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China: The Han Dynasty

The Han Dynasty (汉朝) is recognized as the second Chinese Imperial Dynasty. It was preceded by the Qin Dynasty and followed by the War of the Three Kingdoms. The ethnic group of 95.1% of China, the Han (汉) people, are named after this dynasty. The Chinese language's script is called Hanzhi (汉字) and the verbal language is called Hanyu (汉语). The scripts used above were the simplified Chinese scripts. The traditional language refers to the dynasty as 漢 instead, so the verbal language would be called 漢語.

Four years after the death of China's first emperor, Qin First Emperor (Qin Shi Huangdi), the Qin dynasty's power had fragmented and disintegrated due to large scale rebellions against the harshness of Legalism, the primary political philosophy justifying the rule of the Qin dynasty.


Wang Mang declares the Xin Dynasty instead of the Han. After he dies in a siege, the Han dynasty is restored. However, the previous dynasty was known as the Western Han. After this, the emperors are part of the Eastern Han Dynasty.

The Eastern Han Dynasty ends after Emperor Xian is forced to abdicated by Cao Cao's son, Cao Pi, in the middle of the War of the Three Kingdoms. The successor Han government is the Shu Han, along with two rival administrations - the Cao Wei and Eastern Wu.


While Qin Shi Huang Di was still alive, he had forced large groups of peasants, criminals, and people he just didn't like in general to build large monuments. Enter Liu Bang, a very minor patrol officer in his hometown, Pei County, around modern day Xuzhou, Jiangsu.

Somewhere around the 200s or 210s BC, Liu was forced to escort a group of convicts to Mount Li so Qin Shi Huang Di's mausoleum could be constructed. Instead of forcing the convicts to go up to the mountain and likely die before they finished constructing the mausoleum, Liu released the group. After this incident, Liu and his followers became convicts and they fled to Mount Mangdang. In 208 BC, when revolts broke out against the Qin, Liu formed his army and named himself the Duke of Pei. He became one of the most important rebel leaders when he took over Pei County and the surrounding areas and was the first to take Guanzhong. When the Qin fell two years later in 206 BC, Xiang Yu, defacto head of the rebels, divided the former Qin Empire into eighteen kingdoms, becoming King of Western Chu and appointing 17 other rebel leaders as kings. Liu became the King of Han and was relocated to the area around present-day Sichuan.

However, Xiang Yu was jealous of Liu and tried many times to assassinate him. Eventually, he broke a promise to Liu and didn't give Liu Guanzhong. When Liu left Xianyang, Xiang's forces fell on the city and pillaged it. When a revolt broke out in the Qi Kingdom in late 206 BC and Xiangyu left Western Chu, Liu Bang invaded and conquered Guanzhong, while attacking the Chu capital Pengcheng (also present day Xuzhou, Jiangsu). For the next four years, Liu Bang contested the rule of Xiang until the Treaty of Hong Canal, which divided China into East (Chu) and West (Han) in 203. A few months later, Liu renounced the treaty and attacked Xiang Yu again. Xiang Yu lost in 202 at the Battle of Gaixia and committed suicide. The Chu state surrendered, and the Han unified much of China by then. Liu became commonly known as Emperor Gaozu, or Emperor Gao.

Emperor Gao disbanded his armies and granted freedom to those whom had sold themselves into slavery out of hunger. He lowered the land tax on agricultural yield. In his early days, he scorned Confucianism. However, he met the scholar Lu Jia, and he was deeply impressed. Confucian scholars were recruited into the government. It eventually replaced Legalism as the nation's ideology.

Liu Bang (210-188) was succeeded by Liu Ying, who became Emperor Hui. Hui was a weak-willed emperor dominated by his mother, Empress Dowager Lu, who forced him to marry Zhang Yan. He tried to prevent his younger half brother, Ruyi, from being murdered by Lu, but he failed. He became an alcoholic and spent his time around women. He died young.

Lu made the infants Liu Qianshao, adopted child of Empress Zhang, the new emperor of the Han dynasty. However, Qianshao discovered that he was not actually Zhang's child and his mother had been put to death. He remarked that Empress Zhang would pay for this. When Lu heard of this, Qianshao was imprisoned inside the palace. Lu announced that he was seriously ill and incapable of governing, and that he should be deposed. He was killed and deposed. Liu Hong then became Emperor Houshao. In the autumn of 180 BC, Lu died of a sickness, though the Lu clan continued to control the emperor, who was forced to marry Lu Lu. Chen Ping and Zhou Bo led government officials to slaughter the Lu clan. They replaced Houshao with his uncle, Prince Liu Heng of Dai. Later that year, Houshao was executed.

