Political History of China (2):Qin Empire and Han Empire

Updated:Sun, Dec 16, 2012 03:35 AM    Related:China political history

China political history

Qin Shi Huang Di (First emperor of Qin) unified China and established China's first empire: Qin empire in 220BC. The Qin empire stretched from the Mongolian plateau in the north to Vietnam in the south. As with rulers before and after him, the first emperor of China was preoccupied with defending his territory against northern nomads.

Qin Shi Huang unified China and established the first Chinese empire: Qin Dynasty in 221 BC. Qin Empire was overthrowed and replaced by Han empire in 202 BC. The Han dynasty is divided into two periods: the Earlier or Western Han and the Later or Eastern Han.


5. QIN EMPIRE (221-206 BC)

After nearly 900 years, the Zhou Dynasty came to an end when the state of Qin, the strongest of the seven surviving warring states, unified China and established the first empire in 221 BC. The Qin empire did not last long, but it left two enduring legacies: the name China and the idea and structure of the empire. This heritage outlasted the Qin Dynasty itself by more than 2,000 years.

The first Qin emperor was called Qin Shi Huang Di (the first emperor of Qin). The title of emperor was used for the first time in Chinese history to set the Qin ruler apart--as the ruler of the unified land--from the kings, the heads of the earlier, smaller states. The construction of massive palaces and the ceremony of the court further enhanced the power of the emperor by inspiring awe in the people.

A centralized bureaucracy replaced the old feudal system. The empire was divided into provinces and counties, which were governed by centrally appointed governors and magistrates. The former ruling families who had inherited their places in the aristocracy were uprooted and forced to live in the capital of Xianyang. Other centralizing policies included census taking and standardization of the writing system and weights and measures.

The Qin army conducted massive military campaigns to complete the unification of the empire and expand its territory. The Qin empire stretched from the Mongolian plateau in the north to Vietnam in the south. As with rulers before and after him, the first emperor was preoccupied with defending his territory against northern nomads. After waging several successful campaigns, the emperor ordered the building of the wall of "ten thousand li" (a li is a Chinese unit of distance equal approximately half kilometer ) to protect the empire. This task involved connecting the separate walls that were built by former northern states to form the famous Great Wall. The Ten Thousand Li Wall, as it is known in China, is 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) long, from 15 to 50 feet (5 to 15 meters) high, and from 15 to 25 feet (5 to 8 meters) wide. Although closely linked with the first ruler of the Qin Empire, the wall as it stands today dates mainly from the later Ming Dynasty.

Qin Shi Huang Di's harsh rule provoked much opposition. The emperor feared the scholars most. He had them rounded up and put them to death or sent them into exile. Many went into hiding. Moreover, all books, except technical ones, were confiscated and burned. In the last years of his life, Qin Shi Huang Di became fearful of threats on his life and lived in complete secrecy. He also became obsessed with obtaining immortality. He died in 210 BC in Shandong Province, far from the capital of Xianyang, during one of his long quests to find the elixir of life.

The Qin empire disintegrated rapidly after the death of the first emperor. The legitimate heir was killed in a palace intrigue, and a less able prince was put on the throne. Conditions worsened throughout the empire. In 209 BC, rebellions erupted all over China. Two men had the largest following. Xiang Yu was a general of aristocratic background; Liu Bang was a minor official from a peasant family. By 206 BC rebels had subdued the Qin army and destroyed the capital. The struggle between Xiang Yu and Liu Bang continued for the next four years, however, until Liu Bang emerged as the victor in 202 BC. Taking the title of Gao Zu, High Progenitor, he established the Han Dynasty.

6. THE HAN EMPIRE (202 BC-AD 220)

The four-century-long Han rule is divided into two periods: the Earlier or Western Han and the Later or Eastern Han. In between these two was the short-lived Xin Dynasty (AD 9-23).

Earlier (Western) Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 9).

The Han Kao Tsu (Han Gao Zu) preserved many features of the Qin imperial system, such as the administrative division of the country and the central bureaucracy. But the Han rulers lifted the Qin ban on philosophical and historical writings. Han Kao Tsu called for the services of men of talent, not only to restore the destroyed classics but to serve as officials in the government. From that time, the Chinese Empire was governed by a body of officials theoretically selected on merit. Such a practice has few parallels elsewhere at this early date in human history.

In 124 BC, during the reign of Wu Ti (Wu Di, 140-87, the Martial Emperor, Emperor Wu), an imperial university was set up for the study of Confucian classics. The university recruited talented students, and the state supported them. Starting with 50 when the university first opened, the number of government-supported students reached 30,000 by the end of the Han Dynasty. Emperor Wu also established Confucianism as the official doctrine of the state. This designation lasted until the end of the Chinese Empire.

