (A.D. 146–168); Lingdi (A.D. 168–189); Xiandi (A.D. 189–220).

“Di” stands for emperor in imperial titles; Han emperors are usually referred to by a posthumous name honoring some quality associated with their reign plus the term "di" . The Empress Lü, who controlled the state during the reigns of two infant emperors, is generally listed as a ruler, though she did not appropriate the title “emperor,” as did the Empress Wu, who reigned during the Tang Dynasty, about a thousand years later. /+/

History of the Han Dynasty

Han During the Warring States Period

The Han dynasty ruled China after the Qin dynasty that preceded it was overthrown in 207 B.C. The civil wars that ended the Qin Dynasty after the death of its founder Emperor Qin Shi Huang and gave rise to the Han began with the revolt of Chen She in 209 B.C. The Han ruling house dated its accession from 206 B.C., the year succeeding the Qin abdication. However, Liu Bang, the first Han rulers, did not actually claim the throne and stage a coronation until 202 B.C. Liu Bang (Liu Pang, Liu Chi)was initially given title over the relatively undesirable territories to the south of the state of Qin, the Han River valley, called Han. The Han Dynasty took its name from this region, and Liu Bang’s title to the throne of Han was viewed as the beginning of the dynasty.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “After the civil war that followed the death of Qin Shihuangdi in 210 B.C., China was reunited under the rule of the Han dynasty, which is divided into two major periods: the Western or Former Han (206 B.C."9 A.D.) and the Eastern or Later Han (25–220 A.D.). The boundaries established by the Qin and maintained by the Han have more or less defined the nation of China up to the present day. The Western Han capital, Chang'an in present-day Shaanxi Province—a monumental urban center laid out on a north-south axis with palaces, residential wards, and two bustling market areas—was one of the two largest cities in the ancient world (Rome was the other).

Poetry, literature, and philosophy flourished during the reign of Emperor Wudi (141–86 B.C.). The monumental Shiji (Historical Records) written by Sima Qian (145–80 B.C.) set the standard for later government-sponsored histories. Among many other things, it recorded information about the various peoples, invariably described as "barbarian," who lived on the empire's borders. Wudi also established Confucianism as the basis for correct official and individual conduct and for the educational curriculum. The reliance of the bureaucracy on members of a highly educated class grounded in Confucian writings and other classics defined China's statecraft for many centuries. \^/

“Under Wudi, China regained control of territories, first conquered by Qin Shihuangdi, in southern China and the northern part of Vietnam. New commanderies were established in Korea, and contacts were made with the western regions of Central Asia. The conquest of Fergana and neighboring regions in 101 B.C., which allowed the Han to seize a large number of the "heavenly" long-legged horses valued for cavalry maneuvers, also gave China control of the trade routes running north and south of the Taklamakan Desert. In return for its silk and gold, China received wine, spices, woolen fabrics, grapes, pomegranates, sesame, broad beans, and alfafa. \^/

“Disputes among factions, including the families of imperial consorts, contributed to the dissolution of the Western Han empire. A generation later, China flourished again under the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 A.D.), which ruled from Luoyang, a new capital farther east in present-day Henan Province. Organized around a north-south axis and covering an area of approximately four square miles, the city was dominated by two enormous palace complexes, each 125 acres and linked by a covered pathway. Ban Chao (32–102 A.D.), a member of an illustrious literary family, reasserted Chinese control of Central Asia from 73 to 94 A.D. Trade, less rigorously controlled than in the first part of the dynasty, expanded, with caravans reaching Luoyang every month.

Liu Bang and Founding of the Han Dynasty

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Han Founder Liu Bang
In 206 B.C. Liu Bang assumed the title of Emperor and gave his dynasty the name of the Han Dynasty. After his death he was given as emperor the name of Gaozu (Kao Tsu). According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Han dynasty was founded by Liu Bang, a commoner who became known as Emperor Kao-tsu. Taking up arms, he rose as leader and eventually ruled the land, unifying all of China. Settling in the area of Ch'ang-an, his capital was located in China's interior. A wise ruler, he rewarded those who had assisted him with rank and title, thereby retaining central authority. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/]

Dr. Eno wrote: “The emergence of the Han Dynasty represents the full confluence of two seemingly contradictory trends that had been increasingly paired... meritocracy and autocracy. The First Emperor, through his conscious exaltation of his throne and his thorough rejection of Zhou feudalism and hereditary privilege, had created the conditions for the institutionalization of these forces. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

