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Han Dynasty

History of China
The Three August Ones and the Five Emperors
Xia Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
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Han Dynasty
Three Kingdoms
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Sixteen Kingdoms
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Song Dynasty
Liao Dynasty
Western Xia
Jin Dynasty
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Republic of China
People's Republic of China (1, 2, 3, 4)

The Han Dynasty (Traditional Chinese characters: 漢朝, Simplified Chinese characters: 汉朝, pinyin Hncho 202 BC - AD 220) followed the Qin Dynasty and preceded the Three Kingdoms in China.

During the Han Dynasty, China officially became a Confucian state and prospered domestically: agriculture, handicrafts and commerce flourished, and the population reached 50 million. Meanwhile, the empire extended its political and cultural influence over Vietnam, Central Asia, Mongolia, and Korea before it finally collapsed under a mixture of domestic and external pressures. The first of the two periods of the dynasty, namely the Former Han Dynasty (Qian Han 前漢) or the Western Han Dynasty (Xi Han 西漢) 206 BC - AD 9 seated at Chang'an (now Xi'an). The Later Han Dynasty (Hou Han 後漢) or the Eastern Han Dynasty (Dong Han 東漢) 25 - 220 seated at Luoyang. The western-eastern Han convention is used nowadays to avoid confusion with the Later Han Dynasty of the Period of the Five Dynasties and the Ten Kingdoms although the former-later nomenclature was used in history texts including Sima Guang's Zizhi Tongjian. The dynasty was founded by the Liu family.

Intellectual, literary, and artistic endeavors revived and flourished during the Han Dynasty. The Han period produced China's most famous historian, Sima Qian (145 -87 BC?), whose Records of the Grand Historian provides a detailed chronicle from the time of legendary Xia emperor to that of the Emperor Wu ( 141- 87 BC). Technological advances also marked this period. Two of the great Chinese inventions, paper and porcelain, date from Han times.

It is fair enough to state that contemporary empires of the Han Dynasty and the Roman Empire were the two superpowers of the known world. Nonetheless Hou Hanshu (History of the Later Han) recounted that only one Roman convoy set out by emperor Antoninus Pius reached the Chinese capital Luoyang in 166 and was greeted by Emperor Huan.

The Han dynasty, after which the members of the ethnic majority in China, the "people of Han," are named, 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. The paths of caravan traffic are often called the "Silk Road" because the route was used to export Chinese silk. Chinese armies also invaded and annexed parts of northern Vietnam and northern Korea (Wiman Joseon) toward the end of the second century BC. 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.


The Emergence

Within the first 3 months after Qin Dynasty emperor Qin Shi Huangdi's death at Shaqiu , widespread revolts by peasants, prisoners, soldiers and descendants of the nobles of the Six Warring States sprang up all over China. Chen Sheng and Wu Guang , two in a group of about 900 soldiers assigned to defend against the Xiongnu, were the leaders of the first rebellion. Continuous insurgence finally toppled the Qin dynasty in 206 BC. The leader of insurgents was Xiang Yu, an outstanding military commander without political expertise, who divided the country into 18 feudal states to his own satisfaction. The ensuing war among those states signified the 5 years of Chu Han Contention with Liu Bang, the first emperor of the Han Dynasty, as the eventual winner. The beginning of the Han Dynasty can be dated either from 206 BC when the Qin dynasty crumbled or 202 BC when Xiang Yu committed suicide.

Taoism and Feudal System

The new 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. After the establishment of the Han Dynasty, Emperor Gao divided the country into several "feudal states" to satisfy some of his wartime allies - but planned to get rid of them once he had consolidated his power.

After his death, his successors from Emperor Hui to Emperor Jing tried to rule China combining Legalist methods with the Taoist philosophic ideals. During this "pseudo-Taoism era", a stable centralized government over China was established through revival of the agriculture sectors and fragmentations of "feudal states" after compression of the Rebellion of the seven states.

Emperor Wu and Confucianism

During the "Taoism era", China was able to maintain peace with Xiongnu by paying tribute and marrying princesses to them. However, Under Emperor Wu's leadership, the most prosperous period ( 140 - 87 BC)of the Han Dynasty, the Empire was able to fight back. At its height, China incorporated the present-day Qinghai, Gansu, and Vietnam into its territories.

Emperor Wu decided that Taoism was no longer suitable for China, and officially declared China to be a Confucian state; however, like the emperors before him, he combined Legalist methods with the Confucian ideal. This official adoption of Confucianism led to not only a civil service nomination system, but also the compulsory knowledge of Confucian classics of candidates for the imperial bureaucracy, a requirement that lasted up to the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912. Confucian scholars gained prominent status as the core of the civil service.