The Early Han faced two major difficulties: invasions by the barbarian Huns and the influence of the imperial consort families. In the Han Dynasty, the Huns (known as Xiong-nu by the Chinese) threatened the expanding Chinese Empire from the north. Starting in Wu Ti's reign, costly, almost century-long campaigns had to be carried out to establish Chinese sovereignty along the northern and northwestern borders. Wu Ti also waged aggressive campaigns to incorporate northern Korea in 108 BC and northern Annam in 111 BC into the Han empire. The Early Han's other difficulty started soon after the first emperor's death. The widowed Empress Lu dominated politics and almost succeeded in taking the throne for her family. Thereafter, families of the empresses exerted great political influence. In AD 9 Wang Mang, a nephew of the empress, seized the throne and founded a new dynasty of Xin.

Wang Mang's overambitious reform program alienated him from the landlords. At the same time the peasants, disappointed with Wang's inability to push through the reform, rose in rebellion. In AD 17 a rebel group in Shandong painted their faces red (hence their name, Red Eyebrows) and adopted religious symbols, a practice later repeated by peasants who rebelled in times of extreme difficulty. Wang Mang's force was defeated, and he was killed in AD 23.

Later (Eastern) Han Dynasty (AD 23-220)

The new ruler who restored peace and order was a member of the house of Han, the original Liu family. His title was Kuang Wu Ti (Emperor Guangwu), "Shining Martial Emperor," from AD 25 to 57 and he moved the capital eastward to Luoyang and so the later Han is also called Eastern Han. During the Later Han, which lasted another 200 years, a concerted but unsuccessful effort was made to restore the glory of the former Han. The Later Han scored considerable success in recovering lost territories, however. Sent to befriend the tribes on the northwestern frontier in AD 73, a great diplomat-general, Pan Ch'ao (Ban Chao), eventually led an army of 70,000 almost to the borders of eastern Europe. Pan Ch'ao returned to China in 101 and brought back information about the Roman Empire. The Romans also knew about China, but they thought of it only as the land where silk was produced.

The Eastern Han period was particularly plagued with evils caused by eunuchs, castrated males recruited from the lower classes to serve as bodyguards for the imperial harem. Coming from uneducated and poor backgrounds, they were ruthlessly ambitious once they were placed within reach of power. Toward the end of the Later Han, power struggles between the eunuchs and the landlord-officials were prolonged and destructive. Peasant rebellions of the Taoist-leaning Yellow Turbans in 184 and the Five Pecks of Rice in 190 led to the rise of generals who massacred over 2,000 eunuchs, destroyed the capital, and one after another became dictators. By 207 General Ts'ao Ts'ao (Cao Cao) had emerged as dictator in the north. When he died in 220 his son removed the powerless emperor and established the kingdom of Wei. The Eastern Han came to an end, and the empire was divided into the three kingdoms of Wei, Shu Han, and Wu. The pattern of the rise and fall of Han was to be repeated in later periods. This characteristic came to be known as the dynastic cycle.

Han culture.

The Chinese show their pride in Han accomplishments by calling themselves the Han people. Philosophies and institutions that began in the Zhou and Qin periods reached maturity under the Han. During Han times, the Chinese distinguished themselves in making scientific discoveries, many of which were not known to Westerners until centuries later. The Chinese were most advanced in astronomy. They invented sundials and water clocks, divided the day equally into ten and then into 12 periods, devised the lunar calendar that continued to be used until 1912, and recorded sunspots regularly. In mathematics, the Chinese were the first to use the place value system, whereby the value of a component of a number is indicated by its placement. Other innovations were of a more practical nature: wheelbarrows, locks to control water levels in streams and canals, and compasses.

The Han Chinese were especially distinguished in the field of art. The famous sculpture of the "Han flying horse" and the carving of the jade burial suit found in Han period tombs are only two superb examples. The technique of making lacquer ware was also highly developed. The Chinese are proudest of the tradition of historical writing that began in the Han period. Si Ma Qian (司马迁145 - 85 BC) was grand historian (an office that combined the duties of court recorder and astronomer) during the time of Emperor Wu. His `Historical Records', Shi Ji, which took ten years to complete, established the pattern and style followed by subsequent histories. In the Later Han, the historical tradition was continued by the Ban family. Ban Biao (班彪), the father, started to bring Si Ma Qian’s `Records' up to date. The work was continued by his son Ban Gu (班固twin brother of the general Ban Biao) and was completed by his daughter Ban Zhao (班昭), China's earliest and most famous woman scholar. Unlike Si Ma Qian, the Ban family limited their work to 230 years of the Early Han. This was the first of the dynastic histories, subsequently written for every dynasty. Ban Zhao also wrote a highly influential work on the education of women, `Lessons for Women'. `Lessons' emphasized the "virtues" of women, which restricted women's activities. The Confucianism that the Han Dynasty restored differed from the original teachings of Confucius. The leading Han philosophers, Dong Zhong Shu (董仲舒) and others, used principles derived from the early Chinese philosophy of nature to interpret the ancient texts. The Chinese philosophy of nature explained the workings of the universe by the alternating forces of yin and yang--dark and light--and the five elements: earth, wood, metal, fire, and water. The Han period was marked by a broad eclecticism. Many Han emperors favored Taoism, especially the Taoist idea of immortality.


Source:Paul Halsall/Brooklyn College/1996-99


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