The Han Dynasty ruled China from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D. and was the second imperial dynasty of China. Though tainted by deadly dramas within the royal court, it is also known for its promotion of Confucianism as the state religion and opening the Silk Road trade route to Europe, permanently altering the course of Chinese history. Han Dynasty art and inventions like paper still influence the world today.
Who was the founder of the Han dynasty
Liu Bang (256–195 BC), also called Emperor Gaozu when he ruled, was the first emperor of the Han Dynasty from 202 BC till his death. Rising from a humble peasant background, he become an outstanding politician, strategist, and finally emperor. He made great contributions to the development of the Han people and its culture.
Liu Bang was a coarse man who once urinated into the formal hat of a court scholar to show his disdain for education. Nevertheless, he was a pragmatic and flexible ruler who recognized the need for educated men at court. He showed particular concern for reviving the rural economy and for lightening the tax burden of the peasants. Though generally humane in civil matters, he dealt harshly with those who threatened his reign from within China. His conduct of foreign affairs was a skillful combination of diplomacy and the use of force. His descendants continued the process of consolidating and expanding the empire.
how did liu bang started the han dynasty?
The Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC) that ruled at that time had an oppressive and cruel regime. Maltreatment of the people made the Qin court very unpopular and provoked rebellion all over the empire.
Liu Bang rose in rebellion against the Qin Empire in the late Qin Dynasty. He conquered territories and defeated rival armies to emerge as the Emperor of the Han Empire in 202 BC. He established the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) that lasted for over 400 years, the longest dynasty in the history of China.
Born of a peasant family, Liu Bang began his career as a police officer under the Qin dynasty (221–207 BC). He turned rebel after the death (210 BC) of the Qin emperor Shihuangdi, who had been the first to unify China. The rebels were under the nominal leadership of Xiang Yu, a warlord who defeated the Qin armies and then tried to restore the pre-Qin feudal system, reinstating many of the former nobles and dividing the land among his generals. Liu Bang, by then an important rebel leader, received control of the kingdom of Han in western China (what is now Sichuan and southern Shaanxi provinces). The former allies soon turned against each other, and Liu’s peasant shrewdness led him to victory over the militarily brilliant but politically naive Xiang Yu. The civil war ended when Xiang Yu took his own life in 202 BC, upon which Gaozu became the ruler of China.
chu han contention
The Chu–Han Contention (206–202 BC) was a post-Qin Dynasty interregnum period in Chinese history. Following the collapse of the Qin Dynasty, Xiang Yu split the former Qin Empire into the Eighteen Kingdoms. Two prominent contending powers, Western Chu and Han, emerged from these principalities and engaged in a struggle for supremacy over China. Western Chu was led by Xiang Yu, while the Han leader was Liu Bang. During this period of time, several minor kings from the Eighteen Kingdoms also fought battles against each other. These battles were independent of the main conflict between Chu and Han. The war ended with total victory for Han and Liu Bang proclaimed himself emperor and established the Han Dynasty.
what did emperor gaozu do
Reducing taxes and corvée
Emperor Gaozu disbanded his armies and allowed the soldiers to return home. He gave an order stating that the people who remained in Guanzhong were exempted from taxes and corvée for 12 years while those who returned to their respective native territories were exempted for six years and that the central government would provide for them for a year. He also granted freedom to those who had sold themselves into slavery to avoid hunger during the wars. In 195 BCE, the emperor issued two decrees: the first officialised the lowering of taxes and corvée; the second set the amount of tribute to be paid by the vassal kings to the imperial court in the 10th month of every year. The land tax on agricultural production was reduced to a rate of 1/15 of crop yield. He also privatised the coinage.
Emphasis on Confucianism
In his early days, Emperor Gaozu disliked reading and scorned Confucianism. After becoming the emperor, he still held the same attitudes towards Confucianism as he did before until he encountered the scholar Lu Jia (or Lu Gu). Lu Gu wrote a 12-volume book, Xinyu, which espoused the benefits of governing by moral virtue as opposed to using harsh and punitive laws (as it was under the Qin dynasty). Lu Gu read each volume to the emperor after he finished writing it. The emperor was deeply impressed. Under Emperor Gaozu’s reign, Confucianism flourished and gradually replaced Legalism (of Qin times) as the state ideology. Confucian scholars, including Lu Gu, were recruited to serve in the government. The emperor also reformed the legal system by relaxing some laws inherited from the Qin regime and reducing the severity of certain penalties. In 196 BCE, after suppressing a rebellion by Ying Bu, he passed by Shandong, the birthplace of Confucius, and personally prepared for a ceremony to pay respect to the philosopher.
