Han dynasty


Han dynasty
(206 BC–AD 220) Second great Chinese imperial dynasty.

In contrast to the preceding Qin dynasty, the Han was a period of cultural flowering. One of the greatest of the early histories, the Shiji by Sima Qian, was composed, and the fu, a poetic form that became the norm for creative writing, began to flourish. The Yuefu, or Music Bureau, collected and recorded not only ceremonial chants but also the songs and ballads of ordinary people. Lacquerware, first developed during the Shang dynasty, reached a level of great mastery, and silk was woven for export trade, which reached as far as Europe. Buddhism entered China during the Han. Paper was invented, time was measured with water clocks and sundials, and calendars were published frequently. So thoroughly did the Han dynasty establish what was thereafter considered Chinese culture that the Mandarin Chinese word for Chinese people is Han.

* * *

▪ Chinese history
 the second great Chinese imperial dynasty (206 BC–AD 220) after the Zhou dynasty. It suceeded the Qin dynasty (221–207 BC). So thoroughly did the Han dynasty establish what was thereafter considered Chinese culture that “Han” became the Chinese word denoting someone who is Chinese.

      The dynasty was founded by Liu Bang, later the Gaozu emperor (reigned 206–195 BC), a man of humble birth who led the revolt against the repressive policies of the preceding short-lived Qin dynasty. The Han copied the highly centralized Qin administrative structure, dividing the country into a series of administrative areas ruled by centrally appointed officials and developing a salaried bureaucracy in which promotion was based primarily on merit. Unlike the Qin, however, the Han adopted a Confucian (Confucianism) ideology that emphasized moderation and virtue and thereby masked the authoritarian policies of the regime. So successful was this policy that the Han lasted longer than any other Chinese empire, reigning—with a short interruption when Wang Mang temporarily usurped the throne and established the Xin dynasty (AD 9–25)—for more than 400 years. Some scholars divide the Han into two sections, calling the period before Wang Mang's usurpation, when the capital was in the western Chinese city of Chang'an (now Xi'an), the Qian (Former), or Xi (Western) Han (206 BC–AD 25); and the period after Wang Mang, when the capital was moved eastward to Luoyang, the Hou (Later), or Dong (Eastern), Han (AD 25–220).

      Instances of book burning and repression during the Qin period that spared only a writing system for keeping records were designed to stamp out all forms of dissent and took a great toll on cultural expression; however, the brutish Qin regime was too brief to thoroughly accomplish such a broad goal, and the vestiges of culture were revived by the successor Han.

      The latter was not only a literate society but one of compulsive record keepers. Thus, the cultural milieu of the Han was well documented. The Yuefu, or Music Bureau, for example, compiled detailed descriptions of the music of the day and its instruments, techniques, and songs. In the court and the Confucian temples, music fell into two categories: music to accompany banquets and ritual music. In temple rituals, dance was often an important element, and something resembling a system of dance notation recorded the movements of large bands of musicians and companies of dancers in their performances. There also were highly informal dances with much body movement but little footwork that were part of private entertainment. Several forms of plucked string instruments were in use during the Han. Buddhism came to China from India during the dynasty, and with it came richly sonorous bronze bells. A form of drama appeared in which performers acted out the heroic deeds of celebrated warriors.

 Although little except walls and tombs remains of Han architecture, much has been learned about the style from mingqi house models and paintings on tomb tiles. Imperial records describe the main palace of the Dong Han at Luoyang as being immensely proportioned, surrounded by tall towers variously of timber, stone, and brick. The tombs had vaulted roofs and were enclosed in huge earthen mounds that still stand centuries after their contents were looted. Interior walls of important buildings were plastered and painted—so the ubiquitous records relate—with figures, portraits, and scenes from history. Although the names of the artists did not survive, the highest-ranking of them—the daizhao, or painters-in-attendance—were close associates of the emperor, a tradition carried on in ensuing dynasties down to modern times. In addition to wall paintings, paintings on standing room-divider screens and on rolls or scrolls of silk appeared in the Han.

