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The Shang ruled from several successive walled capitals, first near modern Luoyang, then near modern Cheng-chou ( both close to the Yellow River), and finally at Anyang at a city they called Yin. We don’t know the extent of the Shang political domains, but cultural remains suggest they were limited to the central Yellow River floodplain, although the Shang had, or claimed, vassals to the west, east, northeast, and possibly the south, who shared much of Shang material culture. By this time, wheat was beginning to share prominence with millet, and rice was also grown, though mainly in the Yangtze valley and the south. Hunting remained a subsidiary source of food in addition to domesticated cattle, pigs, and poultry. The Shang kept slaves, mainly war captives from among less highly developed or subjugated groups on the Shang borders, and slaves may have been an important part of the agricultural work force. They were also used extensively to build the cities and palaces, and perhaps as troops.

Especially at Anyang, monumental building was impressive, and the city may have covered as its peak as much as 10 square miles, with nearly a dozen elaborate royal tombs, complete with a variety of grave furniture. The tombs provide evidence of a surplus production which could support extravagant display, including richly decorated chariots with bronze fittings and caparisoned horses to draw them; the horses had been harnessed , backed into the underground tombs down a ramp, and killed. Royal or aristocratic dead were accompanied in their burials not only by things of use and value but by tens or even hundreds of followers, buried as human sacrifices to serve in the afterlife, and probably also as a mark of the dead man’s status. Bronze vessels and weapons of great beauty and technical perfection attest to the high quality of Shang technology.

We have no written texts as such, but there are a great number of Shang inscriptions, most of them incised on the flat shoulder bones of cattle or on tortoise shells, and used for divination purposes. A text, usually in the form of a question, was inscribed on bone or shell after heating in a fire until it cracked; the cracks supposedly provided an oracular answer to the question. Others of the So-called oracle bone inscriptions, like the divination texts using characters close enough to classical Chinese that most can be read, provide lists of the Shang kings and brief accounts of royal activities.

Altogether this inscriptional material gives a picture of a hereditary aristocratic in which warfare against surrounding groups was chronic; archer used a powerful compound bow, there were ranks of spearmen, and nobles and their drivers rode in their light, fast war chariots similar to the chariots of the Indo-Europeans. The royal hunt remained important and was usually a very large affairs in which hundreds took part and thousands of animals perished. The inscriptions make it clear that the spirits of royal and perhaps all aristocratic ancestors demanded respectful service from the living and roots of traditional Chinese “ancestor worship”. Slaves were not thought to have souls or spirits and thus could safely be killed; the Shang aristocrats seems not have thought about what might happen to them if they became war captives themselves. Although those at the top lived in great luxury, the houses of the common people seem to have been quite crude, often simple pit dwellings, certainly not in a class with those of the Indus civilization. Many of the divination questions ask about the weather and suggest that the north China climate then, as now, semiarid and prone to both drought and river flooding,  but there is little evidence of any large-scale irrigation, apart from what one may assume was the possible use of floodwater. North China was not as dry as the Indus valley, and the agriculture there seems to have been primarily rain-fed expect perhaps in small areas adjacent to the river or on small scale from local wells in long dry spells. Millet is highly drought-tolerant and can produce good yields where other croups might fail. The great agricultural advantage of north China was its highly fertile loess soil, which is also easily worked, and the level expanse of the largely treeless plain, allowing easy transport and exchange.



Relation between the Shang and their vassals were uneasy, and chronic warfare with other groups on the margins strained Shang resources, as did the extravagant demands of royal building and display, much of it extorted from salve laborers and artisans. The last Shang king is said to have been a physical giant and a monster of depravity who, among other cruelties, made drinking cups of the skulls of his vanquished enemies. The dynasty ended in a great slave revolt about 1050B.C, which was joined by one of the Shang vassals, the Chou, who guarded the western frontier in the Wei valley with their capital near modern Xian. Originally, the Chou were probably a barbarian group taken over by the Shang, tough frontiersmen who seem to have been awaiting their chance to take over the whole kingdom. By about 1050B.C, when they finally succeeded, together with the slave rebels, in defeating the last Shang king and sacking Anyang( where the Shang king died in the flames of his own palace), the Chou had acquired most of Shang culture and technology. Their conquest was not merely a plundering expedition but a succession to a new dynasty that continued the cultural and technical evolution already begun. The victorious Chou, now fully literate, gave their own account of the excesses and oppression of the Shang as justification for their conquest and first voiced what was to become a standard Chinese justification for political change “The iniquity of Shang is full; Heaven command me to destroy it”. In other words, “the Shang had lost the mandate(approval) of Heaven” by their misgovernment, and it was the duty of responsible people to overthrow them.

The Chou set up their new capital in the Wei valley, their old base. They continued and extended the Shang system of feudatory vassals( dependent allies) whereby surrounding groups and areas, soon to begin emerging as states , were linked to the Chou king by oaths of loyalty which acknowledged him as sovereign. The parallel with medieval European feudalism is not exact in details, but the basic system and the reason for it were the same; a central kingdom with pretensions but without the means, at this early stage of statecraft, to control or administer any large area beyond its own immediately territory made agreements with local chieftains in a feudal-style compact that extended the authority of the central state , at least in name. In additional, there was a need for joint defense against surrounding enemies or raiders. The Chou appear to have subdued a much larger area than they inherited from the Shang, from the Wei valley to the sea, north into southern Manchuria, and south into the Yangtze valley. Mutual interest among evolving kingdom, or dukedoms, as the Chou called them, using much the same terms as in medieval Europe, and their hierarchical aristocracy with titles such as marquis, earl, e The Chou Dynasty.

