The Han dynasty, a time period that saw China’s epitome of glory, created some of the greatest accomplishments that have substantially impacted both the world of the past and present.  It was during the Han dynasty when The Silk Road was first established, providing a portal for the east to come into contact with the west. Under Han rule, intellectual thought boomed, arts, literature and science were brought to new heights. On a social level, the Han established Confucianism as the official state ideology. The influence of this school of thought trickles on for centuries, becoming the social and moral basis of Chinese society.

  • “Han” Chinese people, word, language, ruled for over 400 years
  • Glorious age, some historians say comparable to Roman Empire
  • All dynasties aspired to rule like the Han once did, bringing China as a country to new heights, militarily, socially, politically
  • Made the Chinese proud to be Chinese
  • Country census reported almost 60 million people, record-breaking at the time

Contact with the West – The Silk Road

  • Stretched 4000 miles, reaching the Mediterranean world
  • Expanded borders of China, empire largest to date, control over central Asia and having conquered Vietnam and Northern Korea
  • Spread culture, ideas, language, technology
  • China realized they were not the centre of the earth, they were not the only powerful empire out there
  • Allowed trade with the west, flourishing of commerce, importing of foreign goods, introducing export
  • Main export was that of silk, trade included spices, herbs, tea, provided economical stimulation, created jobs (travelling, trading, merchandising)
  • The arrival of Buddhism, not only China but East Asia’s most prominent religion, it originated from India and made its way into East Asia through The Silk Road
  • Buddhism swept numerous followers in China, enlisted as one of the “Three Teachings,” its impact on par with Daoism and Confucianism
  • It filled the metaphysical void, providing an answer for spiritual existence, purpose of living, a possible life after death, the supernatural that other schools of thought failed to cover

Arts, literature and science brought to new heights

  • Technological advancement
  • New agricultural technology, new medicine inventions
  • First of China’s four greatest inventions, the invention of paper
  • It was easy, fast and could be mass produced, unlike the stringing of bamboo which was heavy to carry around and easily burned
  • The revival of Confucius Classics, a significant amount of literature, many classics were prohibited and subject to burning during Qin rule but some scholars could knew the teachings by heart and revived them once the ban was lifted
  • Probably due to the oppression of literature and intellectual thought, there was a vast amount of literary work produced in the Han

Sima Qian’s Records of The Grand Historian

  • Although the classic, Book of Documents and Spring and Autumn Annals wrote about the chronicles of the past, Shi ji takes it to a whole new level, first systematic account, recording all of the past
  • Sima Qian decided to make a detailed account of all the past up to date, surveying events, people, artefacts, spending years to compile this masterpiece
  • Later read as a classic, admiring his style of writing as much as it is used to rectify historical records
  • “I have compiled neglected knowledge of former times from all over the world, examined these for veracity, given account of the principle behind success and defeat, rise and fall.”
  • His ambition “explore the interaction between man and heaven, the transformation from past to present.”

Social and moral basis of Chinese society for years to come

  • Wu Di established Confucianism as the official state ideology, it became the basis of Chinese society and the bedrock of formal education
  • Imperial examination, the Han were the first to introduce such a concept of uniform testing to find new talent into the government
  • Officials were selected based on their decree of understanding of Confucian classics and their moral self-worth of Confucian virtue
  • Confucianism encouraged educating all types of people and emphasized moral cultivation. Officials need not only be those who come from aristocratic families
  • Commoners, people of humble origins can cultivate and educate themselves into a Confucian ideal, a virtuous gentleman
  • The Han encouraged new blood, gave everyone a chance, commoners can be respected, just like Liu Bang himself who was from modest background
  • Position in court was not solely hereditary, promotion was based on merit
  • Also a basis for morality, the Confucian virtues shaped Chinese society even today: filialness, righteousness, benevolence, honour, loyalty
  • It showed people how they ought to behave, showed ruler how to rule
  • Jia Yi,  in government, people are the root (base), the life or death of state depends on the people. Rulers must rule benevolence, be honourable not dictating, “The ruler is honourable only because the officers and people honour him.”
  • Restored the order Qin had destroyed, bringing back societal structure, everyone knew their place, hierarchical classes, ranks, there was order and peace
  • This was a big step to making a peace time society, and civilizing and nation, where every knew what role to play in society
  • Hierarchy reinforced by the continuation of imperial rule for thousands of years

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