During the Qin Dynasty Liu Bang “served as a petty official in a peripheral region of China. He succeeded to the imperial throne only by prevailing in a civil war that lasted for over four years after the surrender of Ziying, the last ruler of the Qin. His principal opponent during that period was a man named Xiang Yu, who represented everything that Liu Bang was not. Xiang Yu was of patrician stock, a scion of the house of Chu, and the model of a Zhou-style warrior: brave, skillful, elegant, and bloodthirsty. Xiang Yu began as the leader of the very forces that brought Liu Bang to power, and was, for a time, acknowledged by all, including Liu, to be the founder of the successor dynasty to the Qin. Yet he was destroyed by the supporters of a subordinate from the peasant class. Liu Bang ascended the throne in 202 B.C., less than twenty years after the end of the Warring States period. How confounding it must have been to the elder generation to see a peasant occupying the seat of power! The Han ruling house dated its accession from 206 B.C., the year succeeding the Qin abdication. However, Liu Bang did not actually claim the throne and stage a coronation until 202 B.C.” /+/

China Under Han Dynasty Rule

The Han Dynasty came to power in 207 B.C.. Taoist ideals including equal land distribution and equal rights led to the Yellow Turban Rebellion of peasant insurgents. Han Dynasty power was seized by local governors and warlords. By the end of the dynasty the emperor had little real power. The city of Chang'an served as the Han capital from 220 B.C. to A.D. 11, and rivaled Rome in both size and grandeur. The remains of this site, including a mint, miles of mud-and-brick city walls studded with gates, several imperial palaces, and a variety of other official buildings and residences, lie at the edges of Xi'an's modern sprawl.

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. *

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. *

Han Dynasty map

Restoration and Control of Patrician States During the Han Dynasty

Dr. Eno wrote: “During the course of the civil wars, most of the major participants anticipated that any new political arrangement which emerged from the chaos would resemble the multi-state polity of the pre-Qin period. The leaders of the largest armies frequently laid claims to the royal throne of whatever region their troops had come to occupy. At some periods of the wars, it appeared that the outcome might resemble the Warring States arrangement of strong independent states with a figurehead emperor; at other periods, it seemed more likely that the outcome would resemble the Western Zhou, with a strong emperor commanding the fealty of patrician lords who were supreme within their own domains. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“When Liu Bang became emperor, he needed to decide whether to restore the system of “Zhou feudalism,” which under Li Si’s stewardship had been thoroughly abolished, or to continue the Qin revolution and confirm the bureaucratic structure of the Chinese state. His decision was a compromise between two extremes. He gave imperial endorsement to those royal titles which his rebel confederates had already appropriated, thus ceding to ten “feudal” lords about sixty percent of the total empire, comprising its eastern half. These regions would not be under the emperor’s direct control, but would be under the control of the various victorious generals of the anti-Xiang Yu forces. The western portion of the empire remained under the emperor’s direct control, organized in the system of commanderies and counties. /+/

“This compromise was quickly adjusted much in the emperor’s favor. The rebel generals who comprised the new royalty were for the most part volatile men from the lower classes, well seasoned as leaders of troops, but unskilled in administration and diplomacy. They, like Liu Bang, were little more than warlords with private armies, and they were well aware of the fact that the new emperor was likely to look upon them as threats to his unstable throne. Thus, during the first half-decade of the Han, first one then another of these kings instigated or was driven to a preemptive revolt against the forces of the emperor. Once again, Liu Bang’s cadre of skilled advisors and military personnel served him with great skill, and one by one, the kings were cut down. By 196, just six years after the Han empire and its royal kingdoms had been settled, only one of the initial set of kings remained on his throne. In the other nine states, a son or brother of Liu Bang had been established as hereditary king. When Liu Bang died in 195, his family was in firm control of China.”/+/

Expansion and Foreign Pressures During the Han Dynasty

According to the Columbia Encyclopedia: The dynasty attained its greatest territorial expanse under the emperor Wu Ti (reigned 140- 87 BC), who extended Han power west to Xinjiang and Central Asia, north to Manchuria and Korea, and south to Yunnan, Hainan island, and Vietnam. The coming of Buddhism increased cultural ties with India and parts of the Middle East. Trade with border states was increased to pacify these regions and to gain their allegiance.