For a time this system seems to have worked reasonably well, based also on what appears to have been an institution like serfdom by which most land was cultivated under the ownership of hereditary lords, and perhaps with some irrigation from shallow wells in a center plot, later labeled the “well field system”. As in medieval Europe, serf were bound to the land and could not leave, virtually the property or chattels of their lords. At both the royal Chou court and increasingly at the courts of other dependent states there was an unknown evolution of technological and artistic development, built on the original Shang foundations. Bronze remained the chief metal, and magnificent ritual vessels, often of great size, increasingly bore long texts recording events or decrees.

Although most writing was by now done with brush and ink on silk or on strip of bamboo, none of these perishable texts has survived, and we are dependent on much later copies, possibly substantially altered versions. It is generally assumed, however, that the central body of the Chinese classics originated in early Chou, including the Book of Changes( I-ching, a cryptic hand book for diviners). The book of Song, the book of rituals, and collections of historical documents, among them the texts which give the story of the five culture-hero emperors and Hsia dynasty, as well as now-confirmed account of the Shang and of the Chou conquest. Already the Chinese were writing history and attaching characteristic importance to the keeping of the records.

But fundamental changes were at work that were to disrupt and then destroy the entire Chou structure. As technology improved, iron was slowly becoming cheaper and more plentiful. It began to be available for agricultural implements, including iron-tipped plows, which the Chinese developed over 1,000 years before the West. Helped by better tools, irrigation was spreading, especially important in semiarid north China, and more and more land was being brought under cultivation. Iron axes speeded the attack on remaining forests in the hilly margins of the north and in the Yangtze valley. Spurred by rising agricultural output, the population began to grow more rapidly, perhaps to 20 million by the mid-Chou period. Except for recurrent years of drought, population did not apparently outrun food supply and surpluses were common, the basis for increasing trade.

New agricultural productivity freed increasing numbers from farm to serve as artisans, transport workers, soldiers, officials, scholars, and merchants. Increasingly, towns, now more important as centers of the trade than of royal or feudal control and dominated by merchants, began to dot the plain and the richer lands to the south in the Yangtze valley, where easier transport by water further stimulated the growth of the trade and the domination of a landed aristocracy came to seem less and less suited to the changing conditions, a situation that may have been in some ways similar to that in the later periods of medieval European feudalism. At the same time, many of the original Chou vassals were evolving toward separate state dom, each with its distinctive and regional culture. After some four centuries of Chou rule, the political, social, and economic structure began to show strains, and eventually it disintegrated.


Warring states

In 771 B.C, the royal capital in the Wei valley was sacked by a barbarian group from north and the Chou king was killed. His son was installed as king the next year, but in a new and better protected capital at Louyang, in the hope that a control point closer to the center of the royal domains would be more secure and more effective in holding the kingdom together. It was a vain hope. To guard the northwest borders, the old Chou base in the Wei valley was given as a fief(a grant of the land) to loyal noble of the Ch’in( QIN) clan; five centuries later, the Ch’in were to sweep away the crumbled remnants of Chou rule to found the first empire.

By 770 with the shift to Luoyang, royal authority over the surrounding dependencies had dwindled and vassals had become rival states; Chin to the west , Chin( Jin) to north, Yen to the northeast in the area around modern Peking( Beijing), Ch’i(Qi) to the east in Shantung ( Shandong), Ch’u( Qu) to the south in the central Yangtze valley, and a number of smaller states including Shu in Szechuan( Sichuan) and Lu in Shantung, where Confucius was born and served for a time as an adviser. It is still too early to speak of any of them, even of the Chou, as “ China”; each was culturally, linguistically, and politically distinct, and there were probably also some racial difference. China as we know it emerged only under the empire of Ch’in in the third century B.C. The Ch’in empire put its own overpowering stamp on what was to become the dominant Chinese style in statecraft and social organization for the ensuring two millennia. Our name China comes, appropriately enough, from the Ch’in, the creators of an imperial Chinese identity for the first time.

Until then, there was no dominant strand within the varied assortment of people, cultures, and states which occupied what is now China. They warred constantly among themselves and against the still more different  groups around the edges of the cultivated area but still well within the borders of modern China proper. Technology probably passed relatively easily and quickly from group to group, and by mid-Chou most seem to have shared more and less common achievements in metallurgy, agriculture and irrigation, and other arts. But in spoken and written language , in many aspects of culture, and in political identity they were as different as, say, the evolving states of late medieval Europe.

The state of Ch’u provides a good example. Its location straddling the central Yangtze valley made it probably the most productive of the rival states as well as the largest; its agriculture benefited from the more adequate and reliable rainfall and longer season of central China as well as from greater ease of irrigation. But it was different in character too, in particular in the size and importance of its merchant group and role of water-borne trade and towns in its economy. Ch’u had evolved far beyond the earlier Shang pattern, where power was held by hereditary land-owning nobility and where agriculture worked by slaves or serfs was virtually the sole source of wealth. And unlike the northern states, Ch’u was also a naval power, it had fleets on the Yangtze and its tributaries and adjacent lakes and even larger numbers of trading junks(riverboat). Nevertheless, Ch’u was ultimately defeated by a coalition of northern states in 632B.C and again in 301 B.C; though it continued to exist, its power and further growth were greatly reduced while those of the other states rose. This may have been one of those battles which change the course of history. A china which followed the Ch’u pattern would have been very different from what was established by the final victory of the Ch’in, whose shape is described in more details below.

