02/28 – The Han Dynasty

A Han-era bathing scene in mural form. (Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 202 BCE, former police officer Liu Bang was crowned emperor of China. Henceforth he was known as Emperor Gaozu, and his accession kicked off the Han Dynasty, which remained in place for over 400 years. The new emperor had served within the Qin system, China’s first imperial dynasty, until civil war fractured the government. Aligning himself with anti-Qin rebels, Liu Bang consolidated his forces and eventually won out against his rivals at the Battle of Gaixia in modern-day Suzhou. During his reign, Bang – now Gaozu – raised taxes, oversaw construction on the Great Wall and instituted reforms aimed at promoting Confucian values. Gaozu ruled successfully until 195 BCE, when he was hit by an arrow during military campaigns against enemy warlords.

A map of the consolidated Han Empire. (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Many Chinese scholars consider the Han Dynasty to be a “Golden Age” in the country’s history. The 400 years of Han were marked by economic prosperity and the strengthening of China’s bureaucracy and military hierarchy. Primary industries like salt and mining were nationalized for a period, and government-issued money became the standard unit of currency. As the Roman Empire grew to prominence in the West, trade took place between the two great empires. The Romans wanted Chinese silk in particular, which was supplied in great quantities by the modern Han dynasty industrial system. Additionally, Han-era scholars – encouraged by their government – made significant advances in astronomy, cartography, medicine, and a a variety of other fields. Around 184 CE, however, tensions rose in the country and the Han dynasty fell apart during the Yellow Turban Rebellion. By 220 CE, China’s Golden Age had ended, leaving a power vacuum in the region that took centuries to be filled.

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