Han Dynasty (202 B. C. — 220 A. D.) —
Golden Era of Legendary Civilians
29 Emperors — 407 Years
Restoration Map of the Palace of the Han Dynasty — Wei Yang Gong
Facts about the Han Dynasty
1 The major ethnic group in China, the Han People, is named after this dynasty.
Chinese Character is named after this empire too, the Han Zi.
2 Han Dynasty was divided into two periods, the Western Han (202 B. C. — 8 A. D.) and the Eastern Han (25 A. D. — 220 A. D.).
A regent named Wang Mang Snatched the throne and built a new dynasty named Xin in the middle (8 A. D. — 23 A. D.) of the Han Dynasty, and published a series of radical, controversial policies that made him looked like a time traveler.
3 The Han Dynasty was ended twice, both were because of the internal disorders that were initiated by the powerful clans of the queens.
Imperial Jade Seal of Queens of the Han Dynasty — Shaanxi History Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
4 The Han Dynasty had many civilian or slave born emperors, queens, generals and ministers. They gained everything through their extraordinary ability, not the family origin.
6 Taoism Religion was formed, Buddhism was imported to China, both in the Han Dynasty.
7 The largest city of the Han Dynasty was its capital city Chang An, which was three times bigger than the Contemporaneous ancient city of Rome.
8 The 12 Chinese Zodiac Animals were set and widely used in the Han Dynasty.
Unearthed Brocade Barcer of the Han Dynasty — Xinjiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
9 Smaller cities began to specialize in division of labor, such as handicraft center, commercial center, etc.
10 First specialized public school in the history of China was built to teach talented people.
11 Han Dynasty set a department in the government to manage prices and supplies of products in the market, which made a profit out of it.
12 In this era, professional historians were set to accurately record daily activities of the emperors, including whom they met, what they said, and with whom they had slept, etc.
Unearthed Potteries Reproducing People's Daily Lives of the Han Dynasty (Photo by Dongmaiying)
13 Women’s social status were quite high in the Han Dynasty; their rights kept decreasing, until to the lowest point in the Qing Dynasty.
In the Han Dynasty:
Women have the inheritance right to noble title and property;
Children could use their mother’s family name;
Women could divorce and remarry as they wish, commoner or royal;
Princesses could also have toy boys.
14 Many emperors of the Han Dynasty were believed bisexual, the most famous one was Emperor Liu Ao.
Unearthed Exquisite Accessories and Cosmetic of Women in the Han Dynasty (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Brief History of the Han Dynasty
Liu Bang the Founder of Empire Han and Era of Legendary Civilians
As a civilian born commoner, Liu Bang joined the uprising when he was already 47 years old.
However, 7 years later, Liu Bang and his troop overthrew the powerful Empire Qin, defeated other strong opponents, and built the Han Dynasty.
His legendary experience set a good precedent for capable people. After him, there were many civilian or slave originated queens, generals and ministers, who were talented and influential, and haven’t been suppressed by their origins.
Next three emperors were diligent and kind. They followed Emperor Liu Bang’s governance ideas, and further flourished the empire.
Seven feudal states allied together and initiated a big rebellion war, but was conquered by an excellent general.
Bronze Light that can Channel Smoke and Disposal Gas into the Water in the Belly of the Wild Goose — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Emperor Wudi and his Largely Expanded Empire Han
Then, Liu Che, one of the most accomplished monarchs in the history of China, the Emperor Wudi of Han, ascended to the throne.
He married to a slave born singer named Wei Zifu; nominated her brother, a slave born hostler, as general to defeat the Huns (Xiongnu). This general Wei Qing, together with his nephew Huo Qubing, successfully defeated the Huns and largely expanded the territory of the Han Empire.
In the meanwhile, the Silk Road was opened up by great explorer Zhang Qian.
Emperor Liu Che also took advice from philosopher Dong Zhongshu and made Confucianism the dominant ideology in Chinese history.
Jade Box — Museum of the Western Han Dynasty Mausoleum of the Nanyue King (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Ups and Downs of the Han Dynasty
But in the late years of Emperor Wudi, he initiated many invasive wars and trusted the wrong people.
His crown prince and queen encountered a big political conspiracy, and committed suicide after intense but a failed fight. His great grandson Liu Xun, who was still a baby boy, ended up in a prison because of this.
However, this boy Liu Xun, who was raised up in prison and then lived in the civilian’s world, turned out to be a great emperor. The Han Empire reached to the peak under his reign.
As a perfect monarch, Liu Xun left his prosperous kingdom to a less perfect heir. The next emperor Liu Shi, as a monarch, was very soft and weak, who then lost some power to the eunuch group.