With increasing agricultural yields and total output, it was now possible to field large armies of men who could be fed on surpluses. Warfare became larger in scale and more ruthless, and its character changed from that of earlier chivalric contests of honor between aristocrats to one of more wholesale conquest and flights for survival. The crossbow with trigger mechanism, developed by this time, greatly increased firepower, range, and accuracy, and by the fourth century B.C foot soldiers were supported by armed cavalry. Such developments combined to undermine the earlier dominance of hereditary aristocrats, their chariots, and their personal retinues.

All of this offered a range of new opportunities for able commoners. For many it was a positive and welcome change, but for others the passing of the old order and great disruptions and sufferings of warfare offered only chaos and moral confusion. Confucius, who lived at the beginning of the warring states periods, made it clear that his prescriptions were an effort to reestablish order and what he offered to as “harmony”, following the values of an earlier “ golden age”.



The Qin Conques

Chin, originally one of the poorest, smallest and most remote of the Chou dependencies, seemed easily outclassed by the other contending states. Its succession of able rulers made virtues of its relative poverty, peasant base, and frontier location. It stressed the importance of hard work, frugality, and discipline and emphasized agriculture and peasant soldiers in stead of trade, merchants, or intellectuals, blending these elements to create military power. Its tough armies defeated those of rival states in a long series of campaigns that were kept from mountain-ringed Chin home base in the Wei valley, but were often devastating to the more fragile economies of its enemies with their dependence on trade. Opponents saw the menace of rising Ch’in power too late to untie against it and were picked off one by one. Ch’in generals and statesmen were master of strategy and tactics and used diplomacy, propaganda treachery, espionage and various forms of psychological warfare adroitly.

A series of victorious campaigns during the 230s and 220s culminated in the final defeat of all other states in 221B.C.Northern China and the Yangtze valley were united politically for the first time, and the Chin ruler, who now took the title ( Huang Ti) as Chin Shi Huang di, applied to his new empire as a whole the system that had built Chin’s power. Further conquests after 221 began the long Chinese absorption of the south, beginning with the acquisition of the kingdom of Yue centered in the Canton (Guangzhou) delta and route to its southward from the Yangtze, together with Yue territory in what is now northern Vietnam. Throughout the new domains, as in the former state of Chin, primogeniture (whereby the eldest son inherits all of the father’s property and statues) was abolished, as was slavery except for minor domestic servants. The former feudal and land tenure arrangements were done away with. Land became privately owned and was freely brought and sold. The state levied a tax on all land in the form of a share of the crop. A new uniformed law code was applied to all subjects without discrimination, ending many centuries of aristocratic privilege, a reform which clearly appealed to most people. Currency, weights, measure, and forms of writing previously widely varied among what had been separate cultures and states, were also unified by imperial fiat follow the Chin mode, a change essential for empire. An imperial system of roads and canals was begun, and a splendid new capital called HsianYang was built near modern Sian (Xian) in the Wei valley. Even axle lengths for carts were standardized so that all carts would fit the some ruts.

Probably the most spectacular and best known of the new public works projects was the Great wall, which Chin’ Shin ordered consolidated from a series of much earlier walls along the north steppe border and reconstructed as uniform barrier with regularly spaced watchtowers. It and subsequent reconstructions (the remains currently visible date from the Ming dynasty rebuilding in the fifteenth century AD), constitute probably the largest single works project in human history: The Great wall is said to be the only work of humanity visible from the moon. The Great wall was made possible by the new mobility of labor, which could be free from farming at least seasonally. Reportedly, 1 million men died in building the wall, conscripts workings as corvee labor (work performed as part of state tax, equivalent to military conscription). Ironically, the wall was never effective in its supposed purpose of preventing nomadic incursions, end runs around it and intrigues which opened the gates made it often quite permeable. But it did serve as symbolic affirmation of empire and as a statement of territorial and sovereign limits. “Good fence make good neighbors,” the Chinese might have said, to which the Mongols and their predecessors might have replied, also quoting Robert Frost, “Something there is which doesn’t love wall.” The new and powerful state control over mass labor tempted the emperor, with his megalomaniac tendencies, to plan more and more projects of monumental scope, including for road system, the new canals ( useful for transporting troops and their supplies as well as for irrigation), and his own magnificent palace and tomb, in additional to fresh conquests.

His palace, completed in 212BC, was assuredly one of the wonders of the world. It measured 2500 feet from east to the west and 500 feet from south to the north and accommodated 10,000 people. Within a radius of some sixty miles there were 270 lesser imperial residence “connected by covered roads and roads and roads bordered with wall” and furnished with “tents, canopies, bells drums, and beautiful women”.

The First Empire put into practice for the first time the idea of unity for all the peoples “within the wall,” an idea never lost to sight even during the long periods of imperial breakdown the followed.

In spite of its absolutism, however, the empire could not wholly silence two groups-the theorist, who disliked the state whose groundwork they themselves had laid, and the descendants of the princely houses and the ministers of state for whom the empire had no place, Besides these, countless people must have suffered indescribably from the forced labor, the forced labor, the frontier military service, and the heavy taxation.

The removal of his iron hand and his inept son’s succession to power resulted in the overthrow of the empire by the various dissatisfied groups in 207 BC.


