Three Kingdoms History: Han Dynasty

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Introduction to the Han Dynasty

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Han Dynasty hz

Seeking to end the tyranny of the Qin Dynasty, a coalition was formed in several parts of China in the year 209 BC Two of the participants in the war against the Qin were Liu Bang from Pei and Xiang Yu from Chu.

In the year 206 BC, Liu Bang broke through the Qin capital Xian Yang and ended the Qin rule. The only opponent left in his way for conquest was Xiang Yu who commanded a large army. With the help of Zhang Liang and Han Xin, Liu Bang was able to trick and defeat Xiang Yu, who later committed suicide.

Liu Bang proclaimed himself the first Han Emperor in the year 202 BC and made Chang An (Xian Yang) the new capital. After Liu Bang’s death, twelve of his descendants ruled in the Han name. Wen-di (180 – 157 BC) and Wu-di (141-87 BC) contributed greatly to the peace and prosperity of China.

However, the later generations of Western Han Emperors were either too young to rule or left their responsibility to corrupt officials. The last of the Han Emperors indulged themselves in physical pleasures and replaced the country’s sorrow with many bottles of wine.

After the death of Ping-di, the two year old Ru-zi took over the throne in AD 6 The Empress Dowager Yuan dominated the court and assigned her cousin Wang Mang as Regent over Ru-zi. In the year AD 9, Wang Mang, responding to the decay and lack of morality in the Han Empire, usurped the throne and started the Confucian Xin Empire.

Wang Mang’s success was short-lived as the corruption of gentry officials held him back. Wang Mang ordered the local county officials to start gather rice and grain in storages in case of famine or locust plagues. But they did not listen and rice and grain was sold freely and kept in normal storage houses. However, what Wang Mang feared indeed happened. A great flood destroyed the crops and petty storages of food. The people had nothing to eat and resorted to cannibalism. Wang Mang was deeply saddened by this but was powerless to do anything about it. The corruption of the Han officials led to the deaths of millions of Han Chinese. Truly a sad period that stained the efforts of great Han Emperors.

Rebellion tore up the land and various rebel leaders fought to dethrone Wang Mang whom they blamed for their misfortunes. One of the rebel factions was led by Liu Xiu, who was said to be a Han Prince.

In the year AD 23, the rebels broke through at Chang An, destroying the city in its path, and murdering the Xin Emperor.

In the year AD 25, Liu Xiu reunited the land under the new Eastern Han Empire. He was loved by renowned scholars and common folk alike, he had many hopes to restore the former glory days of the Han. Leaving the desolate Chang An behind, Han-Guang Wu Di established Luo Yang as the new Capital of the Han.

The new Han Empire was plagued by internal discord, while seemingly prosperous on the outside. The Eastern Han, just like its Western predecessor bloomed with technological, medical and even artistic brilliance, but this had no effect on the court life. A whole line of young Emperors followed and the Imperial families were dominated by Empresses and Empress-Dowagers.

When Emperor He was in power (AD 88-106), despite his mediocrity, China continued to enjoy a rising prosperity. Emperor He repealed the national monopolization of salt and iron and encouraged the development of bronze metallurgy and the textile industry. Under his management, China's trade reached a new height. Luo Yang became the commercial centre of the whole country. Other cities, such as Yang Zhou, Jing Zhou, and Yi Zhou all witnessed prosperities in their handicraft industry and commerce.

In the field of science, the Eastern Han showed great advancement that was unseen even in the Western Han. In the year AD 105, Cai Lun improved the old technique of paper making through the application of plant fibers, which later became one of the four ancient Chinese inventions. The scientist Zhang Heng invented seismography and the Armillary Sphere used to observe the universe and predict earthquakes. The famous doctor Hua Tuo was the first who applied the technique of anesthesia in surgical operations, and was later able to cure typhoid.

However degeneration in the court was similar to that of the Western Han, and corrupt officials caused many problems by publicly selling court positions. When Emperor Huan died in AD 168 the twelve year old Liu Hong was chosen as successor by the Empress-Dowager. Han Ling Di was caught in a clash between a group of court eunuchs known as the “Ten Regular Attendants” and gentry bureaucrat groups. The decline of the Han could no longer be stopped, and Han Ling Di was too weak to stop his eunuchs from destroying the court.

In the year AD 184 the Daoist sect Huang Jin (Yellow Scarves) rebelled against the Han court. Although in the end, the Imperial Army was able to put down the rebellion, the damage to the Empire was significant.

In the year AD 189 Emperor Ling died and the Empress-Dowager took over power. Her son, Emperor Shao succeeded Han Ling Di, but he and his mother were assassinated by the corrupt Han general Dong Zhuo and his accomplice, Li Ru.

The nine year old Liu Xie, the Prince of Chang An was placed on the throne by Dong Zhuo and was used as a puppet Emperor. Though Han Xian Di attempted to restore the Han through use of loyal subjects, he was still powerless against the warlords that fought over China. After Dong Zhuo’s death, a man called Cao Cao took over the Han court and Han Xian was repeatedly used in his schemes for conquest.

In the year AD 220, Han Xian Di abdicated and passed over the throne to Cao Cao’s son Cao Pi who established the Wei Dynasty. Han Xian Di was assassinated along the way to his new palace as Prince of Shu. His death meant another period of disunity for China and the end of the Han Dynasty.

Armillary Sphere
Armillary Sphere
Courtesy of China Travel Inc.

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