Dr. Eno wrote: “At the time of the Qin collapse, the Xiongnu confederacy in the north had appreciated the opportunity provided by political dissolution in China. Their military pressure on the north increased throughout the period, and the Xiongnu were strengthened by the defection of one of the early Han regional kings, who abandoned his throne by taking his forces north. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“During the first years of the Han, Gao-di’s policy towards the Xiongnu was antagonistic. He sent off several campaigns against them, and even took the field against the Xiongnu himself in 201 B.C. (barely escaping capture in a rout). Subsequently, he settled on a policy of accommodation. A Han princess was sent as bride to the leader of the Xiongnu confederacy, and scheduled exchanges of tributary presents were arranged, which really amounted to a symbolic submission of the Han to the Xiongnu in exchange for being left in peace. The policy was a remarkable expression of pragmatic diplomacy. It would be scarcely credible to suggest that the First Emperor of the Qin would ever have considered the possibility of appeasing a non-Chinese enemy in such a way.” During the years of the Empress Lu’s reign, “there was renewed trouble in the northwest, where the Xiongnu once again began to raid territories settled by Chinese farmers, in some cases carrying off large numbers of Chinese as prisoners. /+/

Han-era Great Wall sections

“In the south, a kingdom that had been established decades earlier by Chinese refugees from the Qin created a significant disturbance. This polity, which was centered near the South China Sea, near the present city of Canton, was composed of non-Chinese tribes under the leadership of Chinese rulers. It was known as Southern Yue. During the reign of Gao-di, emissaries from the Han had negotiated treaties of peace with Southern Yue. Now, however, angered by an economic blockade that the Han had established, the aged ruler of this state appropriated the title of emperor and invaded the regions under Han control south of the Yangzi River. /+/

“Wen-di (ruled 179 - 157 B.C.) inherited unstable situations on both his northern and southern borders. In the north and west, the Xiongnu confederation continued to threaten the border farming areas; in the south, the kingdom of Southern Yue still controlled Han lands and claimed imperial sovereignty. During his reign, Wen-di made great progress on both fronts. /+/

“In the extreme south, around the present-day Guangzhou (Canton), another independent empire had been formed in the years of transition, under the leadership of a Chinese. The narrow basis of this realm was no doubt provided by the trading colonies, but the indigenous population of Yue tribes were unable to unite and present much of a threat to China. Gaozu sent a diplomatic mission to the ruler of this state, and invited him to place himself under Chinese suzerainty (196 B.C.). The ruler realized that he could offer no serious resistance, while the existing circumstances guaranteed him virtual independence and he yielded to Gaozu without a struggle.

Dr. Eno wrote: “The Southern Yue situation was the simpler. Wen-di decided to take a conciliatory stance. Recognizing that the diplomacy of his father had succeeded where the economic blockade imposed by Empress Lü had failed, Wen-di sent to Southern Yue the very same emissary that his father had sent years earlier, a famous scholar. The result was an instant and positive response from the Southern Yue ruler, who declared himself a loyal subject of the Han, immediately ending all conflict on the southern front and effectively extending the political influence of Han to the South China Sea. /+/

“The Xiongnu were more troublesome. Again, Wen-di revived Liu Bang’s policies by negotiating treaties and sending gifts to the Xiongnu chieftains. This was done several times during Wen-di’s reign, but the peace brought by such treaties was short-lived in each case, and in 166, Xiongnu cavalry rode to within a hundred miles of Chang’an, although they withdrew without engaging Chinese forces. In the end, Wen-di ordered the construction of system of garrisoned outposts in the west, and these seem to have settled the issue of the Xiongnu for the next decade or two.” /+/

Silk Road and the Han Dynasty

The Silk Road from China to the West was initially formulated during the reign of Emperor Wu (141–87 B.C.) during the Han Dynasty. There is evidence the Han Dynasty and the Roman Empire were in contact and traded. The Roman historian Florus wrote of envoys between the “Seres” or Chinese and the Emperor Augustus (ruled 27 B.C. to A.D. 14). Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius sent a convoy to the then Chinese capital of Luoyang in A.D. 166. The Persian Empire also traded with China about this time.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Under Wudi, China regained control of territories, first conquered by Qin Shihuangdi, in southern China and the northern part of Vietnam. New commanderies were established in Korea, and contacts were made with the western regions of Central Asia. The conquest of Fergana and neighboring regions in 101 B.C., which allowed the Han to seize a large number of the "heavenly" long-legged horses valued for cavalry maneuvers, also gave China control of the trade routes running north and south of the Taklamakan Desert. In return for its silk and gold, China received wine, spices, woolen fabrics, grapes, pomegranates, sesame, broad beans, and alfafa. “There was also an expansion of diplomacy: fifty envoys from Central Asia were recorded in 94 A.D., and Japanese envoys visited in 57 and 107 A.D. Jugglers from West Asia arrived in 122 A.D., and the reported arrival of an emissary from Andun (the emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus) bringing ivory, rhinoceros horn, and tortoiseshell suggests a direct link to Rome in 166 A.D. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org\^/]

