History of the Han Dynasty – Sheet Metal Fabrication Supplier – Sheet Metal cabinet Manufacturer

Fall of Qin and Chu-Han conflict
Main articles: Chu-Han contention and 18 Kingdoms
Further information: Battle of the Wei River Collapse of Qin
The Zhou Dynasty (c. 1050256 BCE) had established the State of Qin in Western China as an outpost to breed horses and act as a defensive buffer against nomadic armies of the Rong, Qiang, and Di peoples. After conquering six Warring States (i.e. Han, Zhao, Wei, Chu, Yan, and Qi) by 221 BCE, the King of Qin, Ying Zheng, unified China under one empire divided into thirty-six centrally-controlled commanderies. With control over much of China proper, he affirmed his enhanced prestige by taking the unprecedented title huangdi (), or ’emperor’, known thereafter as Qin Shihuang (i.e. the first emperor of Qin). Han-era historians would accuse his regime of employing ruthless methods to preserve his rule.
Qin Dynasty soldiers from the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum, located near Xi’an
Qin Shihuang died of natural causes in 210 BCE. In 209 BCE the conscription officers Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, leading 900 conscripts through the rain, failed to meet an arrival deadline; the Standard Histories claim that the Qin punishment for this delay would have been execution. To avoid this, Chen and Wu started a rebellion against Qin, but they were thwarted by the Qin general Zhang Han in 208 BCE; both Wu and Chen were subsequently assassinated by their own soldiers. Yet by this point others had rebelled, among them Xiang Yu (d. 202 BCE) and his uncle Xiang Liang (/), men from a leading family of the Chu aristocracy. They were joined by Liu Bang, a man of peasant origin and supervisor of convicts in Pei County. Mi Xin, grandson of a Warring States ruler of Chu, was declared King of Chu at his powerbase of Pengcheng (modern Xuzhou) with the support of the Xiangs, while other kingdoms soon formed in opposition to Qin. Despite this, in 208 BCE Xiang Liang was killed in a battle with Zhang Han, who subsequently attacked Zhao Xie the King of Zhao at his capital of Handan, forcing him to flee to Julu, which Zhang put under siege. However, the new kingdoms of Chu, Yan, and Qi came to Zhao’s aid; Xiang Yu defeated Zhang at Julu and in 207 BCE forced Zhang to surrender.
While Xiang was occupied at Julu, Mi Xin sent Liu Bang to capture the Qin heartland of Guanzhong with an agreement that the first officer to capture this region would become its king. In late 207 BCE, the Qin ruler Zi Ying, who had claimed the reduced title of King of Qin, had his chief eunuch Zhao Gao killed after Zhao had orchestrated the deaths of Chancellor Li Si in 208 BCE and the second Qin emperor Qin Er Shi in 207 BCE. Liu Bang gained Zi Ying’s submission and secured the Qin stronghold of Xianyang; persuaded by his chief advisor Zhang Liang (d. 189 BCE) not to let his soldiers loot the city, he instead sealed up its treasury. Contention with Chu
A Western Han bronze wine warmer with cast and incised decoration, from Shanxi or Henan province, 1st century BCE
The Standard Histories allege that when Xiang Yu arrived at Xianyang two months later in early 206 BCE, he looted it, burned it to the ground, and had Zi Ying executed. In that year, Xiang Yu offered Mi Xin the title of Emperor Yi of Chu and sent him to a remote frontier where he was assassinated; Xiang Yu then assumed the title King Protector of Chu () and became the leader of a confederacy of 18 kingdoms. At the Feast at Hong Gate, Xiang Yu considered having Liu Bang assassinated, but Liu, realizing that Xiang was considering killing him, escaped during the middle of the feast. In a slight towards Liu Bang, Xiang Yu carved Guanzhong into three kingdoms with former Qin general Zhang Han and two of his subordinates as kings; Liu Bang was granted the frontier Kingdom of Han in Hanzhong, where he would pose less of a political challenge to Xiang Yu.
In the summer of 206 BCE, Liu Bang heard of Emperor Yi’s fate and decided to rally some of the new kingdoms to oppose Xiang Yu, leading to a four-year war known as the Chuan contention. Liu initially made a direct assault against Pengcheng and captured it while Xiang was battling another king who resisted himian Guang () the King of Qiut his forces collapsed upon Xiang’s return to Pengcheng; he was saved by a storm which delayed the arrival of Chu’s troops, although his father Liu Zhijia () and wife L Zhi were captured by Chu forces. Liu barely escaped another defeat at Xingyang, but Xiang Yu was unable to pursue him because Liu Bang induced Ying Bu () the King of Huainan to rebel against Xiang. After Liu Bang occupied Chenggao along with a large Qin grain storage, Xiang threatened to kill Liu’s hostage father if he did not surrender, but Liu did not give in to Xiang’s threats.
A gilded belt clasp with turquoise, dated Warring States Period to early Han Dynasty, 4th to 3rd centuries BCE
With Chenggao and his food supplies lost, and with Liu Bang’s general Han Xin (d. 196 BCE) having conquered Zhao and Qin to Chu’s north, in 203 BCE Xiang Yu offered to release Liu Bang’s relatives from captivity and split China into political halves: the west would belong to Han and the east to Chu. Although Liu accepted the truce, it was short-lived, and in 202 BCE at Gaixia in modern Anhui, the Han forces forced Xiang Yu to flee from his fortified camp in the early morning with only 800 cavalry, pursued by 5,000 Han cavalry. After several bouts of fighting, Xiang Yu became surrounded at the banks of the Yangzi River, where he committed suicide. Liu Bang took the title of emperor, and is known to posterity as Emperor Gaozu of Han (r. 202195 BCE). Reign of Gaozu Consolidation, precedents, and rivals
Further information: Government of the Han Dynasty and Society and culture of the Han Dynasty
Emperor Gaozu initially made Luoyang his capital, but then moved it to Chang’an (near modern Xi’an, Shaanxi) due to concerns over natural defences and better access to supply routes. Following Qin precedent, Emperor Gaozu adopted the administrative model of a tripartite cabinet (formed by the Three Excellencies) along with nine subordinate ministries (headed by the Nine Ministers). Despite Han statesmen’s general condemnation of Qin’s harsh methods and Legalist philosophy, the first Han law code compiled by Chancellor Xiao He in 200 BCE seems to have borrowed much from the structure and substance of the Qin code (excavated texts from Shuihudi and Zhangjiashan in modern times have reinforced this suspicion).
Beginning in the Han period, kings were interred in jade burial suit made of small pieces of jade sewn together with golden thread. ()
From Chang’an, Gaozu ruled directly over 13 commanderies (increased to 16 by his death) in the western portion of the empire. In the eastern portion, he established 10 semi-autonomous kingdoms (Yan, Dai, Zhao, Qi, Liang, Chu, Huai, Wu, Nan, and Changsha) that he bestowed to his most prominent followers to placate them. Due to alleged acts of rebellion and even alliances with the Xiongnu northern nomadic peopley 196 BCE Gaozu had replaced nine of them with members of the royal family.