Dispute over the succession
In his later years, Emperor Gaozu favoured Concubine Qi and neglected Empress Lü Zhi. He thought that Liu Ying, his heir apparent (born to the empress), was too weak to be a ruler. Thus, he had the intention of replacing Liu Ying with another son, Liu Ruyi, who was born to Concubine Qi. Lü Zhi became worried, so she asked Zhang Liang to help her son maintain his position. Zhang Liang recommended four reclusive wise men, the Four Whiteheads of Mount Shang, to help Liu Ying.
In 195 BCE as Emperor Gaozu’s health started to worsen, he desired even more to replace Liu Ying with Liu Ruyi as the crown prince. Zhang Liang tried to dissuade him but was ignored, so he retired on the excuse that he was ill. Shusun Tong (the crown prince’s tutor) and Zhou Chang also strongly objected to the emperor’s decision to replace Liu Ying with Liu Ruyi. Zhou Chang said, “I am not good in arguing, but I know this is not right. If Your Majesty deposes the Crown Prince, I won’t follow your orders any more.” Zhou Chang was outspoken and had a stutter, which to some made his speech very amusing. The emperor laughed. After that, the Four Whiteheads of Mount Shang (also known as the Four Haos of Mount Shang) showed up in the court. Emperor Gaozu was surprised to see them because they had previously declined to join the civil service when he invited them. The four men promised to help Liu Ying in the future if he were to remain as the crown prince. The emperor was pleased to see that Liu Ying had their support so he dismissed the idea of changing his heir apparent.
After establishing the Han dynasty, Emperor Gaozu appointed princes and vassal kings to help him govern the Han Empire and gave each of them a piece of land. There were seven vassal kings who were not related to the imperial clan: Zang Tu, the King of Yan; Hán Xin, the King of Hán; Han Xin, the King of Chu; Peng Yue, the King of Liang; Ying Bu, the King of Huainan; Zhang Er, the King of Zhao; Wu Rui, the King of Changsha. However, later, the emperor became worried that the vassal kings might rebel against him because they, after all, had no blood relations with him. Han Xin and Peng Yue were (falsely) accused of treason, arrested and executed along with their families. Ying Bu and Zang Tu rebelled against him but were defeated and killed. Only Wu Rui and Zhang Er were left.
The Xiongnu in the north had been a threat since the Qin dynasty. Qin Shi Huang had sent the general Meng Tian to oversee the defences on the Qin Empire’s northern border and the construction of the Great Wall to repel the invaders. Meng Tian achieved success in deterring the Xiongnu from advancing beyond the border. However, after the Qin dynasty collapsed, the Xiongnu seized the opportunity to move south and raid the border again. In 201 BCE, Hán Xin (King of Hán) defected to the Xiongnu leader, Modu. In the following year, Emperor Gaozu led an army to attack the Xiongnu but was besieged and trapped by the enemy at the Battle of Baideng. Acting on Chen Ping’s advice, he bribed Modu’s wife with gifts and got her to ask her husband to withdraw his forces. Modu did so. After returning to the capital, Emperor Gaozu initiated the policy of heqin, which involved sending noble ladies to marry the Xiongnu leaders and paying annual tribute to the Xiongnu in exchange for peace between the Han Empire and the Xiongnu.
liu bang death
Liu Bang was wounded by a stray arrow during the campaign against Ying Bu. He became seriously ill and remained in his inner chambers for a long period of time. He died in Changle Palace on June 1, 195 BC and was succeeded by his son Liu Ying, who became historically known as Emperor Hui.
interesting facts about liu bang
According to legend, it is said that Liu Bang encountered a snake as it got in his way in the wild, and he cut it into two halves with his sword. An old woman told people that she saw a dragon killing a snake in the wild so people believed that Liu Bang was the incarnation of the Dragon. According to another legend, it is said that Liu Ao (mother of Liu Bang) bore Liu Bang by dreaming of copulating with a dragon.
In his youth, he was considered as a futile boy because he usually played truant and seemed to have no ambition. Later Liu was very lucky to be a low-ranked official in Sishui and, to some degree, was well-known among the neighborhoods. One day, as he saw Emperor Qin Shi Huang sitting in a delicate and gorgeous carriage he admired so much, thought that it should be a real man to be bestowed such luxuriant treatment. Since then, Liu started to show his distinct personal strength.