Beginning of the Silk Road and Buddhism

Emperor Wu also dispatched Zhang Qian twice as his envoy to the Western Regions, and in the process pioneered the route known as the Silk Road from Chang'an (today's Xi'an, Shaanxi Province), through Xinjiang and Central Asia, and on to the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Good exchanges such as Chinese silk, Africa ivory, and Roman incense increase the contacts between the East and West. This lead to the introduction of Buddhism to China from India in the first century. See also: silk road

Rise of landholding class

To draw funds for his triumphant campaigns against the Xiongnu, Emperor Wu relinquished land control to merchants and the riches, and in effect legalized the privatization of lands. Land taxes were then drawn based on the sizes of fields, and no longer on harvest. their income and hence could not guarantee to pay their taxes completely. Incomes from selling harvest were often market-driven - a stable amount could not be guaranteed especially after harvest-reducing natural disasters. Merchant and prominent families then lured peasants to sell their lands since land accumulation guaranteed living standards of theirs and their descendants' in the agricultural society of China. Lands were hence accumulating into a new class of landholding families. The Han government in turn imposed more taxes on the remaining independent servants in order to make up the tax losses, therefore encouraging more peasants to come under the landholding elite or the landlords.

Ideally the peasants pay the landlords certain periodic (usually annual) amount of income, who in turn provide protection against crimes and other hazards. In fact an increasing number of peasant population in the prosperous Han society and limited amount of lands provided the elite to elevate their standards for any new subordinate peasants. The inadequate education and often complete illiteracy of peasants forced them into a living of providing physical services, which were mostly farming in an agricultural society. The peasants, without other professions for their better living, compromised to the lowered standard and sold their harvest to pay their landlords. In fact they often had to delay the payment or borrow money from their landlords in the aftermath of natural disasters that reduced harvests. To make the situation worse, some Han reigns ever double-taxed the peasants under the landlords. Eventually the living conditions of the peasants worsened as they solely depended on the harvest of the land they once owned.

The landholding elite and landlords, for their part, provided inaccurate information of subordinate peasants and lands to avoid paying taxes; to this very end corruption and incompetence of the Confucian scholar gentry on economics would play a vital part. Han court officials who attempted to strip lands out of the landlords faced enormous resistance that their policies would never be put in to place. In fact only a member of the landholding families, for instance Wang Meng, was able to put his reforming ideals into effect despite failures of his "turning the clock back" policies.

Interruption of Han rule

After 200 years, Han rule was interrupted briefly during AD 9-24 by Wang Mang, a reformer and a member of the landholding families. The economic situation deteriorated at the end of Western Han Dynasty. Wang Mang, believing the Liu family had lost the Mandate of Heaven took power, turning the clock back with vigorous monetary and land reforms, which damaged the economy even further.

Rise and Fall of Eastern Han Dynasty

A distant relative of Liu royalty, Liu Xiu, led the revolt against Wang Mang with the support of the landholding families and merchants. He "re-established" the Han Dynasty at Luoyang, which would rule for another 200 years, and became Emperor Guangwu of Han China.

In 105, During Eastern Han Dynasty, an official and inventor named Cai Lun invented the technique for making fine paper. The invention of paper is considered a revolution in communication and learning, dramatically lowering the cost of education.

Nevertheless the Eastern Han emperors failed to put forward any groundbreaking land reforms after the failure of its precedent dynasty. Rife bureaucratic corruption and bribery contributed into lingering adverse consequences of land privatizations throughout the dynasty. Prestige of a newly founded dynasty during the reigns of first three emperors were barely able to hinder the corruption; however Confucian scholar gentry turned on eunuchs for their corrupted authorities when consort clans and eunuchs struggled for power in subsequent reigns. None of these three parties was able to improve the harsh livelihood of peasants under the landholding families. Land privatizations and accumulations on the hands of the elite affected the societies of the Three Kingdoms and the Southern and Northern Dynasties that the landholding elite held the actual driving and ruling power of the country. Successful ruling entities worked with these families, and consequently their policies favored the elite. Adverse effects of the Nine grade controller system or the Nine rank system were brilliant examples.

Taiping Taoist ideals of equal rights and equal land distribution quickly spread throughout the peasantry. As a result, the peasant insurgents of the Yellow Turban Rebellion swarmed the North China Plain, the main agricultural sector of the country. Power of the Liu royalty then fell into the hands of local governors and warlords, despite suppression of the main upraising of Zhang Jiao and his brothers. Three overlords eventually succeeded in control of the whole of China proper, ushering in the period of the Three Kingdoms. The figurehead Emperor Xian reigned until 220 when Cao Pi forced his abdication.