 Ch’in Authoritarianism

Agriculture was stressed as the basis of the economy and state, with hardy peasants available in off-season for Corvee or for the army. Trade and merchants were regarded as parasitic and as potentially dangerous power rivals to the state, hence in part the removal of primogeniture, which also reduced the threat from landed power. But the chief target of the Qin system was intellectuals, people who asked questions, consider alternatives, or point our deficiencies. China already had a long tradition of scholars, philosophers, and more moralists, of whom Confucius and Mencius ( his later disciple) were honored examples. The Chin saw such people, perhaps accurately, as troublemakers and boat-rockers. It was an openly totalitarian state and its sense of mission and made it additionally intolerant of any dissent.

Ch’in Shih Huang Ti persecuted intellectuals, buried several hundred scholars alive for questioning his policies, and ordered burned all books that could promote undesirable thoughts, which meant most books other than practical manuals and official Chin chronicles. The documents destroyed included invaluable material accumulates from earlier periods. There was to be no admiration of the past, no criticism of the present, and no recommendations for the future, except the states. The policies, especially the burning of the books, were profoundly contrary the Chinese reverence for the written word and preservation of records. They earned the emperor the condemnation of all subsequent Chinese scholars and historians. Certainly he was a cruel tyrant, inhumane, even depraved in his lust for absolute power. But his methods, harsh though they were, built an empire out of disunity.

Much of his policies were in fact the work of his prime minister, Li Ssu, who is credited with founding a new school of philosophy called Legalism, which embodies the Chin policies of tight state control over everything. Control was augmented by a greatly expanded state bureaucracy and by rigid supervision of all education. Only those values that supported the state design were inculcated and practical skills were stressed over critical inquiry. Another potential source of ferment, travel, within the realms or aboard, was forbidden except by special permit.

Empire building, anywhere and in any form, is a disagreeable business, and one may question its usefulness in any case. Are people better off forcefully unified in an empire, at tremendous cost in lives, than if they had been left to their own regional cultures and states? Unfortunately, empire buildings seem to be a common human failing, as is inhumanity in the name of religion. Both have the appeal, at least for some, of grand idea, or simply of pride, for which costs are not counted. China, once unified, even by such methods, was to cling to the idea of imperial unity ever after. Each subsequent period of disunity following the fall of a dynasty was regards as a time of failure, and each ended in the rebuilding of the empire. But one must acknowledge also the appeal of the new order which the Chin represented. By its time most people were clearly ready to break with their feudal past, and to move toward a system based on achievement rather than birth. The Chin believed firmly that their new order was progress; they had a visionary conviction that they were creating a better society.

Lord Shang, an earlier Chin official and true progenitor school, summarized state policy in classic totalitarian terms:
“Punish severely the light crimes, if light offenses do not occur, serious ones have no chance of coming. “This is said to be ruling the people in a state of law and order”
“A state where uniformity of purpose has been established for ten years will be strong for a hundred years; for a hundred years it will be strong for a thousand years, and will attain supremacy”.
“The things which people desire are innumerable, but that from which they benefit is one and same. Unless the people are made one, there is no way to make them attain their desire, therefore they are unified, and their strength is consolidated”.
“If you establish what people delight in, they will suffer from what they dislike, but if you establish what they dislike, they will happy in what they enjoy”.

In other words, in unity is strength, but the state knows best what is good for people. The major figure of the school of Legalism is the philosopher Han Fei-zu, who also stressed the need severe laws and harsh punishments, the only means to establish order, under the direction of the ruler. People are naturally selfish, and they must be held mutually responsible for each other’s actions.

Nevertheless, there was merit in the new equality under the law and new opportunities for advancement; and ambitious projects have an allure which draw people to support them, perhaps especially those associated with empire building. The best illustration of more constructive aspects of the Chin is the figures of Li Ping, appointed provincial governor of the former states of Shu( Szechuan) and also famed as a hydraulic engineer associated with many of big Chin projects, including control works on the yellow river. It was Li Ping who announced the best formula for minimizing the floods that already made the Yellow River notorious: “Dig the bed deep, and keep the bank low”. This helped to prevent the building up of silt in the river’s bed, which in time raised it above the level of the surrounding country and greatly worsened the destructive consequences of floods that could not forever be retained within the dykes along the river’s bank.

Liping is credited with designing and constructing the famous irrigation works in western Szechuan, diverting the Min River where it emerges from the mountains and enters the wide plain around the capital city Chengdu province. His irrigation works, much visited by tourists, still stand, together with his statue overlooking them, and are reputed to have saved millions of people on the Chengdu plain from drought and famine ever since . Like all big projects, they took enormous labor and hardship, mainly from conscript workers under iron discipline. According to the great Han dynasty historian Simaqian writing a century later, Li Ping towards the end of his life said:
“People can be depended on to enjoy the results, but they must not be consulted about the beginnings. Now the elder ones and their descendants dislike people like me, but hundreds of years later let them think what I have said and done”.

    Li ping’s memory is still honored, while that of his emperor is reviled.



The Han dynasty

Chin shi Huang Ti died in 210 B.C, leaving the throne to his eldest son, but Li Si and other counselors suppressed the news of his death for fear of uprising and then installed the eighteenth son as their puppet. But the harshness had left the country in turmoil, exhausted the people, drained the treasury, and alienated the educated upper classes. Without their cooperation, the regime was in trouble. The empire was in fact already collapsing into rebellion, and several army commanders deserted. In 206 B.C .A rebel armies occupied the capital and burned the emperor’s splendid new palace. Rival forces contended for power in the ensuing struggle, and large groups of soldiers, workers, and former officials roamed the country, By 202, a new rebel leader. Liu Pang, emerged out of chaos. He founded a new dynasty, which he named the Han. Under Han rule China took both the territorial and the political and social shape it was to retain until the present century. The Chinese still called themselves “people of Han” in distinction from Mongols, Tibetans, other domestic minorities, and more distant foreigners, a label which they carry with much pride as the heirs of a great tradition of culture and empire first established in its classic from by the Han. Han dynasty imperial success and that of later dynasties, depended, however, on retention of many of the techniques of control used by the Chin. The administration of an empire the size of all of Europe, and with a population of probably about 60 million people by Han time could not have been managed otherwise.