According to Michael Loewe, the administration of each kingdom was ”a small-scale replica of the central government, with its chancellor, royal counsellor, and other functionaries.” The kingdoms were to transmit census information and a portion of their taxes to the central government. Although they were responsible for maintaining an armed force, kings were not authorized to mobilize troops without explicit permission from the capital.
Wu Rui (), King of Changsha, was the only remaining king not of the Liu clan. Eventually, however, when Wu Rui’s great-grandson Wu Zhu () or Wu Chan () died heirless in 157 BCE, Changsha was turned into an imperial commandery before made a Liu principality. South of Changsha, Gaozu sent Lu Jia () as ambassador to the court of Zhao Tuo to acknowledge the latter’s sovereignty over Nanyue (in modern Southwest China and northern Vietnam; this regime is known as the Tri Dynasty in Vietnamese). Xiongnu and Heqin
An iron chicken sickle and an iron dagger from the Han Dynasty
The Qin general Meng Tian had forced Toumen, the Chanyu of the Xiongnu, out of the Ordos Desert in 215 BCE, but Toumen’s son and successor Modu Chanyu built the Xiongnu into a powerful empire by subjugating many other tribes. By the time of Modu’s death in 174 BCE, the Xiongnu domains stretched from what is now Manchuria and Mongolia to the Altai and Tian Shan mountain ranges in Central Asia. The Chinese feared incursions by the Xiongnu under the guise of trade and were concerned that Han-manufactured iron weapons would fall into Xiongnu hands. Gaozu thus enacted a trade embargo against the Xiongnu. To compensate the Chinese border merchants of the northern kingdoms of Dai and Yan for lost trade, he made them government officials with handsome salaries. Outraged by this embargo, Modu Chanyu planned to attack Han. When the Xiongnu invaded Taiyuan in 200 BCE and were aided by the defector King Xin of Hn (/, not to be confused with the ruling Hn dynasty, or the general Han Xin), Gaozu personally led his forces through the snow to Pingcheng (near modern Datong, Shanxi). In the ensuing Battle of Baideng, Gaozu’s forces were heavily surrounded for seven days; running short of supplies, he was forced to flee.
After this defeat, the court adviser Liu Jing (, originally named Lou Jing []) convinced the emperor to create a peace treaty and marriage alliance with the Xiongnu Chanyu called the heqin agreement. By this arrangement established in 198 BCE, the Han hoped to modify the Xiongnu’s nomadic values with Han luxury goods given as tribute (silks, wine, foodstuffs, etc.) and to make Modu’s half-Chinese successor a subordinate to grandfather Gaozu. The exact amounts of annual tribute as promised by Emperor Gaozu given to the Xiongnu in the 2nd century BCE shortly after the defeat are unknown. In 89 BCE, however, Hulugu Chanyu () (r. 9585 BCE) requested a renewal of the heqin agreement with the increased amount of annual tribute at 400,000 L (11,350 U.S. bu) of wine, 100,000 L (2,840 U.S. bu) of grain, and 10,000 bales of silk; thus previous amounts would have been less than these figures.
Although the treaty acknowledged both huangdi and chanyu as equals, Han was in fact the inferior partner since it was forced to pay tribute to appease the militarily-powerful Xiongnu. Emperor Gaozu was initially set to give his only daughter to Modu, but under the opposition of Empress L, Emperor Gaozu made a female relative princess and married her to Modu. Until the 130s BCE, the offering of princess brides and tributary items scarcely satisfied the Xiongnu, who often raided Han’s northern frontiers and violated the 162 BCE treaty that established the Great Wall as the border between Han and Xiongnu. Empress Dowager L’s rule
Main article: L Clan Disturbance Emperor Hui
A Han Dynasty tomb-brick relief showing two court women in long flowing sleeves attended by two female servants behind them
When Ying Bu rebelled in 195 BCE, Emperor Gaozu personally led the troops against Ying and received an arrow wound which allegedly led to his death the following year. His heir apparent Liu Ying took the throne and is posthumously known as Emperor Hui of Han (r. 195188 BCE). Shortly afterwards Gaozu’s widow L Zhi, now empress dowager, had Liu Ruyi, a potential claimant to the throne, poisoned and his mother, the Consort Qi, brutally mutilated. When the teenage Emperor Hui discovered the cruel acts committed by his mother, Loewe says that he ”did not dare disobey her.”
Hui’s brief reign saw the completion of the defensive city walls around the capital Chang’an in 190 BCE; these brick and rammed earth walls were originally 12 m (40 ft) tall and formed a rough rectangular ground plan (with some irregularities due to topography); their ruins still stand today. This urban construction project was completed by 150,000 conscript laborers. Emperor Hui’s reign saw the repeal of old Qin laws banning certain types of literature and was characterized by a cautious approach to foreign policy, including the renewal of the heqin agreement with the Xiongnu and Han’s acknowledgment of the independent sovereignty of the Kings of Donghai and Nanyue. Regency and downfall of the L clan
Terracotta figurine of a female servant, Western Han Era
Since Emperor Hui did not sire any children with his empress Zhang Yan, after his death in 188 BCE, L Zhi, now grand empress dowager and regent, chose his successor from among his sons with other consorts. She first placed Emperor Qianshao of Han (r. 188184 BCE) on the throne, but then removed him for another puppet ruler Emperor Houshao of Han (r. 184180 BCE). She not only issued imperial edicts during their reigns, but she also appointed members of her own clan as kings against Emperor Gaozu’s explicit prohibition; other clan members became key military officers and civil officials.
The court under L Zhi was not only unable to deal with a Xiongnu invasion of Longxi Commandery (in modern Gansu) in which 2,000 Han prisoners were taken, but it also provoked a conflict with Zhao Tuo, King of Nanyue, by imposing a ban on exporting iron and other trade items to his southern kingdom. Proclaiming himself Emperor Wu of Nanyue () in 183 BCE, Zhao Tuo attacked the Han Kingdom of Changsha in 181 BCE. He did not rescind his rival imperial title until the Han ambassador Lu Jia again visited Nanyue’s court during the reign of Emperor Wen.
