Lessons From the Han Dynasty Research Paper

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Han Dynasty in China

The Rise and Fall of the Han Empire

In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of. --Confucius

The Han dynasty was one of China's longest and most powerful dynasties, spanning a period form 206 BC to 220 AD during which two dynasties were formed. The Western Han took place form 206 BC to 24 AD and the Eastern Han was established in 25 BC and lasted until 220 AD[footnoteRef:1]. The Han dynasty was the second Imperial dynasty in China. Twenty-four emperors reigned during the Han dynasty.[footnoteRef:2] A number of these emperors contributed strongly to the order and prosperity of the country, of which Emperor Gaozu, Wen, Jing, and Wu are known to have particularly accomplished noteworthy outcomes for their people.[footnoteRef:3] However, the ancient Chinese practice of permitting royal juveniles to take the throne, as well as the tendency of emperors to depend on superstitious religious advisors for ideas about how to govern, opened the way to corrupt and selfish practices.[footnoteRef:4] [1: Temple, Robert. (1986). The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.] [2: Ibid.] [3: Ibid.] [4: Ibid.]

While an emperor might have compassion for the people and wish to make altruistic practices central to his rule, the distant relatives and eunuchs who truly held power when juveniles rules curtailed the ability of the young emperors to truly be benevolent leaders of their people.[footnoteRef:5] Implementation of the policy enabling juvenile emperors to take the throne reached a zenith in the middle of the Eastern Han dynasty.[footnoteRef:6] [5: Ibid.] [6: Ibid.]

The Han dynasty followed the Qin dynasty, which ended in 207 BC when an army led by Liu Bang conquered the Qin troops at Julu, followed by his overtaking of the Xianyang capital city in 206 BC.[footnoteRef:7] A four-year war between Liu Ban and Xiang Yu preceded this conquest; by 202 BC, Chang'an -- which is presently known as Xian -- had become the capital city of the Han Dynasty.[footnoteRef:8] The period of the Han dynasty was a relatively peaceful time in Chinese history, and it was also a time of prosperity.[footnoteRef:9] [7: Ibid.] [8: Ibid.] [9: Ibid.]

At the time of the Han dynasty, the country was infused with people interested in cultural achievements in the arts and in literature.[footnoteRef:10] Chinese people today believe that the some of the influences from the Han dynasty can be seen in their modern day lives.[footnoteRef:11] The terra cotta figures shown above are an example of the fine art work that was accomplished during the Han dynasty.[footnoteRef:12] Several amazing archeological finds have uncovered life-size terra cotta sculptures of soldiers from the Qin and the first half of the Han dynasties.[footnoteRef:13] Scholars and archeologists believe that deceased royalty and nobility were buried with symbolic military escorts.[footnoteRef:14] One archeological dig referred to as the Weishan site is extensive, perhaps spreading over 10,000 square feet.[footnoteRef:15] The excavation could potentially yield several thousand figurines, which would suggest a nobleman or close relative of a Han dynasty ruler was buried within the site.[footnoteRef:16] The Han were a superstitious people, and the practice of Taoism never solidified into an organized religion, but was instead subject to the influences of local folk religion.[footnoteRef:17] [10: ____. (2014). Han Dynasty. Travel China Guide.] [11: Ibid.] [12: Ibid.] [13: Wilford, John Nobile. (2003, February 18). "Terra-Cotta Army From Early Han Dynasty Is Unearthed." The New York Times.] [14: Ibid. ] [15: Ibid.] [16: Ibid.] [17: Ibid.]

Western Han (206 BC - 24 AD)

The Qin Dynasty was despotic, prompting a civil war that lasted through four years of peasant uprising.[footnoteRef:18] Unlike his predecessor, Liu Bang -- who was to become Emperor Gaozu -- recruited people for positions in his court according to their capabilities and experience, not because of their wealth or birth status.[footnoteRef:19] The Western Han dynasty brought about a number of economic and political reforms as 12 emperors ruled in succession.[footnoteRef:20] Emperor Gaozu's reforms were deep and in high contrast to the practices that occurred during the Qin Dynasty.[footnoteRef:21] Li u Bang's sons were equally wise and generous leaders, however, Queen Ly Zhi -- who was Liu Ying's mother -- held the power during her son's rule of 16 years. Liu Heng, who was later to become Emperor Wen, and Liu Qi, who would become Emperor Jing, were next in line for the throne. [footnoteRef:22] This two emperors followed the lead of Emperor Gaozo, encouraging the people to farm and to conduct their lives in a thrifty manner.[footnoteRef:23] As the peasants experienced the benefits of their hard work directly, their lives became stable, their wealth and that of the nation increased, and the country become increasingly powerful.[footnoteRef:24] [18: Ibid.] [19: Ibid.] [20: Ibid.] [21: Ibid.] [22: Ibid.] [23: Ibid.] [24: Ibid.]