Beginning with the Han, the harsher aspects of Chin Legalist approach were softened by common sense and more human morality of Confucianism. Liu Pang, who took the title Han Kao-tsu as the first emperor, emphasized the Confucian precept that government exits to serve the people and those unjust rulers should forfeit both the mandate of Heaven and support of the ruled. He abolished the hated control on travel, education, and thought, lowered taxes, and encouraged learning so as to build a pool of educated men whose talents, in the Confucian mode, could be called on to serve the state. However, conscription of the army and forced labor for public works such as road and canal building were retained, as was the administrative division of empire into counties, each under the control of an imperial magistrate, including currency, weight, measures, script, and orthodox thought, on a vast and regionally diverse area which had long been politically and culturally varied. Under beneficent rule, this was a system which could be made to work successfully and could command general support. Early Han was a time of great prosperity and enthusiasm for the new order.


Han Culture

The first two centuries of Han rule were also a time of great cultural flowering in poetry, painting, music, philosophy, literature, and the writing of history. Confucianism was more firmly established as the official orthodoxy and state ideology, and the famous Chinese imperial civil service system recruited men of talent, schooled in classical Confucian learning, to hold office through competitive examination regardless of their birth. Liu Pang, the founder of the Han, had been born a peasant, and the new stress was on ability and education rather than on inherited status. This approach was to remain a source of strength and effectiveness for the state for next 2000 years and was rightly admired by the modern Western heirs of Plato, who had maintained that “Education makes good men, and good men act nobly”. Office-holding by the scholar-gentry, who were enriched each generation by new blood rising from peasant or commoner ranks and entering the elite through the imperial examination, became the most prestigious of all occupations. That in turn helped to ensure that able people went into the administration and preserved the political arena and government service generally from much of the corruption, mediocrity, and ineffectiveness that have plagued political systems everywhere and at every period.

China was far free of such problems or from other imperfections, but each new dynasty reestablished the system begun under the Han and on the whole probably managed the task of government better than most other states, perhaps including most modern ones. One may thank Confucius for man, with his stress on duty, learning, “human-heartedness”, and virtue. Chinese society chose the way among many others and periodically reaffirmed what had been the minor teachings of an obscure consultant to a small feudal lord in the sixth century B.C, long before there was any thought of empire. Great landed-gentry families remained and were periodically unclei of power, together with court aristocrats, eunuchs and ambitious generals-a pattern familiar from imperial Rome, Persia (Iran), and elsewhere. In China, the original Han ideal endured through the rise and falls of successive dynasties and with all its imperfections, built a long and proud tradition of power combined with service that is still very much alive in China.

Han rule was briefly broken by a palace coup of the empress’s nephew Wang Mang, who made himself emperor from A.D 9 to 23. As a model Confucian ruler, Wang Mang tried to curb the resurgent and of the landowning gentry. He also extended new state control over the economy, all in an effort to reestablish the egalitarianism he claimed to drive from the sage’s teaching. His reforms included the abolition of private estates, which had increasingly avoided paying taxes, and the nationalization of land. Such policies bitterly alienated the rich and powerful, and Wang Mang was murdered by a new rebel group called the Red Eyebrows, who were supported by both distressed peasants suffering from a drought-induced famine and by merchant and gentry groups.

Landowning and its abuses were problems for all ancient and medieval empires and were to remain a plague for every Chinese dynasty. Ownership of land meant power, and the abolition of primogeniture did not always prevent powerful families from accumulating large blocks of land. Big manipulating political influence locally, usually as members themselves of the gentry group with its official and unofficial connections, they managed to reduce or avoid paying state taxes on their lands or got them off the tax rolls entirely, a major problem for most dynasties. Their tenants, the peasants who farmed their land, were often cruelly exploited and hence driven to rebellion. Reformers in government periodically tried to correct these abuses, as in Wang Meng’s abortive reforms and many similar efforts in later centuries, but the imperial state was never able to overcome completely the power of land families.

In A.D 25 the Han was reestablished, though under new ruler and with a new capital at Luoyang, following the earlier model of the Chou and for the same reason. It is thus known as the Easter and Later Han, while the Chang An period from 202 B.C to A.D 9 is called Western or Former Han. The new rulers, a succession of strong and conscientious emperors, restored the power, prosperity, and cultural vigor of Wu Ti’s time. Learning, philosophy, and the arts flourished once more and elite society reached new levels of affluence, elegance, and sophistication. Peace was reestablished along all the imperial frontiers by re-conquest, and in A.D 97 a Han army marched all the way to the Caspian Sea. Scout were sent farther west, reaching either the Persian Gulf or the Black Sea before returning, another missed encounter with imperial Rome, then too at the height of its power and conquest. In A.D 89 a Han army invaded Mongolia and again defeated the Hsung-nu, probably contributing to the start of their subsequent migration westward and their ultimate role as invaders of Europe under the name of the Huns. Sinkiang, northern Vietnam, northern Korea, southern Manchuria, and inner Mongolia were all reincorporated into the empire; trade flourished, and China gloried in its confidently reasserted power and cultural leadership.