Richard Kurin, a cultural anthropologist at the Smithsonian institution, wrote: “Under the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.), silk became a great trade item, used for royal gifts and tribute. It also became a generalized medium of exchange, like gold or money. Chinese farmers paid their taxes in silk. Civil servants received their salary in silk. In 198 B.C.E., the Han dynasty concluded a treaty with a Central Asian people, the Xiongnu. The emperor agreed to give his daughter to the Xiongnu ruler and pay an annual gift in gold and silk. By the 1st century B.C.E. silk reached Rome, initiating the first "Silk Road." Pliny, writing about silk, thought it was made from the down of trees in Seres. It was very popular among the Romans. People wore rare strips of silk on their clothing and sought more; they spent increasing amounts of gold and silver, leading to a shortage in precious metals.[Source: Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian institution festival.si.edu/2002/the-silk-road |*|]

“Coinciding with the development of ruling elites and the beginnings of empire, silk was associated with wealth and power — Julius Caesar entered Rome in triumph under silk canopies. Over the next three centuries, silk imports increased, especially with the Pax Romana of the early emperors, which opened up trade routes in Asia Minor and the Middle East. As silk came westward, newly invented blown glass, asbestos, amber, and red coral moved eastward. Despite some warnings about the silk trade's deleterious consequences, it became a medium of exchange and tribute, and when in 408 C.E. Alaric the Visigoth besieged Rome, he demanded and received as ransom 5,000 pounds of gold and 4,000 tunics of silk.” |*|


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.

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Flood-induced course changes on the Yellow River

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.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “At the end of the Han dynasty in the A.D. 3rd century China split into three independent kingdoms. Political instability in the north caused a large migration of Chinese people to the Yangtze River basin. This caused the people living in this area to move to the relatively wild and uncharted south, where various tribal peoples were already living. This started a process of colonization of indigenous lands by the Han Chinese that continues to this day. Some indigenous peoples mixed with the recently-arrived Chinese, assimilating into the Han Chinese masses. Others, such as the Yao, maintained their independence. However, they were forced to abandon their most fertile lands, and migrate further south and into the mountains to agriculturally less productive areas. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org\^/]

Han Dynasty Archeology

Han-Era Tomb painting

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.

Mausoleum of a 2,100-Year-Old Chinese King

In 2014, archaeologists in China announced they had discovered a mausoleum, dating back over 2,100 years, that contains three main tombs, including the tomb of Liu Fei the ruler of the Jiangdu kingdom in China in Xuyi County in Jiangsu, China. Owen Jarus wrote the Live Science website: “Liu Fei died in 128 B.C. during the 26th year of his rule over a kingdom named Jiangdu, which was part of the Chinese empire. Although the mausoleum had been plundered, archaeologists found that it still contained more than 10,000 artifacts, including treasures made of gold, silver, bronze, jade and lacquer. They also found several life-size chariot and dozens of smaller chariots. [Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science, August 4, 2014]

“Excavated between 2009 and 2011, the mausoleum contains "three main tombs, 11 attendant tombs, two chariot-and-horse pits, two weaponry pits" and the remains of an enclosure wall that originally encompassed the complex, a team of Nanjing Museum archaeologists said in an article recently published in the journal Chinese Archaeology.... The journal article was originally published, in Chinese, in the journal Kaogu, by archaeologists Li Zebin, Chen Gang and Sheng Zhihan. It was translated into English by Lai Guolong and published in the most recent edition of the journal Chinese Archaeology.

The wall was originally about 1,608 feet (490 meters) long on each side. A large earthen mound — extending more than 492 feet (150 meters) — once covered the king's tomb, the archaeologists say. The tomb has two long shafts leading to a burial chamber that measured about 115 feet (35 m) long by 85 feet (26 m) wide. When archaeologists entered the burial chamber they found that Liu Fei was provided with a vast assortment of goods for the afterlife. Such goods would have been fitting for such a "luxurious" ruler. "Liu Fei admired daring and physical prowess. He built palaces and observation towers and invited to his court all the local heroes and strong men from everywhere around," wrote ancient historian Sima Qian (145-86 B.C.), as translated by Burton Watson. "His way of life was marked by extreme arrogance and luxury."