After Empress Dowager L’s death in 180 BCE, it was alleged that the L clan plotted to overthrow the Liu dynasty, and Liu Xiang the King of Qi (Emperor Gaozu’s grandson) rose against the Ls. Before the central government and Qi forces engaged each other, the L clan was ousted from power and destroyed by a coup led by the officials Chen Ping () and Zhou Bo () at Chang’an. Although Liu Xiang had resisted the Ls, he was passed over to become emperor because he had mobilized troops without permission from the central government and because his mother ’s family possessed the same ambitious attitude as the Ls. Consort Bo, the mother of Liu Heng, King of Dai, was considered to possess a noble character, so her son was chosen as successor to the throne; he is known posthumously as Emperor Wen of Han (r. 180157 BCE). Reign of Wen and Jing
A silk banner from Mawangdui, Changsha, Hunan province which was draped over the coffin of the Lady Dai (d. 168 BCE), wife of the Marquess Li Cang () (d. 186 BCE), chancellor for the Kingdom of Changsha
Main articles: Rule of Wen and Jing and Rebellion of the Seven States Reforms and policies
Further information: Government of the Han Dynasty and Society and culture of the Han Dynasty
During the ”Rule of Wen and Jing” (the era named after Emperor Wen and his successor Emperor Jing (r. 157141 BCE), the Han Empire witnessed greater economic and dynastic stability, while the central government assumed more power over the realm. In an attempt to distance itself from the harsh rule of Qin, the court under these rulers abolished legal punishments involving mutilation in 167 BCE, declared eight widespread amnesties between 180141 BCE, and reduced the tax rate on households’ agricultural produce from one-fifteenth to one-thirtieth in 168 BCE. It was abolished altogether the following year, but reinstated at the rate of one-thirtieth in 156 BCE.
Government policies were influenced by the proto-Daoist Huang-Lao () ideology, a mix of political and cosmological precepts given patronage by Wen’s wife Empress Dou (d. 135 BCE), who was empress dowager during Jing’s reign and grand empress dowager during the early reign of his successor Emperor Wu (r. 14187 BCE). Huang-Lao, named after the mythical Yellow Emperor and the 6th-century-BCE philosopher Laozi, viewed the former as the founder of ordered civilization; this was unlike the Confucians, who gave that role to legendary sage kings Yao and Shun. Han imperial patrons of Huang-Lao sponsored the policy of ”nonaction” or wuwei () (a central concept of Laozi’s Daodejing), which claimed that rulers should interfere as little as possible if administrative and legal systems were to function smoothly. The influence of Huang-Lao doctrines on state affairs became eclipsed with the formal adoption of Confucianism as state ideology during Wu’s reign and the later view that Laozi, not the Yellow Emperor, was the originator of Daoist practices.
From 179143 BCE, the number of kingdoms was increased from eleven to twenty-five and the number of commanderies from nineteen to forty. This was not due to a large territorial expansion, but because kingdoms that had rebelled against Han rule or failed to produce an heir were significantly reduced in size or even abolished and carved into new commanderies or smaller kingdoms. Rebellion of Seven States
Seated earthenware figures playing on a model liubo board game, dated to the Eastern Han Era
When Liu Xian (), the heir apparent of Wu, once made an official visit to the capital during Wen’s reign, he played a board game called liubo with then crown prince Liu Qi, the future Emperor Jing. During a heated dispute, Liu Qi threw the game board at Liu Xian, killing him. This outraged his father Liu Pi (), the King of Wu and a nephew of Emperor Gaozu’s, who was nonetheless obliged to claim allegiance to Liu Qi once he took the throne.
Still bitter over the death of his son and fearful that he would be targeted in a wave of reduction of kingdom sizes that Emperor Jing carried out under the advice of Imperial Counselor Chao Cuo (d. 154 BCE), the King of Wu led a revolt against Han in 154 BCE as the head of a coalition with six other rebelling kingdoms: Chu, Zhao, Jiaoxi, Jiaodong, Zaichuan, and Jinan, which also feared such reductions. However, Han forces commanded by Zhou Yafu were ready and able to put down the revolt, destroying the coalition of seven states against Han. Several kingdoms were abolished (although later reinstated) and others significantly reduced in size. Emperor Jing issued an edict in 145 BCE which outlawed the independent administrative staffs in the kingdoms and abolished all their senior offices except for the chancellor, who was henceforth reduced in status and appointed directly by the central government. His successor Emperor Wu would diminish their power even further by abolishing the kingdoms’ tradition of primogeniture and ordering that each king had to divide up his realm between all of his male heirs. Relations with the Xiongnu
Western Han Era infantry (foreground) and mounted cavalry (background) pottery figurines
In 177 BCE, the Xiongnu Wise King of the Right raided the non-Chinese tribes living under Han protection in the northwest (modern Gansu). In 176 BCE, Modu Chanyu sent a letter to Emperor Wen informing him that the Wise King, allegedly insulted by Han officials, acted without the Chanyu’s permission and so he punished the Wise King by forcing him to conduct a military campaign against the nomadic Yuezhi. Yet this event was merely part of a larger effort to recruit nomadic tribes north of Han China, during which the bulk of the Yuezhi were expelled from the Hexi Corridor (fleeing west into Central Asia) and the sedentary state of Loulan in the Lop Nur salt marsh, the nomadic Wusun of the Tian Shan range, and twenty-six other states east of Samarkand were subjugated to Xiongnu hegemony. Modu Chanyu’s implied threat that he would invade China if the heqin agreement was not renewed sparked a debate in Chang’an; although officials such as Chao Cuo and Jia Yi (d. 169 BCE) wanted to reject the heqin policy, Emperor Wen favored renewal of the agreement. Modu Chanyu died before the Han tribute reached him, but his successor Laoshang Chanyu (174160 BCE) renewed the heqin agreement and negotiated the opening of border markets. Lifting the ban on trade significantly reduced the frequency and size of Xiongnu raids, which had necessitated tens of thousands of Han troops to be stationed at the border. However, Laoshang Chanyu and his successor Junchen Chanyu () (r. 160126 BCE) continued to violate Han’s territorial sovereignty by making incursions despite the treaty. While Laoshang Chanyu continued the conquest of his father by driving the Yuezhi into the Ili River valley, the Han quietly built up its strength in cavalry forces to later challenge the Xiongnu. Reign of Wu
Main article: Sino-Xiongnu War
Further information: Battle of Loulan, Sino-Roman relations, Sino-Indian relations, and First Chinese domination (History of Vietnam) Confucianism and government recruitment
A lacquerware-painted scene on a 1st or 2nd century CE basket from the Han colony at Lelang (modern North Korea) showing historical paragons of filial piety
Further information: Society and culture of the Han Dynasty and Government of the Han Dynasty
Although Emperor Gaozu did not ascribe to the philosophy and system of ethics attributed to Confucius (fl. 6th century BCE), he did enlist the aid of Confucians such as Lu Jia and Shusun Tong (); in 196 BCE he established the first Han regulation for recruiting men of merit into government service, which Robert P. Kramer calls the ”first major impulse toward the famous examination system.” Emperors Wen and Jing appointed Confucian academicians to court, yet not all academicians at their courts specialized in what would later become orthodox Confucian texts. For several years after Liu Che took the throne in 141 BCE (known posthumously as Emperor Wu), the Grand Empress Dowager Dou continued to dominate the court and did not accept any policy which she found unfavorable or contradicted Huang-Lao ideology. After her death in 135 BCE, a major shift occurred in Chinese political history.
