Western Han 西汉


Chinese Name: 西汉

English Name: Western Han; Xi Han

Other Name: Pr-Han, the former Han 前汉; Tianhan 天汉

Duration: About 202 BC – 8 AD

King: Liu Bang 刘邦; Liu Qi 刘启; Liu Che 刘彻; Liu Xun 刘询

Western Han 西汉
Territory Map of Western Han 西汉疆域图

Brief Introduction

The Western Han Dynasty 西汉 (202 B.C. – 8 A.D.) is a dynasty in Chinese history, with a total of 12 emperors and a duration of 210 years (it is also believed that the Han Dynasty began in 206 B.C.). It is also known as “the former Han Dynasty 前汉” in history books, and its capital is Chang’an 长安(now Xi’an, Shaanxi 陕西西安).

Western Han 西汉

The Western Han Dynasty was the first boom in the history of China’s development. The Han nationality got its name during this period. Due to the high level of civilization, the Han nationality has always been in a leading position among China’s fraternal nationalities, which is the result of historical development and natural formation. Although the names of the dynasties after the Western Han Dynasty have changed, the status of the Han nationality as the main nation in China has not changed.

Major Historical Events

The Battle Between Chu and Han 楚汉之争

At the end of the Qin Dynasty 秦朝, the world was in chaos. Liu Bang 刘邦 and Xiang Yu 项羽 took advantage of the situation. Xiang Liang 项梁 named the descendants of King Chu as King Huai of Chu 楚怀王, and each raised troops to fight against the violent Qin Dynasty. Liu Bang took the lead in invading Guanzhong 关中 in December 207 BC. Prince Qin surrendered and Liu Bang occupied Xianyang 咸阳, the capital of Qin.

Western Han 西汉
Emperor Gaozu of Western Han 汉高祖刘邦

Liu Bang and Xiang Yu have an agreement that the first person to enter Guanzhong 关中 will become the king. However, Xiang Yu failed to fulfill the agreement. After that, Xiang Yu gradually took power and established the Western Chu 西楚. He established King Huai of Chu as the righteous emperor of Chu and called himself the “overlord of Western Chu 西楚霸王”. At the same time, he began to enfeoff princes, including 18 vassals. Liu Bang was conferred on Ba 巴, Shu 蜀, and Hanzhong 汉中, and his title was set as Han 汉. The famous Feast at Swan Goose Gate 鸿门宴 comes from this time.

Western Han 西汉
Xiang Yu 项羽

In August 206 BC, the righteous emperor of Chu was killed by Xiang Yu. On that ground, Liu Bang led his army to crusade against Xiang Yu. Han Xin 韩信 was appointed general, which opened the prelude to the dispute between Chu and Han.

Although he suffered many setbacks in the early stage, he knew people well and put them in high positions. In the last battle under the ridge 垓下之战, Liu Bang won the victory, Xiang Yu killed himself in the Wu River 乌江 and the Western Chu fell.

Western Han 西汉
Farewell to my concubine 霸王别姬

Enlightened Administration of The Han Emperors Wen and Jing 文景之治

During the Wenjing period, Emperor Wen 文帝 and Emperor Jing 景帝 implemented the policy of “governing by inaction 无为而治”. While restoring the economy, they also abolished some harsh laws. So as to ease the class contradictions and the internal contradictions of the ruling class.

Therefore, many officials were given a lighter sentence and did not ask for delicacy. As a result, it is said that “Hundreds of cases have been solved, almost all of which are punishable without penalty 断案数百,几致刑措”. This is in sharp contrast to the miserable scene of the Qin Dynasty, in which tens of millions of people are sentenced every year.

Western Han 西汉
Enlightened Administration of The Han Emperors Wen and Jing 文景之治

The policy of “recuperate and build up strength 休养生息” in the Wenjing period played a certain role in restoring and developing products, which further consolidated the autocratic rule.

Flourishing Age of Emperor Wu 汉武盛世

After the death of Emperor Jing of the Han Dynasty 汉景帝, Liu Che 刘彻 ascended the throne, namely Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty 汉武帝. During the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, he issued a decree of mercy to weaken the power of princes and kings.

Western Han 西汉

Wei Qing 卫青 and Huo Qubing 霍去病 were sent to fight back against the Xiongnu 匈奴 and expel the Xiongnu to Mobei 漠北. At this time, Eastern Han began to carry out exchanges in the western regions and open up the silk road 丝绸之路. However, In the latter, the foreign war consumed a lot of national strength. Heavy taxes and servitudes, and severe penalties all resulted in chaos.

In addition, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty adopted Dong zhongshu’s 董仲舒 suggestion to “eliminate all other schools of thought and only honor Confucianism 罢黜百家,独尊儒术”, making Confucianism gradually become the orthodox thought of China’s autocratic society.

Western Han 西汉

Important Influences

The Three Councillors of State and the Nine Ministers

The Western Han inherited the Qin system and set up a prime minister. In the period of emperor Hui and empress Lu of the Han Dynasty, it was divided into left and right prime ministers.

In addition to the prime minister system, the Taiwei 太尉 and the censor are respectively in charge of military affairs, government affairs, and supervision. Together with the prime minister, they are collectively referred to as the “three public officials 三公”. Under the “three officials”, there are “nine ministers 九卿” who are in charge of national military and political affairs and Court Affairs.

Western Han 西汉
The Three Councillors of State and the Nine Ministers三公九卿

In addition to following the system of prefectures and counties in the Qin Dynasty, local administrative organs were also enfeoffed as princes and kings in the early Han Dynasty. In this way, a set of ruling institutions from the central to the local level were restored.

The second splendid period of civilization

The significance of the Western Han Dynasty is more than that of the previous dynasties in terms of the political system, the military system, and cultural systems.

Western Han 西汉
portrait brick of Han Dynasty 汉代画像砖

Open up the Silk Road, Promote Friendly Exchanges

Zhang Qian’s 张骞 mission to the western regions was originally to implement the strategic intention of Emperor Wu of the Western Han Dynasty to unite Da Yueshi 大月氏 to fight against the Xiongnu. However, after being sent to the western regions, the cultural exchanges between Han and Yi were frequent, and the civilization of the Central Plains 中原地区 spread rapidly around through the “Silk Road 丝绸之路”. It has special historical significance in China.

Western Han 西汉
Zhang Qian’s mission to the Western Regions

Zhang Qian’s outstanding contribution to the opening of the Silk Road from China to the western regions is praised all over the world.

The Western Han Empire (206 BC-220 AD) – Documentary

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