 The first major stone tomb sculpture in China was created in the Han period, and lifelike clay figurines of people and animals also appeared. In the Xi Han, bronzework continued the style of the late Zhou period and often was inlaid with silver and gold. Bronze vessels were made both for sacrificial rituals and for household use, the latter including lamps, mirrors, and garment hooks fashioned in the form of humans, animals, and mythical beasts. The weaving of silk in rich colours and patterns of geometric designs or cloud and mountain themes became a major industry and source of export trade. Han potters included house models and human figures among their funerary wares, and two types of glazed ware were used domestically, often closely imitating the shape and design of bronze vessels.

      The Shang dynasty discovered lacquer, but it was the Han that brought its lacquerwork to such perfection that some of its lacquered wine cups in perfect condition have been excavated from water-sodden graves in North China. Many exquisite examples of Han lacquerware survive.

      Poetry was nurtured during the Han period, and a new genre, fu, a combination of rhyme and prose, began to flourish. Fu were long, descriptive compositions meant to entertain, and they became the norm of creative writing. About 1,000 examples survive. The prose literature of the era included works of history, philosophy, and politics. One of the greatest of early histories comes from this period in the Shiji (“Historical Records”) of Sima Qian. In sharp distinction from the Qin, who tried to suppress culture, the Han came to require cultural accomplishment from their public servants, making mastery of classical texts a condition of employment. The title list of the enormous imperial library is China's first bibliography. Its text included works on practical matters such as mathematics and medicine, as well as treatises on philosophy and religion and the arts. Advancement in science and technology was also sought by the rulers, and the Han invented paper, used water clocks and sundials, and developed a seismograph. Calendars were published frequently during the period. The governmental, cultural, and technological achievements of the Han were such that every ensuing dynasty sought to emulate them.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Han Dynasty — 漢朝 ← 206 BCE–220 CE …   Wikipedia

  • Han dynasty — noun imperial dynasty that ruled China (most of the time from 206 BC to AD 220) and expanded its boundaries and developed its bureaucracy; remembered as one of the great eras of Chinese civilization • Syn: ↑Han • Hypernyms: ↑dynasty …   Useful english dictionary

  • Society and culture of the Han Dynasty — A Western Han jade carved door knocker with designs of Chinese dragons (and two other jade figurines) The Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) was a period of ancient China divided by the Western Han (206 BCE – 9 CE) and Eastern Han (25–220 CE) periods …   Wikipedia

  • Kings of the Han Dynasty — Wang (王) or Kings of the Han Dynasty can be divided into two categories: Yixing Wang (Kings) and Tongxing Wang (Princes). Yixing Wang literally means Wangs with a different family name than the emperors while Tongxing Wang means Wangs with the… …   Wikipedia

  • Later Han Dynasty (Five Dynasties) — Infobox Former Country native name = 漢 conventional long name = Han common name = Later Han Dynasty (Five Dynasties)| continent = Asia region = China country = China era = Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period status = Empire status text =… …   Wikipedia

  • End of the Han Dynasty — The End of the Han Dynasty (漢朝末年 or 東漢末年, the End of the Eastern Han Dynasty) refers to a period roughly coinciding with the reign of Han Dynasty s final emperor Emperor Xian (r. 189 220) when the empire, with its institutions destroyed by the… …   Wikipedia

  • Government of the Han Dynasty — The Han Dynasty lasted over 400 years, and its governmental system was highly complex. The Han Dynasty owed much of its success in following the earlier precedent of the Qin Dynasty, yet the characteristics of the Han administration was unique in …   Wikipedia

  • Chen Ping (Han Dynasty) — This is a Chinese name; the family name is Chen. Chen Ping Traditional Chinese 陳平 Simplified Chinese 陈平 …   Wikipedia

  • Family tree of the Han Dynasty — OverviewThis is a family tree from which Emperor Xian, the last emperor of the Han Dynasty was a descendant of the first emperor Liu Bang. Ruling over 400 years of Han rule, it is remarked as one of the golden ages of Chinese history.Western Han… …   Wikipedia

  • Museum of the Western Han Dynasty Mausoleum of the Nanyue King — Located in Jiefangbei Road, Yuexue District, Guangzhou, Museum of the Western Han Dynasty Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, with an area of 1,4000 sq. m, is the witness of Guangzhou’s history of more than 2000 years. It is well known across the China …   Wikipedia


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.