A 2nd century BCE Western Han gilded bronze oil lamp set with painted silver designs
After Emperor Wu called for the submission of memorial essays on how to improve the government, he favored that of the official Dong Zhongshu (179104 BCE), a philosopher who Kramers calls the first Confucian ”theologian”. Dong’s synthesis fused together the ethical ideas of Confucius with the cosmological beliefs in yin and yang and Five Elements or Wuxing by fitting them into the same holistic, universal system which governed heaven, earth, and the world of man. Moreover, it justified the imperial system of government by providing it its place within the greater cosmos. Reflecting the ideas of Dong Zhongshu, Emperor Wu issued an edict in 136 BCE that abolished academic chairs other than those focused on the Confucian Five Classics. In 124 BCE Emperor Wu established the Imperial University, at which the academicians taught 50 students; this was the incipient beginning of the civil service examination system refined in later dynasties. Although sons and relatives of officials were often privileged with nominations to office, those who did not come from a family of officials were not barred from entry into the bureaucracy. Rather, education in the Five Classics became the paramount prerequisite for gaining office; as a result, the Imperial University was expanded dramatically by the 2nd century CE when it accommodated 30,000 students. With Cai Lun’s (d. 121 CE) invention of the papermaking process in 105 CE, the spread of paper as a cheap writing medium from the Eastern Han period onwards increased the supply of books and hence the number of those who could be educated for civil service. War against the Xiongnu
A Western or Eastern Han bronze horse with a lead saddle
The death of Empress Dou also marked a significant shift in foreign policy. In order to address the Xiongnu threat and renewal of the heqin agreement, Emperor Wu called a court conference into session in 135 BCE where two factions of leading ministers debated the merits and faults of the current policy; Emperor Wu followed the majority consensus of his ministers that peace should be maintained. A year later, while the Xiongnu were busy raiding the northern border and waiting for Han’s response, Wu had another court conference assembled. The faction supporting war against the Xiongnu was able to sway the majority opinion by making a compromise for those worried about stretching financial resources on an indefinite campaign: in a limited engagement along the border near Mayi, Han forces would lure Junchen Chanyu over with gifts and promises of defections in order to quickly eliminate him and cause political chaos for the Xiongnu. When the Mayi trap failed in 133 BCE (Junchen Chanyu realized he was about to fall into a trap and fled back north), the era of heqin-style appeasement was broken and the Han court resolved to engage in full-scale war.
Leading campaigns involving tens of thousands of troops, in 127 BCE the Han general Wei Qing (d. 106 BCE) recaptured the Ordos Desert region from the Xiongnu and in 121 BCE Huo Qubing (d. 117 BCE) expelled them from the Qilian Mountains, gaining the surrender of many Xiongnu aristocrats. At the Battle of Mobei in 119 BCE, generals Wei and Huo led the campaign to the Khangai Mountains where they forced the chanyu to flee north of the Gobi Desert. The maintenance of 300,000 horses by government slaves in thirty-six different pasture lands was not enough to satisfy the cavalry and baggage trains needed for these campaigns, so the government offered exemption from military and corve labor for up to three male members of each household who presented a privately-bred horse to the government. Expansion and colonization
The ruins of a Han-dynasty watchtower made of rammed earth at Dunhuang, Gansu province, the eastern end of the Silk Road
After Xiongnu’s King Hunye surrendered to Huo Qubing in 121 BCE, the Han acquired a territory stretching from the Hexi Corridor to Lop Nur, thus cutting the Xiongnu off from their Qiang allies. New commanderies were established in the Ordos as well as four in the Hexi Corridoriuquan, Zhangyi, Dunhuang, and Wuweihich were populated with Han settlers after a major Qiang-Xiongnu allied force was repelled from the region in 111 BCE. By 119 BCE, Han forces established their first garrison outposts in the Juyan Lake Basin of Inner Mongolia, with larger settlements built there after 110 BCE. Roughly 40% of the settlers at Juyan came from the Guandong region of modern Henan, western Shandong, southern Shanxi, southern Hebei, northwestern Jiangsu, and northwestern Anhui. After Hunye’s surrender, the Han court moved 725,000 people from the Guandong region to populate the Xinqinzhong () region south of the bend of the Yellow River. In all, Emperor Wu’s forces conquered roughly 4.4 million km2 (1.7 million mi2) of new land, by far the largest territorial expansion in Chinese history. Self-sustaining agricultural garrisons were established in these frontier outposts to support military campaigns as well as secure trade routes leading into Central Asia, the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. The Han-era Great Wall was extended as far west as Dunhuang and sections of it still stand today in Gansu, including thirty Han beacon towers and two fortified castles. Exploration, foreign trade, war and diplomacy
Woven silk textile from Tomb No. 1 at Mawangdui, Changsha, Hunan province, China, dated to the Western Han Era, 2nd century BCE.
The Portland Vase, Roman cameo glass, 525 CE; Roman glass has been found in Han Chinese tombs dating from the reign of Emperor Wu onwards.
Starting in 139 BCE, the Han diplomat Zhang Qian traveled west in an unsuccessful attempt to secure an alliance with the Da Yuezhi (who were evicted from Gansu by the Xiongnu in 177 BCE); however, Zhang’s travels revealed entire countries which the Chinese were unaware of, the remnants of the conquests of Alexander the Great (r. 336323 BCE). When Zhang returned to China in 125 BCE, he reported on his visits to Dayuan (Fergana), Kangju (Sogdiana), and Daxia (Bactria, formerly the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom which was subjugated by the Da Yuezhi). Zhang described Dayuan and Daxia as agricultural and urban countries like China, and although he did not venture there, described Shendu (the Indus River valley of Northwestern India) and Anxi (Arsacid territories) further west. Envoys sent to these states returned with foreign delegations and lucrative trade caravans; yet even before this, Zhang noted that these countries were importing Chinese silk. After interrogating merchants, Zhang also discovered a southwestern trade route leading through Burma and on to India. The earliest known Roman glassware found in China (but manufactured in the Roman Empire) is a glass bowl found in a Guangzhou tomb dating to the early 1st century BCE and perhaps came from a maritime route passing through the South China Sea. Likewise, imported Chinese silk attire became popular in the Roman Empire by the time of Julius Caesar (10044 BCE).
After the heqin agreement broke down, the Xiongnu were forced to extract more crafts and agricultural foodstuffs from the subjugated Tarim Basin urban centers. From 11560 BCE the Han and Xiongnu battled for control and influence over these states, with the Han gaining, from 108101 BCE tributary submission of Loulan, Turpan, Bgr, Dayuan (Fergana), and Kangju (Sogdiana). The farthest-reaching and most expensive invasion was Li Guangli’s () four-year campaign against Fergana in the Syr Darya and Amu Darya valleys (modern Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan). Historian Laszlo Torday (1997) asserts that Fergana threatened to cut off Han’s access to the Silk Road, yet historian Sima Qian (d. 86 BCE) downplayed this threat by asserting that Li’s mission was really a means to punish Dayuan for not providing tribute of prized Central Asian stallions.