Meanwhile, an even more ridiculous monarch, the Emperor Liu Ao, inherited the throne. He spent many of his adult lives having fun with his male lover, then the beautiful dancer queen Zhao Feiyan. Therefore, his mother’s clan, the House of Wang, obtained more and more power.
Bronze Artifact with Inlaying Gold and Silver that used to Press Sitting Mat — Hebei Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Snatching of the Throne by the Controversial Reformist Wang Mang
In the year 8 A. D., only a decade after the Emperor Liu Ao passed away in his favorite concubine’s bed, the regent Wang Mang, an excellent politician from the House of Wang, snatched the throne and established a new empire.
Emperor Wang Mang was widely suspected as a time traveller, because of those radical policies that he had implemented.
But his reform didn’t bring people wealthy and happy lives as he had promised; therefore, many uprising armies started to rebel.
Unearthed Clogs of the Han Dynasty — Chengdu Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Reestablishing and Flourishing of the Han Dynasty
Among many uprising armies, one of them was led by Liu Xiu, a descendant of the Emperor Liu Bang, a member of the royal family.
He successfully defeated other troops and reestablished the Han Dynasty in the year 25 A. D..
Emperor Liu Xiu basically inherited all of Han’s policies and systems, except few tiny adjustments. His new Han Empire experienced all sorts of developments and ups and downs, like other unified kingdoms.
It was not as epic or heroic as the former Han Dynasty in the history of China, however, a normal and steady era probably was the result of contribution of extraordinary people.
Unearthed Golden Belt Buckle of the Eastern Han Dynasty — Shouxian Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Seizing of Power by Eunuch Groups and the Queens' Clans
Decades later, Emperor Liu Zhao ascended to the throne when he was still a kid, which gave the current empress dowager and her clan the opportunity to obtain paramount of power.
When he was older, he gained the power back, with the assistance of the eunuch group. For the second time, he brought back and empowered the eunuch group, which was believed as a turning point of the Han Dynasty.
Emperor Liu Zhao also passed away young, and left the empire to a toddler heir and his talented queen Deng Sui.
Deng Sui was an extremely beautiful queen, also the last excellent female politician, who managed the empire well, while restrained the power of her clan.
After Empress Deng Sui passed away, in the next decades, strong clans of empress dowagers' and the eunuch group started to manipulate politic and kept fighting against each other to obtain more power.
Unearthed Embroidery of the Han Dynasty — Hunan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Fall and Disintegration of the Han Dynasty
What’s worse, Emperors Liu Zhi and Liu Hong even started to sell political positions and noble titles for money.
Because of those incapable emperors, intense struggles and corruption, the mergers and acquisitions of land became more and more severe, which caused the appearances of some powerful warlords that has large numbers of private forces.
When Emperor Liu Xie ascended to the throne as a 8 years old, he had been controlled by eunuchs and then powerful overlords. He tried his best to fight against those forces, but had never succeeded.
After his final counterattack failed, he was forced to abdicate the throne to the strongest warlord.
He then lived the rest of his life as a successful doctor, while his big empire, the Han Dynasty, was officially ended.
Unearthed Glass Bowl of the Han Dynasty — Nanyang Cultural Relic and Archeology Research Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Systems of the Han Dynasty
13 million — 65 million — 23 million (beginning — peak — ending)
Three Councillors and Nine Ministers System
The emperor has the most paramount power; officers who were in charge of military, administration and supervision (Three Councillors) directly answer to the emperor.
Other nine departments (Nine Ministers) that managed finance, judiciary, ceremony, security, etc, were independent from each other and only listen to the emperor.
Vassal states and counties co-existed in the beginning of the Han Dynasty. Decades later, Emperor Liu Che published a policy which gradually abrogated vassal states.
The counties whose governors were assigned, monitored and assessed by the central government replaced those half independent vassal states, and were directly controlled by the emperor.
Unearthed Lacquer Plate of the Han Dynasty — Hunan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Official Selection System:
Emperor and powerful minister could directly assign officers.
The governors of each county should recommend certain numbers (based on the numbers of the local population) of talented people to the central government. But they had to pass certain exams to get the positions.
Graduate students from the National Confucianism College would be assigned proper positions as well.
1/30 of farmland products; capitation taxes; one month labor each year (people between 21 to 56 years old).
Currency of the Han Dynasty "Wu Zhu Qian" — Shanghai Museum
Every man between 21 to 56 years old were required to serve in the army for two years; one year in their local province, one year in the capital city or the border.
Private Ownership of Land, in which civilians can own, cultivate and sell their farmland, while paying taxes to their country.