In 311, around one hundred years after the fall of the Eastern Han, its capital Luoyang was sacked by barbarians.

Sovereigns of Han Dynasty

Posthumous names Chinese family names and given names Period of Reigns Era names and their according range of years
Chinese Convention: "Han" + posthumous name + "di" excluding Liu Gong, Liu Hong, Liu He, Liu Ying, Liu Yi and Liu Bian
Western Han Dynasty 206 BC-AD 9, 23-25
Gao (高 py. gāo) Liu Bang (劉邦 py. li bāng) 206 BC-195 BC Did not exist
Hui (惠 py. hi) Liu Ying (劉盈 py. li yng) 195 BC-188 BC Did not exist
Empress Dowager L (呂太后 py. L Taihou) L Zhi (呂雉) 188 BC-180 BC Did not exist
Shao (少 py. shao4) Liu Gong (劉恭 py. li gōng) 188 BC-184 BC Did not exist
Shao (少 py. shao4) Liu Hong (劉弘 py. li hng) 184 BC-180 BC Did not exist
Wen (文 py. wn) Liu Heng (劉恆 py. li hng) 180 BC-157 BC Houyuan (後元 py. hu yan) 163 BC-156 BC
Jing (景 py. jĭng) Liu Qi (劉啟 py. li qĭ) 157 BC-141 BC Zhongyuan (中元 py. zhōng yan) 149 BC-143 BC
Houyuan (後元 py. hu yan) 143 BC-141 BC
Wu (武 py. wŭ) Liu Che (劉徹 py. li ch) 141 BC-87 BC Jianyuan (建元 py. jan yan) 140 BC-135 BC

Yuanguang (元光 py. yan gūang) 134 BC-129 BC
Yuanshuo (元朔 py. yan sho) 128 BC-123 BC
Yuanshou (元狩 py. yan shu) 122 BC-117 BC
Yuanding (元鼎 py. yan dĭng) 116 BC-111 BC
Yuanfeng (元封 py. yan fēng) 110 BC-105 BC
Taichu (太初 py. ti chū) 104 BC-101 BC
Tianhan (天漢 py. tīan hn) 100 BC-97 BC
Taishi (太始 py. ti shĭ) 96 BC-93 BC
Zhenghe (征和 py. zhēng h) 92 BC-89 BC

Houyuan (後元 py. hu yan) 88 BC-87 BC
Zhao (昭 py. zhāo) Liu Fuling (劉弗陵 py. li flng) 87 BC-74 BC Shiyuan (始元 py. shĭ yan) 86 BC-80 BC
    Yuanfeng (元鳳 py. yan fng) 80 BC-75 BC
Yuanping (元平 py. yan png) 74 BC
King of Changyi (昌邑王 py. chāng y wng) Liu He (劉賀 py. li h) 74 BC Yuanping (元平 py. yan png) 74 BC
Xuan (宣 py. xūan) Liu Xun (劉詢 py. li xn)
or Liu Bingyi (劉病已 py. li bngyĭ)
74 BC-49 BC Benshi (本始 py. bĕn shĭ) 73 BC-70 BC
    Dijie  (地節 py. d je) 69 BC-66 BC
Yuankang (元康 py. yan kāng) 65 BC-61 BC
Shenjue (神爵 py. shn je) 61 BC-58 BC
Wufeng (五鳳 py. wŭ fng) 57 BC-54 BC
Ganlu (甘露 py. gān l) 53 BC-50 BC
Huanglong (黃龍 py. hang lng) 49 BC
Yuan (元 py. yan) Liu Shi (劉奭 py. li sh) 49 BC-33 BC Chuyuan (初元 py. chū yan) 48 BC-44 BC
    Yongguang  (永光 py. yŏng gūang) 43 BC-39 BC
Jianzhao (建昭 py. jan zhāo) 38 BC-34 BC
Jingning (竟寧 py. jng nng) 33 BC
Cheng (成 py. chng) Liu Ao (劉驁 py. li o) 33 BC-7 BC Jianshi (建始 py. jan shĭ) 32 BC-28 BC
    Heping  (河平 py. h png) 28 BC-25 BC
Yangshuo (陽朔 py. yng sho) 24 BC-21 BC
Hongjia (鴻嘉 py. hng jīa) 20 BC-17 BC
Yongshi (永始 py. yŏng shĭ) 16 BC-13 BC
Yuanyan (元延 py. yan yn) 12 BC-9 BC
Suihe (綏和 py. sūi h) 8 BC-7 BC
Ai (哀 py. āi) Liu Xin (劉欣 py. li xīn) 7 BC-1 BC Jianping (建平 py. jan png) 6 BC-3 BC
    Yuanshou (元壽 py. yan shu) 2 BC-1 BC
Ping (平 py. png) Liu Kan (劉衎 py. li kn) 1 BC-AD 6 Yuanshi (元始 py. yan shĭ) 1-6
Ru Zi (孺子 py. r zi) Liu Ying (劉嬰 py. li yīng) AD 6-9 Jushe (居攝 py. jū sh) February AD 6- October AD 8

