The Western Han Dynasty
Qin Dynasty's ruthless laws and endless expensive campaigns cut
its own life short. Rebellion broke out and a new dynasty, Han Dynasty,
came into being.
The first emperor of Han Dynasty, Liu Bang, was an uneducated man
but he wisely used talents to serve him. The Han Gaozu 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 also 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 (140-87, the Martial Emperor),
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 Xiongnu 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.