The Han dynasty is considered to be the second imperial dynasty after China was first unified. It was established after the falling down of the Qin dynasty, and a warring interregnum, where its founder Liu Bang was at war with Xiang Lu. Liu Bang was eventually victorious and established the Han dynasty that reigned from 202BC to 220AD, where he became its first emperor Gaozu.
Its reign was interrupted briefly by the Xin dynasty, hence why there are two significant periods of its reign. That is the west Han dynasty (202BC-9AD) when the capital city was Ch’angan and east Han dynasty (25AD-220AD) when the capital was moved to Luoyang.
The dynasty was famous for its long reign that lasted for 4 centuries. It was also known for many innovations including the invention of paper and the use of sundials and water clocks. It is also famed for the development of the civil service and the government structure is built based on the foundation left by the Qin dynasty.
What Type of Government Did the Han Dynasty Have?
The Han dynasty had an aristocratic government, with the emperor at the top of the hierarchy and center of the power structure. Unlike the Qin dynasty, there was an equal share of power between the nobilities and the appointed officials.
The government was divided into two courts. The inner court comprised the emperor’s consorts and their families, along with his trusted advisors and eunuchs. This group was the closest to the emperor. They were the only ones with direct access to him and received titles directly from him.
The imperial government was the outer court which was divided into three branches. The three branches were the military, civil and censorate branches. The civil branch was headed by the chancellor, who was considered second in command after the emperor, given the power the position held. The military was led by the supreme commander and the censorate was led by the Imperial counselor. The three heads formed the top-level officials in the government. The censorates duty was to audit and spy on the different administration branches.
Nine ministers headed the administrative departments of the government. Their duties were to oversee the collection of revenue, diplomacy, palace securities, criminal cases, and religious issues among others. Additionally, there was also a governor and commander appointed to rule over each commandery of the empire. They were divided into about 10-20 prefectures that were responsible for settling disputes, collecting taxes, and providing soldiers to join the army.
The political thought of the Han dynasty was influenced by two schools of thought, namely Legalism (modernist) and Confucianism (reformists). The modernists though influenced the first period of the Han dynasty reign. They believed that the government should seek practical solutions to the current problems. The reformist on the other hand influenced the second reign of the dynasty and focused more on the principles of the government.
How Many Emperors Did the Han Dynasty Have?
Given its four centuries of reign, the Han dynasty had 24 emperors. Many of them were wise rulers who were effective in their reign. The most notable ones among them were Gaozu, Wu, Wen, and Jin. The following is a summary of all the emperors:
- Gaozu (Liu Bang) – Reigned from 206BC-195BC. The first emperor of the Han dynasty, originally from a low-class family.
- Huidi (Liu Ying) – Reigned from 195BC-188BC. Son of Gaozu who was aided in ruling by his mother Lvhou.
- Lvhou (Lv Zhi) – Reigned from 188BC-180BC. The wife to Gaozu and mother to Huidi.
- Wendi (Liu Heng) – Reigned from 180BC-157BC. Was popularly know as a frugal emperor. He reduced taxes and focused on production hence developing the empire.
- Jingdi (Liu Qi) – Reigned from 157BC-141BC. Son of Wendi, who followed his father’s example in the ruling.
- Wudi (Liu Che) – Reigned from 141BC-87BC. The 9th sone of Jingdi defeated the Xiongnu invaders and ruled the dynasty through its most powerful period.
- Zhaodi (Liu Fuling) – Reigned from 87BC-74BC. Wudi’s youngest son. Ensured peace between the dynasty and the Xiongnu, as well as lightened the burden on the poor.
- Xuandi (Liu Xun/Bingyi) Reigned from 74BC-49BC. Wudi’s great-grandson, who reduced the burden of the poor and strengthened Confucianism.
- Yuandi (Liu Shi) – Reigned from 49BC-33BC. Xuandi’s son, who ruled towards the end of the western Han dynasty period.
- Chengdi (Liu Ao) – Reigned from 33BC-7BC. Yuandi’s son led to the fall of the Western Han Dynasty by squandering all the wealth.
- Aidi (Liu Xin) – Reigned from 7BC-1BC. Chengdi’s nephew, who had the superstition that only the dead and gods could solve all problems. This allowed Wang Mang to steal the power of the Han Dynasty.
- Pingdi (Liu Kan) – Reigned from 1BC-5AD. Yuandi’s grandson, Wang Mang’s puppet, later poisoned him.
- Ruzi (Liu Ying) – Reigned from 6AD-8AD. He was placed on the throne when he was two years old, but Wang Mang stole the throne from him in 8Ad and killed him in 25AD.
- Wang Mang – Reigned from 9AD-23AD. He was the nephew of Yuandi’s queen. After stealing the throne from Ruzi, he named the dynasty Xin. He was later overthrown by the peasants’ revolt.
- Guang Wudi (Liu Xiu) – Reigned from 25AD-57AD. He was part of the rebellion against Wang Mang. After Wang’s defeat, Guang re-established the Han dynasty making him the first emperor of the second period.
- Mingdi (Liu Zhuang) – Reigned from 57AD-75AD. He was Guang’s 4th son. His reign was characterized by peace and stability.
- Zhangdi (Liu Da) – Reigned from 75AD-88AD. He was Mingdi’s 5th son known for his calligraphy skills in cursive scripts.
- Hedi (Liu Zhao) – Reigned from 88AD-105AD. He was Zhangdi’s 4th son.
- Shangdi (Liu Long) – Reigned from 105AD-106AD. He was Hedi’s youngest son.