To the south, Emperor Wu assisted King Wen of Nanyue in fending off an attack by Minyue (in modern Fujian) in 135 BCE. After a pro-Han faction was overthrown at the court of Nanyue, Han naval forces conquered Nanyue in 111 BCE, bringing areas of modern Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan Island, and northern Vietnam under Han control. Emperor Wu also launched an invasion into the Dian Kingdom of Yunnan in 109 BCE, subjugating its king as a tributary vassal, while later Dian rebellions in 86 BCE and 83 BCE, 14 CE (during Wang Mang’s rule), and 4245 CE were quelled by Han forces. Wu sent an expedition into what is now North Korea in 128 BCE, but this was abandoned two years later. In 108 BCE, another expedition established four commanderies there, only two of which (i.e. Xuantu Commandery and Lelang Commandery) remained after 82 BCE. Although there was some violent resistance in 108 BCE and irregular raids by Goguryeo and Buyeo afterwards, Chinese settlers conducted peaceful trade relations with native Koreans who lived largely independent of (but were culturally influenced by) the sparse Han settlements. Economic reforms
Main articles: Economy of the Han Dynasty and Science and technology of the Han Dynasty
The front and reverse of a wushu () coin issued during the reign of Emperor Wu, 25.5 mm in diameter
To fund his prolonged military campaigns and colonization efforts, Emperor Wu turned away from the ”nonaction” policy of earlier reigns by having the central government commandeer the private industries and trades of salt mining and iron manufacturing by 117 BCE. Another government monopoly over liquor was established in 98 BCE, but the majority consensus at a court conference in 81 BCE led to the breaking up of this monopoly. The mathematician and official Sang Hongyang (d. 80 BCE), who later became Imperial Counselor and one of many former merchants drafted into the government to help administer these monopolies, was responsible for the ’equable transportation’ system that eliminated price variation over time from place to place. This was a government means to interfere in the profitable grain trade by eliminating speculation (since the government stocked up on grain when cheap and sold it to the public at a low price when private merchants demanded higher ones). This along with the monopolies were criticized even during Wu’s reign as bringing unnecessary hardships for merchants’ profits and farmers forced to rely on poor-quality government-made goods and services; the monopolies and equable transportation did not last into the Eastern Han Era (25220 CE).
During Emperor Wu’s reign, the poll tax for each minor aged three to fourteen was raised from 20 to 23 coins; the rate for adults remained at 120. New taxes exacted on market transactions, wheeled vehicles, and properties were meant to bolster the growing military budget. In 119 BCE a new bronze coin weighing five shu (3.2 g/0.11 oz)eplacing the four shu coinas issued by the government (remaining the standard coin of China until the Tang Dynasty), followed by a ban on private minting in 113 BCE. Earlier attempts to ban private minting took place in 186 and 144 BCE, but Wu’s monopoly over the issue of coinage remained in place throughout the Han (although its stewardship changed hands between different government agencies). From 118 BCE to 5 CE, the Han government minted 28 billion coins, an average of 220 million a year. Latter half of Western Han
Main article: Protectorate of the Western Regions
A gilded bronze oil lamp in the shape of a female servant, dated 2nd century BCE, found in the tomb of Dou Wan, wife to the Han prince Liu Sheng; its sliding shutter allows for adjustments in the direction and brightness in rays of light while it also traps smoke within the body. Regency of Huo Guang
Emperor Wu’s first wife, Empress Chen Jiao, was deposed in 130 BCE after allegations that she attempted witchcraft to help her produce a male heir. In 91 BCE, similar allegations were made against Emperor Wu’s Crown Prince Liu Ju, the son of Emperor Wu’s second wife Empress Wei Zifu, and Liu Ju, in fear of Emperor Wu’s believing the false allegations, rebelled at Chang’an for five days while Emperor Wu was away at his quiet summer retreat of Ganquan (; in modern Shaanxi). After Liu Ju’s defeat, both he and Empress Wei committed suicide.
Eventually, due to his good reputation, Huo Qubing’s half-brother Huo Guang was entrusted by Wu to form a triumvirate regency alongside ethnically-Xiongnu Jin Midi (d. 86 BCE) and Shangguan Jie () (d. 80 BCE) over the court of his successor, the child Liu Fuling, known posthumously as Emperor Zhao of Han (r. 8774 BCE). Jin Midi died a year later and by 80 BCE Shangguan Jie and Imperial Counselor Sang Hongyang were executed when they were accused of supporting Emperor Zhao’s older brother Liu Dan () the King of Yan as emperor; this gave Huo unrivaled power. However, he did not abuse his power in the eyes of the Confucian establishment and gained popularity for reducing Emperor Wu’s taxes.
Emperor Zhao died in 74 BCE without a successor, while the one chosen to replace him on July 18, his nephew Prince He of Changyi, was removed on August 14 after displaying a lack of character or capacity to rule. Prince He’s removal was secured with a petition signed by all the leading ministers and submitted to Empress Dowager Shangguan for approval. Liu Bingyi (Liu Ju’s grandson) was named Emperor Xuan of Han (r. 7449 BCE) on September 10. Huo Guang remained in power as regent over Emperor Xuan until he died of natural causes in 68 BCE. Yet in 66 BCE the Huo clan was charged with conspiracy against the throne and eliminated. This was the culmination of Emperor Xuan’s revenge after Huo Guang’s wife had poisoned his beloved Empress Xu Pingjun in 71 BCE only to have her replaced by Huo Guang’s daughter Empress Huo Chengjun (the latter was deposed in September 66 BCE). Liu Shi, son of Empress Xu, succeeded his father as Emperor Yuan of Han (r. 4933 BCE). Reforms and frugality
Further information: Government of the Han Dynasty
A bronze with silver inlay rhinoceros figurine sporting a saddle on its back, dated to the Western Han Era
During Emperor Wu’s reign and Huo Guang’s regency, the dominant political faction was the Modernist Party. This party favored greater government intervention in the private economy with government monopolies over salt and iron, higher taxes exacted on private business, and price controls which were used to fund an aggressive foreign policy of territorial expansion; they also followed the Qin Dynasty approach to discipline by meting out more punishments for faults and less rewards for service. After Huo Guang’s regency, the Reformist Party gained more leverage over state affairs and policy decisions. This party favored the abolishment of government monopolies, limited government intervention in the private economy, a moderate foreign policy, limited colonization efforts, frugal budget reform, and a return to the Zhou Dynasty ideal of granting more rewards for service to display the dynasty’s magnanimity. This party’s influence can be seen in the abolition of the central government’s salt and iron monopolies in 44 BCE, yet these were reinstated in 41 BCE, only to be abolished again during the 1st century CE and transferred to local administrations and private entrepreneurship. By 66 BCE the Reformists had many of the lavish spectacles, games, and entertainments installed by Emperor Wu to impress foreign dignitaries cancelled on the grounds that they were excessive and ostentatious.