Emperor Wen, previously called Liu Heng, brought political stability necessary for prosperity. Under the influence of his wife, Empress Dou, he sought to reduce wasteful expenditures. Property tax rates 1/30 or 1/60. He was the emperor to introduce recruitment to the civil service through examinations.

Emperor Jing, personally called Liu Qi, limited the power of feudal kings and princes. This resulted in the Rebellion of the Seven States, and princes were not allowed to appoint their own ministers anymore. He limited governance.

Emperor Wu's reign (Liu Che or Liu Tong) lasted 54 years, a record unbroken until the Qing's Kangxi Emperor. Under Wu, China vastly expanded, its governmental shuffling developed a strong and centralized state, along with Confucian dominance. Under his reign, the Han was the biggest it ever was. Its borders stretched from Kyrgyzstan in the west, across to Korea in the east, and to northern Vietnam in the South. Meanwhile, he successfully repelled Xiongnu raids. He also adopted Confucianism as the state philosophy and code of ethics, beginning a school to teach future administrators. However, like the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian, this had taken all the money out of the treasury.

Emperor Zhao (Liu Fuling) and his regent, Huo Guang, lowered taxes and government spending. Zhao died without a son in 74 BC. Huo is surprising because he was a powerful official who brought emperors up and kicked them out - but he did it for the good of the empire, unlike most corrupt officials.

Huo Guang made Liu He, the Prince of Changyi, the new emperor. He became the Emperor Yuanping. After, Liu He began to promote his colleagues from Changyi and did not mourn for the dead Emperor. Huo deposed Liu He.

Liu Ju was the son of Emperor Wu who was crown prince who was framed for witchcraft and committed suicide with his child, Liu Jin. Liu Ju's grandson, Liu Bingyi was an infant and was spared but was forced to become a commoner. Huo Guang made Liu Bingyi the new emperor, and he became Emperor Xuan. He lowered taxes, liberalized the government, and brought up capable ministers. He was open to suggestions, was a good judge of character, and killed corrupt officials. However, Xuan executed everyone in Huo Guang's family because some were corrupt.

Emperor Yuan (Liu Shi) made Confucianism the official ideology of the Chinese government. However, Yuan could not stop the conflict between different factions of his officials while trusting corrupt officials. The empire worsened under his rule. He married Empress Wang, who was a gentle, benevolent, and overly doting woman who suffered greatly because she was dependent so much on her family.

Emperor Cheng (Liu Ao) continued the government's failure. The Wang family, which was already in control since the last emperor, expanded its control over the government.

Emperor Ai (Liu Xin) had taken away the unpopular Wangs. However, because he himself became unpopular (one of the reasons being that he executed his prime minister for criticizing him), the people preferred the Wangs. He had a homosexual lover, Dong Xian, and died childless.

After his death, Grand Empress Dowager Wang appointed Wang Mang to be the regent of Emperor Ping (Liu Kan), but he turned dictatorial. After his son. Wang Yu, plotted with Ping's maternal family against Wang Mang, Wang Mang killed almost everyone in the Wei family, his son, and many political enemies. Wang Mang is believed to have poisoned Emperor Ping, and he chose Emperor Ruzi to be the next emperor.

Ruzi Ying (Liu Ying) became the last emperor of the Western Han. Wang Mang, who had brought him to power, then deposed him and became the first and only emperor of the Xin Dynasty, which faced numerous peasant revolts. His dynasty was overthrown in 23 AD.

The Gengshi Emperor (Liu Xuan) was a weak and incompetent emperor who was strangled soon after his coronation by a group of peasant rebels called the Chimei.

Emperor Guangwu (Liu Xiu) managed to reunify China in 36 AD, with Luoyang as his capital. He implemented land reform and other reforms trying to correct problems that caused the downfall of the Western Han.

Emperor Ming (Liu Yang) was a hard working man who required integrity, meanwhile controlling the Tarim Basin. Buddhism begins to spread into China.

Emperor Zhang (Liu Da) was hardworking and diligent. He reduced taxes. reducing government spending. Both Zhang and his father, Ming, are highly praised. Their rule is the Rule of Ming and Zhang, considered the golden age of the Eastern Han.

Emperor He (Liu Zhao) stopped a growing conflict by removing the perpetrators - with the help of eunuchs. Eunuchs began to become involved in important matters, spurring on the destruction of the Han. He was kind and gentle. Under his reign. Cai Lun invented paper. He only had two living sons, but both died soon after him.

