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Discovering China - The Han Dynasty-China's First Golden Age
August 25, 2012
The Han Dynasty began in 206 BC when a man named Liu Bang, who had been born a peasant, led a group of generals to overthrow the Qin dynasty. This started a 400-year period of prosperity—sometimes referred to as China's first golden age.
The capital of the dynasty was at Chang'an—one of the biggest cities in the world at the time. The Han dynasty saw massive territorial expansion, with China's area almost doubling.
The Han defeated the tribes to North and signed treaties with the clans to the West. This made travel safer and led to the establishment of what became known as the Silk Road. This was the trade route connecting China with the Roman Empire thousands of miles away in Europe.
The Han also saw massive cultural developments, with Confucianism—which had been suppressed under the Qin dynasty—rising to become the state philosophy of China's aristocracy. Officials were evaluated on their conduct, according to Confucian philosophy and an Imperial University was established to train them.
It was also during the Han period that Buddhism spread to China. Buddhism's emphasis on compassion and universal salvation appealed to the masses. Along with Confucianism and Taoism, Buddhism became one of China's three main religions that would dominate the faith of the Chinese people for the next two thousand years.
The Han dynasty gave rise to some of China's most well known historical figures, such as Sima Qian who wrote "The Record of the Grand Historian"—the definitive record of China's early history—and Han Xin, the general who helped Liu Bang establish the Han Dynasty.
The Han Dynasty was briefly interrupted in the year 9 AD when the nephew of the empress, Wang Mang, seized the throne. Fourteen years later, Liu Xiu—a descendant of Liu Bang—eventually toppled him. And the Han Dynasty, with 12 more emperors, continued for another two hundred years.
But like all dynasties in Chinese history, the Han could not last forever. It officially ended in the year 220 AD. Trouble at court and uprisings across the empire led to its eventual downfall. The warlord Dong Zhuo led troops into the capital kick-starting battles between various warlords.
Eventually, Cao Cao managed to establish the Wei state North of the Yangtze river. Sun Quan established the Wu state south of the Yangtze, and Liu Bei the Shu state in the west—starting a period known as the Three Kingdoms.