A cylindrical lacquerware box from tomb no. 1 at Mawangdui, 2nd century BCE
Spurred by alleged signs from Heaven warning the ruler of his incompetence, a total of eighteen general amnesties were granted during the combined reigns of Emperor Yuan and Emperor Cheng of Han (r. 337 BCE, Liu Ao ). Emperor Yuan reduced the severity of punishment for several crimes, while Cheng reduced the length of judicial procedures in 34 BCE since they were disrupting the lives of commoners. While the Modernists had accepted sums of cash from criminals to have their sentences commuted or even dropped, the Reformists reversed this policy since it favored the wealthy over the poor and was not an effective deterrent against crime.
Emperor Cheng made major reforms to state-sponsored religion. The Qin Dynasty had worshipped four main legendary deities, with another added by Emperor Gaozu in 205 BCE; these were the Five Powers, or Wudi (). In 31 BCE Emperor Cheng, in an effort to gain Heaven’s favor and bless him with a male heir, halted all ceremonies dedicated to the Five Powers and replaced them with ceremonies for the supreme god Shangdi, who the kings of Zhou had worshipped. Foreign relations and war
A painted ceramic mounted cavalryman from the tomb of a military general at Xianyang, Shaanxi province, dated to the Western Han Era
The first half of the 1st century BCE witnessed several succession crises for the Xiongnu leadership, allowing Han to further cement its control over the Western Regions. The Han general Fu Jiezi assassinated the pro-Xiongnu King of Loulan in 77 BCE. The Han formed a coalition with the Wusun, Dingling, and Wuhuan, and the coalition forces inflicted a major defeat against the Xiongnu in 72 BCE. The Han regained its influence over the Turpan Depression after defeating the Xiongnu at the Battle of Jushi in 67 BCE. In 65 BCE Han was able to install a new King of Kucha (a state north of the Taklamakan Desert) who would be agreeable to Han interests in the region. The office of the Protectorate of the Western Regions, first given to Zheng Ji (d. 49 BCE), was established in 60 BCE to supervise colonial activities and conduct relations with the small kingdoms of the Tarim Basin.
After Zhizhi Chanyu (r. 5636 BCE) had inflicted a serious defeat against his rival brother and royal contendor Huhanye Chanyu () (r. 5831 BCE), Huhanye and his supporters debated whether to request Han aid and become a Han vassal. He decided to do so in 52 BCE. Huhanye sent his son as a hostage to Han and personally paid homage to Emperor Xuan during the 51 BCE Chinese New Year celebration. Under the advocacy of the the Reformists, Huhanye was seated as a distinguished guest of honor and rich rewards of 5 kg (160 oz t) of gold, 200,000 cash coins, 77 suits of clothes, 8,000 bales of silk fabric, 1,500 kg (3,300 lb) of silk floss, and 15 horses, in addition to 680,000 L (19,300 U.S. bu) of grain sent to him when he returned home.
A gilded bronze handle (now disconnected from the ware) in the shape of a dragon’s head and neck, Eastern Han Era
Huhanye Chanyu and his successors were encouraged to pay further trips of homage to the Han court due to the increasing amount of gifts showered on them after each visit; this was a cause for complaint by some ministers in 3 BCE, yet the financial consequence of pampering their vassal was deemed superior to the heqin agreement. Zhizhi Chanyu initially attempted to send hostages and tribute to the Han court in hopes of ending the Han support of Huhanye, but eventually turned against Han. Subsequently, the Han general Chen Tang and Protector General Gan Yanshou (/), acting without explicit permission from the Han court, killed Zhizhi at his capital of Shanyu City (in modern Taraz, Kazakhstan) in 36 BCE. The Reformist Han court, reluctant to award independent missions let alone foreign interventionism, gave Chen and Gan only modest rewards. Despite the show of favor, Huhanye was not given a Han princess; instead, he was given the Lady Wang Zhaojun, one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. This marked a departure from the earlier heqin agreement, where a Chinese princess was handed over to the Chanyu as his bride. Wang Mang’s usurpation Wang Mang seizes control
The long life of Empress Wang Zhengjun (71 BCE13 CE), wife of Emperor Yuan and mother to Emperor Cheng, ensured that her male relatives would be appointed one after another to the role of regent, officially known as Commander-in-Chief. Emperor Cheng, who was more interested in cockfighting and chasing after beautiful women than administering the empire, left much of the affairs of state to his relatives of the Wang clan. On November 28, 8 BCE Wang Mang (45 BCE23 CE), a nephew of Empress Dowager Wang, became the new General-in-Chief. However, when Emperor Ai of Han (r. 71 BCE, Liu Xin) took the throne, his grandmother Consort Fu (Emperor Yuan’s concubine) became the leading figure in the palace and forced Wang Mang to resign on August 27, 7 BCE, followed by his forced departure from the capital to his marquessate in 5 BCE.
The raised-relief decorated reverse side of a Han bronze mirror showing animal figures representing the Chinese zodiac
Due to pressure from Wang’s supporters, Emperor Ai invited Wang Mang back to the capital in 2 BCE. A year later Emperor Ai died of illness without a son. Wang Mang was reinstated as regent over Emperor Ping of Han (r. 1 BCE 6 CE, Liu Jizi), a first cousin of the former emperor. Although Wang had married his daughter to Emperor Ping, the latter was still a child when he died in 6 CE. In July of that year, Grand Empress Dowager Wang confirmed Wang Mang as acting emperor (jiahuangdi ) and the child Liu Ying as his heir to succeed him, despite the fact that a Liu family marquess had revolted against Wang a month earlier, followed by others who were outraged that he was assuming greater power than the imperial Liu family. These rebellions were quelled and Wang Mang promised to hand over power to Liu Ying when he reached his majority. Despite promises to relinquish power, Wang initiated a propaganda campaign to show that Heaven was sending signals that it was time for Han’s rule to end. On January 10, 9 CE he announced that Han had run its course and accepted the requests that he proclaim himself emperor of the Xin Dynasty (923 CE). Traditionalist reforms
Further information: Economy of the Han Dynasty and Society and culture of the Han Dynasty
Bronze Chinese coins, in the shape of knives and spades, from the reign of Wang Mang
Wang Mang had a grand vision to restore China to a fabled golden age achieved in the early Zhou Dynasty, the era which Confucius had idealized. He attempted sweeping reforms, including the outlawing of slavery and institution of the King’s Fields system in 9 CE, nationalizing land ownership and allotting a standard amount of land to each family. Slavery was reestablished and the land reform regime was cancelled in 12 CE due to widespread protest.
