General Introduction to Han Dynasty

Han Dynasty In 207 BC, the army led by Liu Bang conquered the troops of the Qin Dynasty at Julu (currently Hebei Province) and in 206 BC he seized Xianyang (the capital city of the Qin Dynasty), thus ending the rule of Qin. After four years of war between Liu Bang and Xiang Yu (Chu-Han War), Liu Bang defeated his rival and established the Han Dynasty establishing Chang'an (the present Xian) as its capital city in 202 BC. In Chinese history, the Han Dynasty consisted of two dynasties: the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 24 AD) and the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220). During the period there were 24 emperors on the throne. Many were excellent contributing to the prosperity of the country with Emperors Gaozu, Wen, Jing and Wu among them. As many wise emperors took effective measures during their reign, the Han Dynasty was a period of peace and prosperity. It was a World power at that time with interests in literature, arts, culture and technology with the Han Dynasty achieving numerous unparalleled and praiseworthy successes. Some of the achievements at that time still influence the lives of the Chinese people today.


Western Han

China's first imperial dynasty was the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BCE). The Qin had unified the Chinese Warring States by conquest, but their empire became unstable after the death of the first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Within four years the dynasty's authority had collapsed in the face of rebellion. Two former rebel leaders, Xiang Yu (d. 202 BCE) of Chu and Liu Bang (d. 195 BCE) of Han, engaged in a war to decide who would become hegemon of China, which had fissured into 18 Kingdoms, each claiming allegiance to either Xiang Yu or Liu Bang. Although Xiang Yu proved to be a capable commander, Liu Bang defeated him at the Battle of Gaixia, in modern-day Anhui. Liu Bang assumed the title 'emperor' (huangdi) at the urging of his followers and is known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu (r. 202–195 BCE). Chang'an was chosen as the new capital of the reunified empire under Han.


Wang Mang's reign and civil war

Wang Zhengjun (71 BCE–13 CE) was first empress, then empress dowager, and finally grand empress dowager during the reigns of the Emperors Yuan (r. 49–33 BCE), Cheng (r. 33–7 BCE), and Ai (r. 7–1 BCE), respectively. During this time, a succession of her male relatives held the title of regent. Following the death of Ai, Wang Zhengjun's nephew Wang Mang (45–23 CE) was appointed regent for Emperor Ping (r. 1 BCE – 6 CE). When Ping died in 6 CE, the Empress Dowager appointed Wang Mang to act as emperor for the child Liu Ying (d. 25 CE). Wang promised to relinquish his control to Liu Ying once he came of age. Despite this promise, and against protest and revolts from the nobility, Wang Mang claimed that the divine Mandate of Heaven called for the end of the Han Dynasty and the beginning of his own: the Xin Dynasty (9–23 CE).

Eastern Han

During the During the widespread rebellion against Wang Mang, the Korean state of Goguryeo was free to raid Han's Korean commanderies; Han did not reaffirm its control over the region until 30 CE. The Trưng Sisters of Vietnam rebelled against Han in 40 CE. Their rebellion was crushed by Han general Ma Yuan (d. 49 CE) in a campaign from 42–43 CE. Wang Mang renewed hostilities against the Xiongnu, who were estranged from Han until their leader Bi , a rival claimant to the throne against his cousin Punu, submitted to Han as a tributary vassal in 50 CE.


This created two rival Xiongnu states: the Southern Xiongnu led by Bi, an ally of Han, and the Northern Xiongnu led by Punu, an enemy of Han. During the turbulent reign of Wang Mang, Han lost control over the Tarim Basin, which was conquered by the Northern Xiongnu in 63 CE and used as a base to invade Han's Hexi Corridor in Gansu. Dou Gu (d. 88 CE) defeated the Northern Xiongnu at the Battle of Yiwulu in 73 CE, evicting them from Turpan and chasing them as far as Lake Barkol before establishing a garrison at Hami. After the new Protector General of the Western Regions Chen Mu (d. 75 CE) was killed by allies of the Xiongnu in Karasahr and Kucha, the garrison at Hami was withdrawn. At the Battle of Ikh Bayan in 89 CE, Dou Xian (d. 92 CE) defeated the Northern Xiongnu chanyu who then retreated into the Altai Mountains. After the Northern Xiongnu fled into the Ili River valley in 91 CE, the nomadic Xianbei occupied the area from the borders of the Buyeo Kingdom in Manchuria to the Ili River of the Wusun people. The Xianbei reached their apogee under Tanshihuai (d. 180 CE), who consistently defeated Chinese armies. However, Tanshihuai's confederation disintegrated after his death.

Eunuchs in state affairs

Emperor Zhang's (r. 75–88 CE) reign came to be viewed by later Eastern Han scholars as the high point of the dynastic house. Subsequent reigns were increasingly marked by eunuch intervention in court politics and their involvement in the violent power struggles of the imperial consort clans. With the aid of the eunuch Zheng Zhong (d. 107 CE), Emperor He (r. 88–105 CE) had Empress Dowager Dou (d. 97 CE) put under house arrest and her clan stripped of power. This was in revenge for Dou's purging of the clan of his natural mother—Consort Liang—and then concealing her identity from him.After Emperor He's death, his wife Empress Deng Sui (d. 121 CE), managed state affairs as the regent empress dowager during a turbulent financial crisis and the widespread Qiang rebellion that lasted from 107 to 118 CE.


Fall of Han

The Partisan Prohibitions were repealed during the Yellow Turban Rebellion and Five Pecks of Rice Rebellion in 184 CE, largely because the court did not want to continue to alienate a significant portion of the gentry class who might otherwise join the rebellions.The Yellow Turbans and Five-Pecks-of-Rice adherents belonged to two different hierarchical Daoist religious societies led by faith healers Zhang Jiao (d. 184 CE) and Zhang Lu (d. 216 CE), respectively. Zhang Lu's rebellion, in modern northern Sichuan and southern Shanxi, was not quelled until 215 CE. Zhang Jiao's massive rebellion across eight provinces was annihilated by Han forces within a year, however the following decades saw much smaller recurrent uprisings. Although the Yellow Turbans were defeated, many generals appointed during the crisis never disbanded their assembled militia forces and used these troops to amass power outside of the collapsing imperial authority.


Han Emperors

In Han government, the emperor was the supreme judge and lawgiver, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and sole designator of official nominees appointed to the top posts in central and local administrations; those who earned a 600-dan salary-rank or higher. Theoretically, there were no limits to his power. However, state organs with competing interests and institutions such as the court conference —where ministers were convened to reach majority consensus on an issue—pressured the emperor to accept the advice of his ministers on policy decisions. If the emperor rejected a court conference decision, he risked alienating his high ministers. Nevertheless, emperors sometimes did reject the majority opinion reached at court conferences. Below the emperor were his cabinet members known as the Three Excellencies.


These were the Chancellor/Minister over the Masses, Imperial Counselor/Excellency of Works, and Grand Commandant/Grand Marshal. The Chancellor, whose title was changed to Minister over the Masses in 8 BCE, was chiefly responsible for drafting the government budget. The Chancellor's other duties included managing provincial registers for land and population, leading court conferences, acting as judge in lawsuits and recommending nominees for high office. He could appoint officials below the salary-rank of 600-shi. The Imperial Counselor's chief duty was to conduct disciplinary procedures for officials. He shared similar duties with the Chancellor, such as receiving annual provincial reports. However, when his title was changed to Excellency of Works in 8 BCE, his chief duty became oversight of public works projects.