When Liu Bang, prince of Han, defeated the Qin army in the valley of Wei in 206 B.C., the onset of the Han Empire had begun. The seed of the crushing defeat however, was earlier planted, no small thanks to the people?s discontent under the rule of the Qin. China is now all set for one the best-remembered dynasties.
The reign of the Han Dynasty which lasted for 400 years, was considered by the Chinese as one of the greatest periods in theie history. To this day, ethnic Chinese refers to themselves as ?people of Han?. It was during the Dynasty that China officially became a Confucian, prospered economically, and the population reaching more than 50 million.
Agriculture was greatly improved with the development of better tools, such as those made of iron. Irrigation system was also widely implemented, improving much of the North China. Some sources also points to the practice of crop rotation during 85 B.C., a proof of a relatively advanced agriculture. The production of iron, copper, salt, and silk weaving was among the most important economic activities during this period.
The economic prosperity of China during this time was more than enough to extend its political influence over Central Asia, Mongolia, Korea, and Vietnam. It was during this time that the Silk Road started, a trade route extending from today?s Xi?an, through Central Asia and up to the east coast of Mediterranean Sea.
As the new class of gentry was introduced, education became more important. It was also during this time that Book of the Mountains and Seas was compiled. The said book contained knowledge regarding geography, natural philosophy, the animal and plant world, even myths, during this period.
China also sent missions to Parthia and received reciprocal missions from Parthian envoys afterwards. Around 100 B.C. In AD 97, the Chinese general Ban Chao reached the Caspian Sea accompanied by 70,000 men, establishing a direct contact with the the Parthian Empire. An envoy was also dispatched to Rome.
Historically however, the coin has two sides. Traditional Chinese history books portray the Han dynasty employing immediate changes in government as implemented by the Qin dynasty. Other historical materials shows however, that the Han continued to rule in the tradition of the Qin, the and only chief difference of which is the gradual introduction of Confucian ideals into their Legalist form of government inherited from the Qin.
Under this amalgamated form of Legalism and Confucianism, rewards and punishments were still used against the common people. The administrators and court officials however, were judged based on Confucian principles, invoking the different standards of education they have received as justification. Still, some historians spoke of emperor using the same punishment for both the people and officials when necessary.
Liu Bang, after he assumed power, made friends with nobility and gave them fiefs. The lands however were still divided into commanderies and prefectures. And even the fiefs given to the nobility were treated like commanderies. The Han, just like the Qin, maintained their power by directly controlling the people through the state.
Economic expansion, changing relationships with the people of the steppes, and strengthening of the palace at the expense of the civil service are the first three considered important reasons on the adoption of Confucianism. But it was the weakening of the state's hold on the peasantry, and the rise of the families of the rich and the gentry that finally gave sway to the new faith. China is now experiencing what Europe will experience much later in history with Catholicism.
From different perspective, the Han Dynasty can be considered as belonging to two separate dynasties. It is only considered by the Chinese as one dynasty because the second was founded by a member of the first Han dynasty, and officially declared the restoration of Han Dynasty. The first Han Dynasty was deposed by the noble families who gained more wealth and power than the emperor.
Emperor YŁan Ti?s widow succeeded in putting her relatives in government positions, effectively deposing her son out of the sphere of power. Wang Mang, her nephew, declared himself emperor of a new dynasty, the Hsing. Wang Mangis eventually was overthrown by the Red Eyebrows, a secret society of peasants. The descendents of the original Han dynasty joined in the uprising, and under the leadership of Liu Hsiu, killed Wang Mang in 22A.D. Liu Hsiu eventually became the emperor and assumed the name of Kuang-Wu Ti.
The second Han Dynasty had much success with their foreign policy. Part of this success was due more to luck than to anything the Han did. After the defeat of the Hsiung nu who had previously been one of the most dangerous enemies of the Chinese, the second Han dynasty ushered in. About half of the surviving force of Hsiung nu moved south, and later became part of the Chinese empire. Shortly, they tried to reorganize and form an empire of their own with all of Turkestan.
In 73 A.D. however, the imperial household began a campaign in Turkestan, conquering it wholly. But before a trading monopoly was ensured, emperor Ming Ti died and was succeeded by Chang Ti. This new emperor favored an isolationist policy and in the process, lost the gain in Turkestan was now lost. Later, in 89 A.D., a new emperor came to power and with it, a renewed interest in Turkestan.
Internal struggles among the ruling class brought a renewed onslaught against the peasantry until 184 A.D., when, another peasant uprising ensued, led by movement known in Chinese history as the Yellow Turbans. This uprising prompted the ruling class to temporarily unite against the Yellow Turbans, defeating the uprising eventually. But the crack within China during this time was great that it spawned three separate kingdoms. And it was the end of the Han dynasty.