Empress Dowager Deng made Liu Long the new emperor, Emperor Shang. When Shang died in August/September 106, Deng continued to be the regent, making Liu Hu the new emperor, Emperor An. After Deng died in 121, Emperor An is believed to have forced her relatives to leave the government and commit suicide. He personally left matters to corrupt eunuchs, choosing to drink heavily and sleep with women.

Empress Dowager Yan chose Liu Yi to become the new emperor, Emperor Shao. He quickly became sick. As soon as he died, eunuchs made Liu Bao the new emperor, Emperor Shun, after overthrowing Yan's corrupt family. Shun was incompetent, but he was not autocratic. Rather, he was mild.

Emperor Shun (Liu Bing) was one year old. Empress Dowager Liang and her brother, Liang Ji, ruled the Han during his reign. The empress dowager seems honest and open-minded, but her brother was corrupt. He apparently was already ill when he was one, and Liu Zuan became the crown prince. When Shun died, Zuan became Emperor Zhi. However, he made the mistake of saying that Liang Ji was an arrogant general. Liang Ji poisoned him when he was eight.

Emperor Huan (Liu Zhi) was offended by Liang Ji's violence and killed the Liangs with eunuchs. However, eunuchs now controlled almost every part of the government. University students protested the government and called for the elimination of corruption in 166, but Huan arrested all the students.

Emperor Ling (Liu Hong) continued corruption in the government. He sold governmental offices in exchange for money, while corrupt officials increased taxes on peasants. He spent most of his time with women. Under his reign, the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out.

Though the Han Armies won, the local infrastructure was destroyed. Meanwhile, high government officials like He Jin and Yuan Shao struggled for power with the eunuchs. When He Jin was assassinated, Yuan Shao set the imperial palace on fire and killing the eunuchs. The warlord Dong Zhuo was able to capture the next emperors - the imperial brothers. Dong Zhuo killed Emperor Shao (Liu Bian, still a child), replacing him with Emperor Xian (Liu Xie). His control of the Emperor allowed him to seize and sack Luoyang, the capital.

Wang Yun, a government official, believed that Dong Zhuo was the problem. Dong Zhuo was tyrannical and cruel, executing on a whim. According to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (written in the Ming Dynasty, describing this period), Wang Yun adopted Diaochan and used her to seduce both Dong Zhuo and his adoptive son Lü Bu. Lü Bu grew jealous when he saw Dong Zhuo sleeping with Diaochan. Lü Bu killed Dong Zhuo, and in the book, Dong Zhuo was set on fire. Without a pardon, Dong Zhuo's army led a coup and defeated Lü Bu. Before Lü Bu fled, he asked Wang Yun to leave with him. Wang Yun refused to leave the Emperor Xian behind, and Dong Zhuo's army killed him.

Cao Cao, a small warlord, used Emperor Xian to issue edicts helping him. Eventually, at the battle of Red Cliffs, Cao Cao was defeated by Liu Bei and Sun Quan. The nation split into three general areas - Liu Bei led what would eventually become Shu Han, Sun Quan led what would become Eastern Wu, and Cao Cao led what would become Cao Wei. In 220, the Eastern Han dynasty was ended when Cao Pi, Cao Cao's son, declared that Emperor Xian was no longer the emperor. In response, Liu Bei declared himself to be the new emperor. Cao Pi declared himself the emperor of the Cao Wei dynasty. Sun Quan became the emperor of the Wu.

After Liu Bei's death, Shu Han fell to Liu Shan. Liu Shan was believed to be mentally incapable. Chancellor Zhuge Liang led the nation for most of his reign, though when Zhuge Liang died, the Shu Han fell into decline.

Cao Cao's grand son, Cao Rui, was worried about Sima Yi. Cao Shuang and Sima Yi became co-regents of Cao Rui's successor, Cao Fang, but Cao Shuang took away Sima Yi's power by granting him the title of Grand Tutor. Eventually, Sima Yi and his children rose to power. Sima Yi's son, Sima Zhao became the King of Jin. Sima Yi's grandson, Sima Yan, declared the Jin Dynasty. The Jin would go on to conquer Shu Han and then the Eastern Wu. China was finally reunified under the Jin Dynasty after generations of warfare.

After the Jin, many new dynasties followed. Among them were the Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, and Ming. Do you think you know them all? Nine out of ten people don't know these facts about China - do you think you know them? Take the quiz about China here!

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