The historian Ban Gu (3292 CE) wrote that Wang’s reforms led to his downfall, yet aside from slavery and land reform, historian Hans Bielenstein points out that most of Wang’s reforms were in line with earlier Han policies. Although his new denominations of currency introduced in 7 CE, 9 CE, 10 CE, and 14 CE debased the value of coinage, earlier introductions of lighter-weight currencies resulted in economic damage as well. Wang renamed all the commanderies of the empire as well as bureaucratic titles, yet there were precedents for this as well. The government monopolies were rescinded in 22 CE because they could no longer be enforced during a large-scale rebellion against him (spurred by massive flooding of the Yellow River). Foreign relations under Wang
A jade-carved sword scabbard slide with a dragon design, from the Western Han Era
The half-Chinese, half-Xiongnu noble Yituzhiyashi (), son of Huhanye Chanyu and Wang Zhaojun, became a vocal partisan for Han China within the Xiongnu realm; Bielenstein claims that this led conservative Xiongnu nobles to anticipate a break in the alliance with Han. The moment came when Wang Mang assumed the throne and demoted the Chanyu to a lesser rank; this became a pretext for war. During the winter of 1011 CE, Wang amassed 300,000 troops along the northern border of Han China, a show of force which led the Xiongnu to back down. Yet when raiding continued, Wang Mang had the princely Xiongnu hostage held by Han authorities executed. Diplomatic relations were repaired when Xian () (r. 1318 CE) became the chanyu, only to be soiled again when Huduershi Chanyu () (r. 1846 CE) took the throne and raided Han’s borders in 19 CE.
The Tarim Basin kingdom of Yanqi (Karasahr, located east of Kucha, west of Turpan) rebelled against Xin authority in 13 CE, killing Han’s Protector General Dan Qin (). Wang Mang sent a force to retaliate against Karasahr in 16 CE, quelling their resistance and ensuring that the region would remain under Chinese control until the widespread rebellion against Wang Mang toppled his rule in 23 CE. Wang also extended Chinese influence over Tibetan tribes in the Kokonor region and fended off an attack in 12 CE by Goguryeo (an early Korean state located around the Yalu River) in the Korean peninsula. However, as the widespread rebellion in China mounted from 2023 CE, the Koreans raided Lelang Commandery and Han did not reassert itself in the region until 30 CE. Restoration of the Han
Main article: Rule of Ming and Zhang
Further information: Second Chinese domination (History of Vietnam) Natural disaster and civil war
An Eastern-Han pottery soldier with a now faded coating of paint and a missing weapon from his right hand
Before 3 CE, the course of the Yellow River had emptied into the Bohai Sea at Tianjin, but the gradual build up of silt in its riverbedhich raised the water level each yearverpowered the dikes built to prevent flooding and the river split in two, with one arm flowing south of the Shandong Peninsula and into the East China Sea. A second flood in 11 CE changed the course of the northern branch of the river so that it emptied slightly north of the Shandong Peninsula, yet far south of Tianjin. With much of the southern North China Plain inundated following the creation of the Yellow River’s southern branch, thousands of starving peasants who were displaced from their homes formed groups of bandits and rebels, most notably the Red Eyebrows. Wang Mang’s armies tried to quell these rebellions in 18 and 22 CE but failed.
Liu Yan (d. 23 CE), a descendant of Emperor Jing, led a group of rebelling gentry groups from Nanyang who had Yan’s third cousin Liu Xuan () accept the title Emperor Gengshi of Han (r. 2325) on March 11, 23 CE. Liu Xiu, a brother of Liu Yan and future Emperor Guangwu of Han (r. 2557 CE), distinguished himself at the Battle of Kunyang on July 7, 23 CE when he relieved a city sieged by Wang Mang’s forces and turned the tide of the war. Soon afterwards, Emperor Gengshi had Liu Yan executed on grounds of treason and Liu Xiu, fearing for his life, resigned from office as Minister of Ceremonies and avoided public mourning for his brother; for this, the emperor gave Liu Xiu a marquessate and a promotion as general.
Gengshi’s forces then targeted Chang’an, but a local insurgency broke out in the capital. From October 46 Wang Mang made a last stand at the Weiyang Palace only to be killed and decapitated; his head was sent to Gengshi’s headquarters at Wan (i.e., Nanyang) before Gengshi’s armies even reached Chang’an on October 9. Emperor Gengshi settled Luoyang as his new capital where he invited Red Eyebrows leader Fan Chong () to stay, yet Gengshi granted him only honorary titles, so Fan decided to flee once his men began to desert him. Gengshi moved the capital back to Chang’an in 24 CE, yet in the following year the Red Eyebrows defeated his forces, appointed their own puppet ruler Liu Penzi, entered Chang’an and captured the fleeing Gengshi who they demoted as King of Changsha before killing him. Reconsolidation under Guangwu
Eastern Han Era bronze statuette of a mythical chimera (), 1st century CE
While acting as a commissioner under Emperor Gengshi, Liu Xiu gathered a significant following after putting down a local rebellion (in what is now Hebei province). He claimed the Han throne himself on August 5, 25 CE and occupied Luoyang as his capital on November 5. Before he would eventually unify the empire, there were 11 others who claimed the title of emperor. With the efforts of his officers Deng Yu and Feng Yi, Guangwu forced the wandering Red Eyebrows to surrender on March 15, 27 CE, resettling them at Luoyang, yet had their leader Fan Chong executed when a plot of rebellion was revealed.
From 2630 CE, Guangwu defeated various warlords and conquered the Central Plain and Shandong Peninsula in the east. Allying with the warlord Dou Rong () of the distant Hexi Corridor in 29 CE, Guangwu nearly defeated the Gansu warlord Wei Xiao (/) in 32 CE, seizing Wei’s domain in 33 CE. The last adversary standing was Gongsun Shu (), whose base was at Chengdu in modern Sichuan. Although Guangwu’s forces successfully burned down Gongsun’s fortified pontoon bridge stretching across the Yangzi River, Guangwu’s commanding general Cen Peng () was killed in 35 CE by an assassin sent by Gongsun Shu. Nevertheless, Han General Wu Han (d. 44 CE) resumed Cen’s campaign along the Yangzi and Min rivers and destroyed Gongsun’s forces by December 36 CE.
This pottery model of a palace found in a Han Dynasty tomb displays outer walls and courts, gate houses, towers, halls, verandas, and roof tiles.
Since Chang’an is located west of Luoyang, the names Western Han (202 BCE 9 CE) and Eastern Han (25220 CE) are accepted by historians. Luoyang’s 10 m (32 ft) tall eastern, western, and northern walls still stand today, although the southern wall was destroyed when the Luo River changed its course. Within its walls it had two prominent palaces, both of which existed during Western Han, but were expanded by Guangwu and his successors. While Eastern Han Luoyang is estimated to have held roughly 500,000 inhabitants, the first known census data for the whole of China, dated 2 CE, recorded a population of nearly 58 million. Comparing this to the census of 140 CE (when the total population was registered at roughly 48 million), there was a significant migratory shift of up to 10 million people from northern to southern China during Eastern Han, largely because of natural disasters and wars with nomadic groups in the north. Population size fluctuated according to periodically-updated Eastern-Han censuses, but historian Sadao Nishijima notes that this does not reflect a dramatic loss of life, but rather government inability at times to register the entire populace. Policies under Guangwu, Ming, Zhang, and He
An Eastern-Han statue of Li Bing (fl. 3rd century BCE), who engineered the Dujiangyan Irrigation System; this statue was placed in the middle of the water there to serve as a water level gauge.
