The Han Dynasty

The Han Dynasty governed China from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D. and was China’s second imperial dynasty. Though marred by bloody court intrigues, the Han Dynasty was also renowned for establishing Confucianism as the national religion and opening the Silk Road trade route to Europe, therefore irreversibly changing the path of Chinese history. Paper and other Han Dynasty innovations continue to affect the globe today.

Emperor Gaozu and the Beginning of the Han Dynasty

In 202 B.C., following a great insurrection in the Qin Empire in 210 B.C. and a brief reign by warlord Xiang Yu, Liu Bang gained control of the Han Dynasty.

He adopted the name Emperor Gaozu and founded the Han capital of Chang’an near the Wei River in one of the few surviving Qin Dynasty palaces. The time during which Chang’an functioned as the imperial capital is known as the Western Han, and it lasted until around 23 A.D.

Before his death in 195 B.C., Gaozu deliberately replaced a number of the kings with members of his own Liu family, even though he had promptly acknowledged several kingdoms in Ancient China. The intention was to prevent rebellions, but the Liu family rulers frequently put the empire’s strength to the test to pursue their aspirations.

Empress Lu Zhi

After Gaozu’s death, Empress Lu Zhi attempted to seize power by killing some of Gaozu’s sons. Lady Qi, Lu Zhi’s mother and Gaozu’s favorite mistress, was maimed and murdered by Lu Zhi before being thrown into a lavatory and displayed to guests.

Emperor Wan, the son of Gaozu, massacred Lu Zhi’s family and ascended to the throne after fifteen years of power struggles.

Confucian Revival

During the early years of Emperor Wu’s reign, Confucianism became popular among the Han nobility around 135 B.C. Confucianism survived in China due to the efforts of intellectuals such as Fu Sheng, who preserved Confucian literature throughout the Qin Dynasty and beyond.

Numerous Confucian manuscripts were taken by the Qin Dynasty and subsequently irretrievably lost when the imperial library was destroyed in 210 B.C. during a civil war.

Fu Sheng had preserved The Book of Documents, and the Han Dynasty made a determined attempt to collect the remaining Confucian texts. Some were in the custody of rulers, while others were discovered within Confucius’ residence.

Five works titled the Book of Changes, the Book of Documents, the Book of Odes, the Book of Rites, and the Spring and Autumn Annals were translated into the modern script and taught at the imperial university in 136 B.C. as part of a program to teach the Five Classics of Confucianism. By the second century A.D., thirty thousand students were studying Confucianism at the institution.

Silk Road

In 138 B.C., Emperor Wu dispatched a man named Zhang Qian to make contact with tribes in the west. Zhang Qian escaped and headed west after the Xiognu tribe kidnaped him and his company. He arrived in Afghanistan, a region known as Bactria ruled by the Greeks.

Zhang Qian observed bamboo and Chinese fabrics in Bactria and inquired how they arrived there. He was informed that the artifacts were from the Afghan kingdom of Shendu.

Zhang Qian returned to the Emperor thirteen years after he had departed, informed him of what he had witnessed, and plotted a path to send an expedition back there. The map and its path were increasingly utilized, eventually becoming the worldwide commerce route known as the Silk Road.

Han Dynasty Art

Most Han Dynasty art information is derived from the tombs of imperial families, and Jiaxiang’s Wu Family site is among the most renowned. The tomb contains two underground rooms under four shrines and 70 carved stones and painted ceilings and walls that portray historical people.

The site includes over 3,000 Han Dynasty artifacts of metal, bronze, gold, jade, silk, and ceramics. Two outfits containing 2,000 pieces of jade were found in the tomb.

Numerous graves from the Han Dynasty include clay models of dwellings of differing degrees of intricacy.

The tombs are thought to have preserved their contents since their exteriors were unadorned and marked by a massive mound of soil.

Wang Mang and the Emergence of the New Dynasty

The Western Han ended in 9 A.D. when government official Wang Mang seized the throne and attempted to consolidate the empire by taking advantage of long-term internal chaos. The power of the last several emperors was constantly handed to their maternal uncles, who assumed the role of commander-in-chief.

Wang Mang seized power in this manner but defied convention by proclaiming the “New Dynasty.”

Wang Mang divided the lands of the aristocracy and gave them to the peasants. Massive floods irritated the peasant class, and by 23 A.D., their fury took the form of the Red Eyebrows rebels.

The subsequent insurrection led to the devastation of Chang’an and the execution of Wang Mang.

Liu Xiu, a descendant of Gaozu, seized the opportunity and seized authority, creating new capital in Luoyang and the Eastern Han dynasty.

Oriental Han Palace Wars

After Emperor Zhang died in 88 A.D., boys controlled the Han Empire almost entirely in their early teens. This situation paved the way for court intrigue and directly contributed to its downfall.

During the early years of the emperor’s reign, the authority was held by his mother, who relied on her own family to maintain control.

Young emperors were sequestered with eunuchs, who eventually became their closest associates and often conspirators. This dynamic resulted in several cases of eunuchs murdering families to aid the emperor in maintaining his authority.

Development of Paper

China created paper during the Han Dynasty. One palace eunuch, Cai Lun, is credited with the invention of paper around 105 A.D.

Cai Lun crushed bamboo, hemp, rags, fishing nets, and mulberry tree bark into a pulp, mixed it with water, and distributed it in a level layer. It is supposed that the usage of paper swiftly expanded across the empire.

Inventiveness in Writing

Approximately during the same time, Xu Shen wrote the first Chinese dictionary, which contained characters from the Han, Zhou, and Shang dynasties. This lexicon remained an indispensable resource for reading ancient inscriptions well into the 20th century.

During the same time period, there was a rise in the number of historians. “The Grand Scribe’s Records” was Sima Qian’s ambitious first history of China through the dynasties. Current historians still regard this 130-chapter book as a primary source.

Han Dynasty Ends

The Han Dynasty’s penchant for court intrigue was ultimately it’s undoing. In 189 A.D., a brief conflict broke out in the palace between the family of Empress Dowager and the eunuch friends of the young emperor.

The Yellow Turbans, a religious sect, had also attempted to provoke a civil war and establish their monarchy.

As the situation deteriorated, the military took control in a battle that lasted until 220 A.D., when the last Han emperor was dethroned, and the dynasty ended.

Following the Han Dynasty, the Six Dynasties Period (220–589) brought a boom in Daoism and Buddhism that would revolutionize China.

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