Indeed, from 141 BC to 87 BC, during the reign of Emperor Wu, who was previously known as Liu Che, the Han Dynasty reached the crux of it power and prosperity.[footnoteRef:25] At Emperor Wu's command in about 130 BC, generals Wei Qing and Huo Oubing were sent to find allies and to stop the invading Hsiung-nu nomads, who were the ancestors of the Huns from northern China. The capital of China under the Han Dynasty emperors was Chang'an, and Wu Di (141 AD to 87 AD) opened the Silk Road.[footnoteRef:26] General Zang Qian was sent purchase the famous Iranian war horses from Nisaia, which he was never able to do -- but Zang Qian traveled to Bactria and thereby found a way to the west. The Western Han territories were made larger because of these battles, and trade routes were made safer, eventually becoming the well-known Silk Road.[footnoteRef:27] [25: Ibid.] [26: ____. (2014). Silk Road. Livius: Articles on Ancient History.] [27: Ibid.]

The authorities provided protection for the caravans loaded with trade goods along a substantial part of the Silk Road route.[footnoteRef:28] Safer trade routes meant that Emperor Wu could send emissaries to other countries to establish trading missions and encourage foreign trade activities.[footnoteRef:29] As travel increased along the routes, bridges and paved roads were constructed.[footnoteRef:30] Emperor Wu further developed the economy by encouraging agriculture.[footnoteRef:31] Practices supporting agriculture were developed, such as water conservation, irrigation projects, iron ploughs pulled by cattle, and planting techniques that allowed an entire hectare to be seeded in just one day. [28: Ibid.] [29: Ibid.] [30: Ibid.] [31: Ibid.]

Silk was more precious than gold in the West.[footnoteRef:32] As it was so expensive and rare, the only Roman emperor to be outfitted in pure silk was Heliogabalus (218-222).[footnoteRef:33] People in the West were fascinated by the silk trade, calling the Chinese the Silk People (Seres) and referring to the capital of the Han dynasty, Chang'an, as Silk City.[footnoteRef:34] With the collapse of the Han dynasty, East-West trade dwindled.[footnoteRef:35] The Byzantine historian Procopius (c. 500 -- c. 570), two Christian monks discovered the secret to Eastern silk production.[footnoteRef:36] When Emperor Justinian (527-565) learned of the discovery, he sent secret agents to China to bribe silk experts into letting them steal silkworm eggs -- an endeavor that was successful and opened the door to silk production in the Mediterranean.[footnoteRef:37] [32: Ibid.] [33: Ibid.] [34: Ibid.] [35: Ibid.] [36: Ibid.] [37: Ibid.]

Under Emperor Wu, the official state religion was changed from Taoism to Confucianism, which became the official philosophy that emperors in many dynasties depended on to manage their affairs of state.[footnoteRef:38] All court chancellors were required by Emperor Wu to learn the Confucian classics before they could qualify for a promotion.[footnoteRef:39] He also set up an educational system of Confucian classics.[footnoteRef:40] With the goal of 'unification' in mind, Emperor Wu established an educational system based on the Confucian classics.[footnoteRef:41] In a short time, Confucianism brought about a collective cultural and spiritual bond of the Chinese people.[footnoteRef:42],[footnoteRef:43] [38: Ibid.] [39: Ibid.] [40: Ibid.] [41: Ibid.] [42: Ibid.] [43: Turchin, Peter; Adams, Jonathan M.; Hall, Thomas D. (December 2006). "East-West Orientation of Historical Empires." Journal of world-systems research 12 (2): 219 -- 229.]

Unfortunately, Emperor Wu sold land to private landholders, a practice that increased the resident inequalities, forced poor working people to pay disproportionate taxes, and brought about much displacement of people, thereby increasing serfdom in the land.[footnoteRef:44] Further deterioration of the dynasty occurred under Emperor Yuan from 73 BC to 33 BC; the common people lost faith in his rule because he promoted prominent Confucians who plied their government and advisory positions by referring to astronomy and fortune telling.[footnoteRef:45] Leadership was not strong during the remaining years of the Western Han, until Wang Mang killed Emperor Ruzi, seized the throne, renamed the dynasty to Xin, and reigned from 9 BC to 23 AD.[footnoteRef:46] A social revolution of uprising peasants overthrew Wang Mang, but it was suppressed by Liu Xin, whom the people trusted and who was a royal member of the Han. The Han Dynasty, which came to be referred to as the Eastern Han, was reestablished…[continue]

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