- Andi (Liu Hu) – Reigned from 106AD-125AD. He was Zhangdi’s grandson, whose rule led to an increase in the social divide and the rise of all kinds of social contradictions.
- Shundi (Liu Bao) – Reigned from 125AD-144AD. He was Andi’s son who gave the eunuch the power to handle state affairs.
- Chongdi (Liu Bing) – Reigned from 144AD-145AD. He was Shundi’s son.
- Zhidi (Liu Zuan) – Reigned from 145AD-146AD. He was Zhangdi’s great-grandson.
- Huandi (Liu Zhi) – Reigned from 146AD-167AD. He was another one of Zhangdi’s grandsons.
- Lingdi (Liu Hong) – Reigned from 168AD-189AD. He was the great-grandson of Zhangdi. Under his rule, the people lived a hard life leading to the intensified social divide and insurgence led by Zhang Jiao.
- Xiandi (Liu Xie) – Reigned from 189AD-220AD. His reign led to the end of the Han Dynasty.
When Did the Han Dynasty Start and End?
The Han dynasty came into power after the fall of the oppressive Qin dynasty. Liu Bang together with Xiang Yu led the rebellion that brought down the Qin dynasty. Afterward, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu went into war over who would get to be the overall commander. Liu Bang was eventually victorious and he officially established the Han dynasty in 206BC, making him the first emperor named Gaozu.
The dynasty reigned for 4 centuries with hereditary successions that were interrupted in 9AD. This was when Wang Mang, the nephew to Yuandi’s empress dowger, stole power from Ruzi, who was still too young to rule at the time. Wang Mang renamed the dynasty Xin and reigned from 9AD-23AD. He was later overthrown by the peasants who revolted led by Guang Wudi. Guang re-established the Han Dynasty in 25AD and the reign continued until 220AD.
Because of Wang’s interfering reign, the Han dynasty was divided into two periods. The first one was the west Han dynasty (206BC-9AD) and the second period being the East Han dynasty (25AD-220AD). The first period was characterized by peace, innovations, and prosperity. After Wang’s reign, however, the dynasty was thrown into chaos, creating social divides. Therefore, even with the re-establishment of the Han dynasty, the reign was never the same. After a series of chaos and the rise of the Three Kingdoms, emperor Xian abdicated the throne in favor of Cao Pi who led the Wei state. The other two kingdoms were led by Lui Bei and Sun Quan. This officially marked the end of the Han dynasty in 220AD.
What Are the Achievements of the Han Dynasty?
The Han dynasty is among the greatest dynasties to have existed in Chinese history. It is marked by unprecedented growth in population, urbanization, and trade. The following are some of the major achievements of the dynasty:
The invention of the First Paper Making Process.
It was during the reign of the Han dynasty that the eunuch of the imperial court, Cai Lun, came up with the first standard process of making paper. He mainly used bamboo fibers and the inner bark of the mulberry tree, which he pounded together with water. The dried product was a light surface that was excellent for writing. This invention is considered one of China’s four greatest inventions. It made it easier to spread literature and literacy across China.
Establishment of the Famous Silk Road.
The Silk Road trade network was established as a result of the Han dynasty establishing embassies in several countries. This was thanks to the information offered by the diplomat Zhang Qian. The silk road referred to the land and marine routes that linked China (Asia) to Europe and the Middle East. It derived its name from Chinese silk which was the major trade item at the time. The road was instrumental in the economic and political interactions between China, India, Arab, Persia, and Europe, which led to their development.
The invention of the First Seismoscope.
During the reign of the Han dynasty, a famous inventor and astronomer named Zhang Heng created the world’s first seismoscope. Its function was to register the precise cardinal direction of an earthquake at a distance. It was said that the instrument once registered an earthquake 500km northwest. Other major inventions by him were the world’s first armillary sphere, which was water-powered and aided him in astronomical observation. He also created an odometer that was meant to register the distance covered by a moving vehicle.
First to Establish the Imperial Examination.
Like the Qin dynasty, the Han dynasty also appointed officials based on merit. As a result, they came up with the imperial examination. This was a civil service examining the system that helped select officials to the state’s bureaucracy. It was a recommendation by Gongsun Hong during the Western Han dynasty. It ensured that the government officials appointed to the imperial court were intelligent and learned.
How Did the Han Dynasty Fall?
The ending of the Han dynasty started after the interruption by the Xin dynasty that threw the empire into disarray. It led to social divides that intensified with the ineffective leaders who took up the throne after 186AD. The dynasty also had no clear rules of succession. Due to the many wives and consorts, many possible heirs were leading to the succession problem. This resulted in instability in the ruling with the successors frequently changing.
A period of chaos during the western period of the Han dynasty brought about the emergence of the three centers of political power. These three centers were namely, Wei, Wu, and Shu-Han. The three centers were led by Han generals Cao Pi, Lui Bei, and Sun Quan. When the last emperor of the Han dynasty finally abdicated the throne following the pressures from Cao Pi, this marked the end of the dynasty. Cao Pi then rose to power becoming the emperor of Wei. Lui Bei and Sun Quan followed suit becoming the emperors of Shu-Han and Wu respectively.
What Is the Era Following the Han Dynasty Known As?
Immediately after the fall of the Han dynasty, the was the emergence of the Three Kingdoms. During this time there was no one powerful enough to unite the kingdoms under one ruler. That is until the Jin dynasty emerged in 280AD. The emperors of the three kingdoms, however, continued to battle for control. It was a long series of wars that led to the six dynasties period. It wasn’t until the Sui dynasty came into power that China started to be re-unified. It was the Tang dynasty, however, that led to the complete reunification of China and considered another golden age.