Chushi (初始 py. chū shĭ) November AD 8-January AD 9

Xin Dynasty (9-23)
Continuation of Han Dynasty
Gengshi (更始 py. gng shĭ) Liu Xuan (劉玄 py. li xan) 23-25 Gengshi (更始 py. gng shĭ) 23-25
Eastern Han Dynasty 25 - 220
Guangwu (光武 py. gūang wŭ) Liu Xiu (劉秀 py. li xu) 25-57 Jianwu (建武 py. jan wŭ) 25-56
    Jianwuzhongyuan  (建武中元 py. jan wŭ zhōng yan) 56-58
Ming (明 py. mng) Liu Zhuang (劉莊 py. li zhūang) 57-75 Yongping (永平 py. yŏng png) 58-75
Zhang (章 py. zhāng) Liu Da (劉炟 py. li d) 75-88 Jianchu (建初 py. jan chū) 76-84
    Yuanhe  (元和 py. yan h) 84-87
Zhanghe (章和 py. zhāng h) 87-88
He (和 py. h) Liu Zhao (劉肇 py. li zho) 88-106 Yongyuan (永元 py. yŏng yan) 89-105
    Yuanxing (元興 py. yan xīng) 105-106
Shang (殤 py. shāng) Liu Long (劉隆 py. li lng) 106 Yanping (延平 py. yn png) 106-107
An (安 py. ān) Liu Hu (劉祜 py. li h) 106-125 Yongchu (永初 py. yŏng chū) 107-113
    Yuanchu (元初 py. yan chū) 114-120
Yongning (永寧 py. yŏng nng) 120-121
Jianguang (建光 py. jian4 guang1) 121-122
Yanguang (延光 py. yn gūang) 122-125
Shaodi (少帝 py. sho d or Marquess of Beixiang (北鄉侯 py. bĕi xīang hu) Liu Yi (劉懿 py. li y) 125 Yanguang (延光 py. yn gūang) 125
Shun (順 py. shn) Liu Bao (劉保 py. li bo) 125-144 Yongjian (永建 py. yŏng jan) 126-132
    Yangjia  (陽嘉 py. yng jīa) 132-135
Yonghe (永和 py. yŏng h) 136-141
Hanan (漢安 py. hn ān) 142-144
Jiankang (建康 py. jan kāng) 144
Chong (冲 py. chōng) Liu Bing (劉炳 py. li bĭng) 144-145 Yongxi (永熹 py. yōng xī) 145
Zhi (質 py. zh) Liu Zuan (劉纘 py. li zŭan) 145-146 Benchu (本初 py. bĕn chū) 146
Huan (桓 py. han) Liu Zhi (劉志 py. li zhĭ) 146-168 Jianhe (建和 py. jan h) 147-149
    Heping   (和平 py. h png) 150
Yuanjia (元嘉 py. yan jīa) 151-153
Yongxing (永興 py. yŏng xīng) 153-154
Yongshou (永壽 py. yŏng shu) 155-158
Yanxi (延熹 py. yn xī) 158-167
Yongkang (永康 py. yŏng kāng) 167
Ling (靈 py. lng) Liu Hong (劉宏 py. li hng) 168-189 Jianning (建寧 py. jan nng) 168-172
    Xiping (熹平 py. xī png) 172-178
Guanghe (光和 py. gūang h) 178-184
Zhongping (中平 py. zhōng png) 184-189
Shao Di (少帝 py. sho d) or King of Hongnong (弘農王 py. hng nng wng) Liu Bian (劉辯 py. li ban) 189 Guangxi (光熹 py. gūang xī) 189
Xian (獻 py. xan) Liu Xie (劉協 py. li xe) 189-220 Zhaoning (昭寧 py. zhāo nng) 189
    Yonghan (永漢 py. yŏng hn) 189
Chuping (初平 py. chū png) 190-193
Xingping (興平 py. xīng png) 194-195
Jianan (建安 py. jan ān) 196-220
Yankang (延康 py. yn kāng) 220

For a complete list of Chinese sovereigns, check Chinese sovereign.

See also

Last updated: 01-19-2005 18:56:10