“During the second century B.C. China was one of the largest, and wealthiest, empires on Earth, however, the power of its emperor was not absolute. During this time a number of kings co-existed under the control of the emperor. These kings could amass great wealth and, at times, they rebelled against the emperor. About seven years after Liu Fei's death, the Chinese emperor seized control of Jiangdu Kingdom, because Liu Jian, who was Liu Fei's son and successor, allegedly plotted against the emperor.Ancient writers tried to justify the emperor's actions, claiming that, in addition to rebellion, Liu Jian had committed numerous other crimes and engaged in bizarre behavior that included having a sexual orgy with 10 women in a tent above his father's tomb.”

Artifacts in the 2,100-Year-Old Chinese King’s Mausoleum

Han-era Tomb brick

Owen Jarus wrote the Live Science website: Liu Fei’s “burial chamber is divided into a series of corridors and small chambers. The chamber contained numerous weapons, including iron swords, spearheads, crossbow triggers, halberds (a two-handled pole weapon), knives and more than 20 chariot models (not life-size). The archaeologists also found musical instruments, including chime bells, zither bridges (the zither is a stringed instrument) and jade tuning pegs decorated with a dragon design. Liu Fei's financial needs were not neglected, as the archaeologists also found an ancient "treasury" holding more than 100,000 banliang coins, which contain a square hole in the center and were created by the first emperor of China after the country was unified. After the first emperor died in 210 B.C., banliang coins eventually fell out of use. [Source: Owen Jarus, Live Science, August 4, 2014 ]

“In another section of the burial chamber archaeologists found "utilities such as goose-shaped lamps, five-branched lamps, deer-shaped lamps, lamps with a chimney or with a saucer …." They also found a silver basin containing the inscription of "the office of the Jiangdu Kingdom." The king was also provided with a kitchen and food for the afterlife. Archaeologists found an area in the burial chamber containing bronze cauldrons, tripods, steamers, wine vessels, cups and pitchers. They also found seashells, animal bones and fruit seeds. Several clay inscriptions found held the seal of the "culinary officer of the Jiangdu Kingdom."

“Sadly, the king's coffins had been damaged and the body itself was gone. "Near the coffins many jade pieces and fragments, originally parts of the jade burial suit, were discovered. These pieces also indicate that the inner coffin, originally lacquered and inlaid with jade plaques, was exquisitely manufactured," the team writes. A second tomb, which archaeologists call "M2," was found adjacent to the king's tomb. Although archaeologists don't know who was buried there it would have been someone of high status. "Although it was looted, archaeologists still discovered pottery vessels, lacquer wares, bronzes, gold and silver objects, and jades, about 200 sets altogether," the team writes. "The 'jade coffin' from M2 is the most significant discovery. Although the central chamber was looted, the structure of the jade coffin is still intact, which is the only undamaged jade coffin discovered in the history of Chinese archaeology," writes the team.

“In addition to the chariot models and weapons found in the king's tomb, the mausoleum also contains two chariot-and-horse pits and two weapons pits holding swords, halberds, crossbow triggers and shields. In one chariot-and-horse pit the archaeologists found five life-size chariots, placed east to west. "The lacquer and wooden parts of the chariots were all exquisitely decorated and well preserved," the team writes. Four of the chariots had bronze parts gilded with gold, while one chariot had bronze parts inlaid with gold and silver. The second chariot pit contained about 50 model chariots. "Since a large quantity of iron ji (Chinese halberds) and iron swords were found, these were likely models of battle chariots," the team writes.

“A series of 11 attendant tombs were found to the north of the king's tomb. By the second century B.C. human sacrifice had fallen out of use in China so the people buried in them probably were not killed when the king died. Again, the archaeologists found rich burial goods. One tomb contained two gold belt hooks, one in the shape of a wild goose and the other a rabbit. Another tomb contained artifacts engraved with the surname "Nao." Ancient records indicate that Liu Fei had a consort named "Lady Nao," whose beauty was so great that she would go on to be a consort for his son Liu Jian and then for another king named Liu Pengzu. Tomb inscriptions suggest the person buried in the tomb was related to her, the team says.”

Roman Empire, Persian and Han Empire

Image Sources: 1, 2) Bronze horse and Han founder, Brooklyn College; Han dynasty map, St Marin edu; Accupuntcure needle, University of Washington ;Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated August 2021

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