Further information: Government of the Han Dynasty
Scrapping Wang Mang’s denominations of currency, Emperor Guangwu reintroduced Western Han’s standard five shu coin in 40 CE. Making up for lost revenue after the salt and iron monopolies were canceled, private manufacturers were heavily taxed while the government purchased its armies’ swords and shields from private businesses. In 31 CE he allowed peasants to pay a military substitution tax to avoid conscription into the armed forces for a year of training and year of service; instead he built a volunteer force which lasted throughout Eastern Han. He also allowed peasants to avoid the one-month corve duty with a commutable tax as hired labor became more popular. Wang Mang had demoted all Han marquesses to commoner status, yet Guangwu made an effort from 27 CE onwards to find their relatives and restore abolished marquessates.
Emperor Ming of Han (r. 5775 CE, Liu Yang) reestablished the Office for Price Adjustment and Stabilization and the price stabilization system where the government bought grain when cheap and sold it to the public when private commercial prices were high due to limited stocks. However, he canceled the prize stabilization scheme in 68 CE when he became convinced that government hoarding of grain only made wealthy merchants even richer. With the renewed economic prosperity brought about by his father’s reign, Emperor Ming addressed the flooding of the Yellow River by repairing various dams and canals. On April 8, 70 CE, an edict boasted that the southern branch of the Yellow River emptying south of the Shandong Peninsula was finally cut off by Han engineering. A patron of scholarship, Emperor Ming also established a school for young nobles aside from the Imperial University.
A Western Han Era bronze door knocker
Emperor Zhang of Han (r. 7588 CE, Liu Da) faced an agrarian crisis when a cattle epidemic broke out in 76 CE. In addition to providing disaster relief, Zhang also made reforms to legal procedures and lightened existing punishments with the bastinado, since he believed that this would restore the seasonal balance of yin and yang and cure the epidemic. To further display his benevolence, in 78 CE he ceased the corve work on canal works of the Hutuo River running through the Taihang Mountains, believing it was causing too much hardship for the people; in 85 CE he granted a three-year poll tax exemption for any woman who gave birth and exempted their husbands for a year. Unlike other Eastern Han rulers who sponsored the New Texts tradition of the Confucian Five Classics, Zhang was a patron of the Old Texts tradition and held scholarly debates on the validity of the schools. Rafe de Crespigny writes that the major reform of the Eastern Han period was Zhang’s reintroduction in 85 CE of an amended Sifen calendar, replacing Emperor Wu’s Taichu calendar of 104 BCE which had become inaccurate over two centuries (the former measured the tropical year at 365.25 days like the Julian Calendar, while the latter measured the tropical year at 3653851539 days and the lunar month at 294381 days).
An earthenware pouring vessel in the shape of a goose, painted with pigment, Western Han Era
Emperor He of Han (r. 88105 CE, Liu Zhao) was tolerant of both New Text and Old Text traditions, though orthodox studies were in decline and works skeptical of New Texts, such as Wang Chong’s (27 c. 100 CE) Lunheng, disillusioned the scholarly community with that tradition. He also showed an interest in history when he commissioned the Lady Ban Zhao (45116 CE) to use the imperial archives in order to complete the Book of Han, the work of her deceased father and brother. This set an important precedent of imperial control over the recording of history and thus was unlike Sima Qian’s far more independent work, the Records of the Grand Historian (10991 BCE). When plagues of locusts, floods, and earthquakes disrupted the lives of commoners, Emperor He’s relief policies were to cut taxes, open granaries, provide government loans, forgive private debts, and resettle people away from disaster areas. Believing that a severe drought in 94 CE was the cosmological result of injustice in the legal system, Emperor He personally inspected prisons. When he found that some had false charges levelled against them, he sent the Prefect of Luoyang to prison; rain allegedly came soon afterwards. Foreign relations and split of the Xiongnu realm
A miniature guard brandishing a handheld crossbow from the top balcony of a model watchtower, made of glazed earthenware during the Eastern Han Era
The Vietnamese Trng Sisters led an uprising in the Red River Delta of Jiaozhi Commandery in 40 CE. Guangwu sent the elderly general Ma Yuan (~14 BCE 49 CE), who defeated them in 4243 CE. The sisters’ native Dong Son drums were melted down and recast into a large bronze horse statue presented to Guangwu at Luoyang.
Meanwhile, Huduershi Chanyu was succeeded by his son Punu () in 46 CE, thus breaking Huhanye’s orders that only a Xiongnu ruler’s brother was a valid successor; Huduershi’s nephew Bi () was outraged and in 48 CE was proclaimed a rival Chanyu. This split created the Northern Xiongnu and Southern Xiongnu, and like Huhanye before him, Bi turned to the Han for aid in 50 CE. When Bi came to pay homage to the Han court, he was given 10,000 bales of silk fabrics, 2,500 kg (5,500 lb) of silk, 500,000 L (14,000 U.S. bu) of rice, and 36,000 head of cattle. Unlike in Huhanye’s time, however, the Southern Xiongnu were overseen by a Han Prefect who not only acted as an arbiter in Xiongnu legal cases, but also monitored the movements of the Chanyu and his followers who were settled in Han’s northern commanderies in Shanxi, Gansu, and Inner Mongolia. Northern Xiongnu attempts to enter Han’s tributary system were rejected.
Carving of a young man in Parthian clothing, from Palmyra, Syria, dated early 3rd century CE
Vima Takto (r. c. 8090 CE), ruler of the Kushan Empire; the Kushan emperors minted copper coins in imitation of the silver denarii of Augustus (r. 27 BCE 14 CE), first emperor of the Roman Empire
Following Xin’s loss of the Western Territories, the Kingdom of Yarkand looked after the Chinese officials and families stranded in the Tarim Basin and fought the Xiongnu for control over it. Emperor Guangwu, preoccupied with civil wars in China, simply granted King Kang of Yarkand an official title in 29 CE and in 41 CE made his successor King Xian a Protector General (later reduced to the honorary title of ”Great General of Han”). Yarkand overtaxed its subjects of Khotan, Turpan, Kucha, and Karasahr, all of which decided to ally with the Northern Xiongnu. By 61 CE Khotan had conquered Yarkand, yet this led to a war among the kingdoms to decide which would be the next hegemon. The Northern Xiongnu took advantage of the infighting, conquered the Tari…

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