The later Han produced some of the most famous generals in Chinese history, especially those who had repeated successes against the nomads on the north-west frontier. One of the best known as Pan Chao, whose brother and sister were joint authors of a well-known history of the Han dynasty. Pan Chao is said to have asserted that “only he who penetrates into tiger’s lair can carry off the cubs”, In A.D 73 he was sent with a detachment of troops to pacify the area south of Sinkiang. Surrounded by enemy troops, tribal groups with whom he was attempting to negotiate, he planned and carried out a daring night attack. He sent part his force behind the enemy lines to beat drums and simulate an attack, while the remainder built a huge-fire in front of the barbarian fortress. The barbarians were completely surprised, many were killed as the rush out, and many died in the flames. The barbarian chief surrendered and renewed his oath of vassalage to China.

After the first century, landlord power and oppression grew again. Wang Mang had been right to try to curb them. There were growing peasant revolts, and imperial relatives and powerful families jockeyed for position or influence. The elite, especially those at court surrounding weak emperors, indulged themselves in luxurious living heedless of the problems around them-all echoes of the problems Rome was facing at the same time. Palace intrigues grew out control, and eunuch groups acquired more and more power. Generals in the provinces became rival warlords after suppressing peasant revolts. The entire imperial structure was crumbing and in A.D 220 the last Han emperor abdicated.

The power, wealth, and expansion of Han China were based in part on trade with Mongolia, Korea, central Asia, Vietnam and northern India as well as on the productivity and trade of newly conquered south China. The incorporation of these areas within the empire gave it secure frontiers, beyond which there was little incentive to expand farther. But control over all of these regions beyond China proper was lost with the collapse of the imperial structure. By this time nearly all the Chinese originally settled in Sinkiang as garrison troops had withdrawn, leaving their watchtowers and fortified based along the Silk Road to crumble away, like the Great Wall, in succeeding centuries. The loss of trade and revenue contributed to the fall of the dynasties, but the primary cause was self-destructive indulgence and faction fighting at court, as well as local based on conquest, has joined with decay at the center to destroy every empire. The difference in China is that each new group which came to power founded a new dynasty and strove to rebuild the empire the Han had first established.


Han Achievement

China by Han times was highly developed technologically as well as culturally. Chang’an and luoyang were built by wood, and little has survived to tell us much about them, but what accounts we have suggest that they rivaled imperial Rome in size and splendor. It is symptomatic of this vast bureaucratic empire, whose culture also put a high value on education and learning, that paper was first made there, by or before A.D 100, more than 1000 years before the knowledge of papermaking spread to Europe. Another Han innovation was an early form of porcelain, one more Chinese gift to the world known everywhere simply as “china” :Water-powered mills were invented in Han China: Yoke Harness as was the prototype of the modern horse collar, which made it possible for draft animals to pull much heavier loads more efficiently and without being choked. Lacquer had made its appearance by WuTi’s time, and samples of fine lacquer wear have been found in Han tombs. Han dynasty alchemists invented the technique of distillation, not discovered in Europe until the fourteenth century A.D; ships were built with watertight compartments, multiple masts and sternpost rudders, and magnetic compasses were in use. The circulation of the blood was also first discovered in Han china.

Probably the greatest literary achievement of the Han was in the writing of history, a consistent Chinese emphasis on preserving the record of the past. Many Chou record destroyed by Ch’in Shih Huang Ti were reconstructed by Han scholars from the memory, and the texts we have date largely from this period. New pride in empire and tradition produced the man called China’s Grand Historian, Ssu-ma Ch’ien. His massive Historical Records put together materials from earlier texts in an effort to provide an accurate record of events since before the Shang and added summary essays on geography, culture, the economy, and biographies of important people. A century later Pan Ku complied a similarly comprehensive History of the Han Dynasty, which became the model for the standard histories commissioned by each subsequent dynasty, another respect in which the Han set the pattern for later centuries.

Han writers set a high standard for historical scholarship at many Western scholars feel was not equaled elsewhere until eighteenth century in the West. Here is another point of comparison between Han China and imperial Rome, where the writing of history also reached a high standard and reflected a similar pride in Rome idea remained appealing to the Europe mind and still underlies much of the Modern West, but in China the state system, the imperial model, and most of other institutions and forms first established under the Han endured to shape the course of the next 2000 years.

The rise of civilization in China can be traced through the Shang, about 1600B.C its conquest by the Chou, about 1050B.C, the Warring states period in the last centuries of nominal Chou rule, the Chin empire from 221B.C to 206B.C and the rise, flourishing and decline of the Han from 202B.C to A.D 220. The pattern of subsequent Chinese history was largely set by the achievement of the Han empire, much of its based in turn on the teachings of Confucius, who lived in the sixth century B.C From local beginnings on the north China plain under the Shang, the Chinese state and empire had grown by the end of the Han to incorporate most of the area within the borders of modern Chinese civilization was established, a model which was largely adhered to for the next 20 centuries.


Wider Trade Patterns

Contracts across Eurasia had been important during and since the prehistoric period. Sumer may have contributed something to the origins of Indian civilization and perhaps indirectly to the emergence of Chinese civilization. Given the multiplicity and often the mutual hostility of the various cultural groups in central Asia during the ancient and medieval periods, the passage of the goods and idea through this area, in either direction, was necessary slow and difficult. There was certainly trade from China and India to western Asia, Greece and Rome. From at least 600B.C, there was also sea trade, bringing Indian and Southeast Asian spices to the Mediterranean and Europe. But except for the visit of Greek and Roman traders to the coasts of India, and perhaps of Roman as far as east as Malaya (where the Roman trade goods have been found), plus the travel of a few Indian philosophers to Greece and Rome and the invasion of India by Alexander, there was no direct contact between Eastern and Western civilization from then until the time of Marco Polo in the thirteenth century. Arab ship traded by sea, and a chain of various central Asian peoples transmitted idea as well as goods across Eurasia, but the transmission was incomplete, and understandably some of the ideas were lost and garbled in the process.

Commerce between China and the rest of Eurasia almost certainly developed later than India’s trade with Mesopotamia, and there is no evidence of Chinese exports westward until the beginning of the silk route probably the Chou dynasty. Chinese merchants took the silk only as far as Sinking, handing it over there to a long series of central Asian traders who passed it along through the thousands of miles to the Roman merchants picked it up for transport farther west. This trade continued after the fall of the Han dynasty and was later augmented by the export of the porcelain and lacquer goods, all high-value commodities that could bear the very heavy costs of such long-distance transport. The camel caravans carrying them were also exposed to frequent raids from other central Asian groups along the route, risks which further increased the prices charged for Chinese exports when they finally reached the destinations. By the eleventh century much of the Chinese export trade was being carried westward-fine cotton textiles, spices, gem, and other goods-continued from the earliest times through the Middle Age to move mainly by ship from the ports on the Indian west coast. There must have been some return flow of trade by sea from India to China, but apart from the mention of what sound like Indian merchants in ports on the south China coast, we know very little about it.


China and Rome

Wu Ti sent an ambassador westward in 139B.C, a courtier named Zhang qian , to try to make an alliance with other nomads against the Hsiung-nu and to scout out the country generally. He was captured instead of the Hsiung-nu, but escaped after ten years. Eventually in 126B.C, he returned to the Han capital at Changan in the wei valley, where the Chin had ruled, with first-hand accounts of central Asia, including bits of information about India and routes to it, and about a great empire far to the west, where the silk went. This was China’s first news of Rome, but they were never to learn much more. Travelers who said they had been to Rome turned up much later at the Han court with their own tales, including a group of jugglers in A.D 120 and some merchants in A.D 166. Both of whose visits were recorded in the Han annals. The Romans knew China only as the source of silk and called it, accordingly, Seres, the Latin word for silk.

Wu Ti was tempted by Zhnag qian report to move on the central Asia and add it to his conquests, partly out of pure vainglory, partly to secure supplies of the excellent horse to be found there, which he want for the imperial stables and his cavalry. If he or his successors had done so, the Chinese and Roman empires, or their forward troops, might have met and perhaps learned from each other, In the first century A.D with the Han still in the power and still occasionally probing westward, Rome was at the same time campaigning against the Parthian Kingdom in Persia( Iran), If the Romans had conquered Parthia, they might have at least encountered Han patrols, or they might have followed the Silk Road, which they knew about, from central Asia to the borders of China. But both armies were very far from home. Moreover, the Parthians and other central Asian groups were profitable middleman role in the silk trade rather than allowing the two empires to meet. Han envoys reached the Parthians but were advised to return home, advice which they followed.

Each empire thus remained largely in ignorance of the other except for traveler’s tale, although both were of comparable size, sophistication, power, and achievement. China might have developed a different and more open attitude to the rest of the world on the basis of some experience with another empire and culture, Roman or Indian, at their level of sophistication. Like Chinese Empire, both Rome and Mauryan India were builders of roads, walls, and planned cities, synthesizers of varied cultures under an expansionist and cosmopolitan system, and contenders with “barbarian” along the fringes of their empire. Of the three, the Han Empire was the largest and probably the most populous and richest, although its level of the cultural and technical sophistication was probably matched by both ancient India and Rome.

Wu Ti’s endless campaigns and his imposition on the people exhausted the country‘s patience and resources. One of his earlier reforms had been the establishment of imperial censors whose job it was to keep officials, even the emperor, faithful to their duty to serve the people. The censors finally convinced Wu Ti that he had neglected his basic precept and persuaded him to issue a famous penitential edict apologizing for his excesses and promising to be a better ruler, more deserving of the Mandate of the Heaven- and less likely to be overthrown by rebellion, which was already brewing. The institution of the censor rate remained a regulatory feature of all subsequent dynasties.

Wu Ti immediate successors, while largely abandoning further conquests, continued to press the Hsiung-nu as a defensive strategy and even sent an expeditionary force across the Pamirs into the Samarkand region in pursuit. There, in 42 B.C, on the banks of the Talas River near Tashkent in central Asia, they defeated a Hsiung-nu coalition which included some mercenary troops, who, from the Chinese description, may have been Roman auxiliaries. These people had learned the Roman Testudo formation with shield overlapping over their head to ward off arrows and spears-another near miss at a direct encounter with Rome. Han armies in central Asia, having marching across deserts and High Mountain, were father from their capital than regular Roam troops ever were from Rome. But this was the high point of Han power, and the empire which Wu Ti welded together was not to be significantly enlarged in subsequent centuries.


The collapse of the Han order

A new dynasty called Wei was proclaimed, but it was impossible to hold the empire together, and rival dynasty soon emerged. In ensuing years the north was progressively overrun by barbarians, Hsiung-nu and other steppe nomadic groups, who sacked both Chang’An and Loyang by early fourth century. The north disintegrated into a bewildering series of minor rival kingdoms under barbarian control, while the south was similarly divided into rival Chinese states. The period from the fall of the Han in A.D 220 to the ultimate reunification of China in A.D 589 is sometimes rather misleadingly called the Six Dynasties (there were many more than six); it was a long interval of disunity, invasion, disruption, intrigue, and warfare that lasted nearly four centuries, shattered the imperial image, and left most Chinese especially in the arts, and little of it was forgotten by educated Chinese, but it was seen as a time of troubles. Except among the elite, many people suffered. 

These centuries suggested comparison with what began only a little late in the breakup pf the Roman Empire and the barbarian invasion of southern Europe. In China too, the period was thought as a Dark Age, and as in Europe there was a loss of confidence and the spread of a new mass religion of otherworldly salvation, Christianity in the West, Buddhism in China. The Wei , founded by an originally barbarian group, were vigorous promoters of Buddhism and left behind a rich legacy of Buddhist art, although their control was limited to the north. But the imperial idea continued to appeal to Chinese pride, and in time it was to be reestablished in a new birth of unification, power, and glory, the Tang. 




To be continued!





Tang-dynasty (618AD. - 907AD.)

Tang dynasty was the largest and probably the most populous state in the world at that time. This was the age of Charlemagne in Europe and Alfred the Great in England. It became the centre of economic and cultural intercourse for the Asian peoples, with the capital Chang an (Xi’an) rising as cosmopolitan city. The population of the city and suburbs at the height of its prosperity rose to nearly two million people. It was the eastern terminus of the great trans-Asian caravan route.

Chang an covered a rectangular area some five miles by six (Xi’an, the town on the same site today, covers an area of two miles by three).Chang an comprised three parts- the palace, the imperial city and the outer city, separated from each other by walls of rammed earth. In the outer city, all cities were divided up like a chessboard by streets crossing at right angle, lived the ordinary people. This part of city had eastern and western markets, with a great central thoroughfare leading to the imperial city and beyond that to the palace city. Rows of e elms and locust trees lined the ditches beside the main highway, providing shade for the vermilion horse drawn carriages of the great official and nobles. Zhuque street ,the main trunk in the city, was as wide as 155 meters, in comprison the widest street in Rome was only 12 meters at that time.

Alley divided the two markets each into nine squares, or wards, the central one of which was the administrative center, with manager supervisors, secretaries and scribes. Each sections of the market contained booths and warehouses of merchants and artisans engaged in the same trade. The wards were surrounded by moats and ramparts and they could be entered only a high official was permitted to have a gate opening directly onto the street. Drums were beaten to signal the curfew, for the wards were closed at night.

Store, workshop and booths of more than hundred trades lined the streets: they provide silks and garments, saddles and harnesses, ornaments, fruits and provisions. Excavations have unearthed a great variety of articles as well as many coins from Tang dynasty and Persia, gold coins from the Eastern Roman empire. According to the records merchants from central and western Asia owned wine and jeweler shops in the western market.

In Chang an was a large state academy where Chinese students and students from various parts of Asia studied together. These foreign students played role in the propagation of Tang dynasty. Japanese students braved the hazards of the sea to come to study in Chang an. The advanced Tang culture they took back exerted great influence on their own culture. Much of Tang custom and music is still preserved in Japan.

LI shi min(599AD.-649AD.) was the first of several outstanding Tang rulers .He was an able general, a scholar and a successful administrator. Learning one lesson from the downfall of earlier dynasties, he said: “The emperor likes to have a palace built, but the people do not like building it. The emperor craves the flesh pot, but the people hate doing labor service. It is dangerous to burden the people with excessive labor service” Also: “An emperor collecting too heavy taxes is like a man eating his own flesh .When the flesh is all gone, the man dies.” And he enacted that each death sentence should be reviewed on three separate days, and that the magistrate concerned should abstain from meat, music and entertainment during this period, so that he would be conscious of the serious nature of his responsibility all this time. He is very kindhearted emperor in the Chinese history. He also was a hybrid of Han and Xianbei nationalities. He adopted an all-embracing attitude to foreign cultures. He respected Chinese orthodoxy, but at same time did not exclude and reject foreign things. It was just due to the exchange and integration of different national cultures that traditional Chinese culture developed to its bright climax. So the ZOROASTRIAN, the NESTORIANS and MANICHEANS set up their churches and temples in Chang’ an.


Tang Dynasty is one of the most powerful and prosperous kingdom in the history of China. Central plains of China and the Western regions entered into a grand unification. In the first 100 years of Tang Dynasty its prosperity allowed it to reach an unprecedented height in the exchange and communication with the outside world. Contemporary historian both in China and abroad call Tang Dynasty “an open empire” and Chang an a capital of the world”. Traders of Persia, priests of Rome, sailors of Arabia, and students of Japan, as well as Buddhist and Islamic scholars, all of them gathered in China. Because of rapid development of its economy, China’s trade exchange with he Western Regions and beyond increased a great deal during the period. A golden era in the history of the Silk Road started with the arrival of Tang Dynasty.

Chang an of Tang Dynasty was a masterpiece of ancient Chinese architecture. The tied roofs were beginning to be tilted up at the edge like wings, allowing the maxim winter sun, and providing shade during the summer time. The end tiles at the eaves were splendidly decorated.

The Da min palace stood high on the mountain to the north of the city. Lofty Hany uan Hall was the place, where the emperor interviewed foreign diplomatic envoys. The layout of the city was nest and balanced.



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