History of Han Dynasty 206 BC–220 AD
Han Dynasty is considered as one of the greatest periods in the entire history of China. As a result, the members of the ethnic majority of Chinese people to this day still call themselves "people of Han," in honor of the Liu family and the dynasty they created. During the Han Dynasty, China officially became a Confucian state and prospered domestically: agriculture, handicrafts and commerce flourished, and the population reached 50 million.
Meanwhile, the empire extended its political and cultural influence over Vietnam, Central Asia, Mongolia, and Korea before it finally collapsed under a combination of domestic and external pressures.
The empire of Qin did not last long. A well-known Chinese classical essay examining the fault of Qin attributes its downfall to its authoritarian rule and failure to treat the people with kindness. After the death of the First Emperor, his son, the second emperor to be, was unable to rule. There came two powerful leaders of the states of Chu and Han. Their contention for the throne was so well remembered in China that the two sides of a Chinese chessboard are named after them. Chu started out as the much stronger of the two but finally lost to Han, which became the Han dynasty
(206 BC–220 AD). The Chu leader was in a position to eliminate the leader of Han. In fact one evening he invited the Han leader for dinner with a plan to kill him. Dancing was staged at the dinner. Once the Chu host gave the signal, the dancer with a sword would kill the Han leader. There were only four persons at the dinner, with one advisor or assistant for each leader. When the dance advanced to the point for the Chu leader to give the signal, he made no movement. His advisor who helped stage the dinner was greatly disappointed, sighing that the kingdom was lost.
The advisor of the Han leader was wise enough to ask him to take the seat befit of a servant, to the point that the Chu leader considered the position as a sign of surrender and saw no need to kill him. In China, then and now, the position of a seat at a dinning table in terms of the direction it faces is important to distinguish the position of its occupant.
Technological advances also marked this period. One of the great Chinese inventions, paper, was dated from Han times. It is fair enough to state that contemporary empires of the Han Dynasty and the Roman Empire were the two superpowers of the known world. Several Roman embassies to China are recounted in Chinese history, starting with a Hou Hanshu (History of the Later Han) account of a Roman convoy set out by emperor Antoninus Pius that reached the Chinese capital Luoyang in 166 and was greeted by Emperor Huan.
The Han dynasty was notable also for its military prowess. The empire expanded westward as far as the rim of the Tarim Basin (in modern Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region), making possible relatively secure caravan traffic across Central Asia. The paths of caravan traffic are often called the "Silk Road" because the route was used to export Chinese silk. Chinese armies also invaded and annexed parts of northern Vietnam and northern Korea (Wiman Joseon) toward the end of the second century BC. Han control of peripheral regions was generally insecure, however. To ensure peace with non-Chinese local powers, the Han court developed a mutually beneficial "tributary system." Non-Chinese states were allowed to remain autonomous in exchange for symbolic acceptance of Han overlordship. Tributary ties were confirmed and strengthened through intermarriages at the ruling level and periodic exchanges of gifts and goods.
From 138 BC, Emperor Wu also dispatched Zhang Qian twice as his envoy to the Western Regions, and in the process pioneered the route known as the Silk Road from Changan (today's Xian, Shaanxi Province), through Xinjiang and Central Asia, and on to the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Following Zhang Qian' embassy and report, commercial relations between China and Central as well as Western Asia flourished, as many Chinese missions were sent throughout the 1st century BC, initiating the development of the Silk Road. China also sent missions to Parthia, which were followed up by reciprocal missions from Parthian envoys around 100 BC.
Han emperors tried to achieve a stable government by adopting the teaching of Confucius to rule. Confucianism assigns roles to different members of society. Children should respect and obey their parents. Friendship should be based on honesty, trust and mutual respect. Ministers should serve the emperor, and lower-level administrators should yield to higher-level ones. The emperor has the right to rule over the entire population but only if he treats them properly and follows certain basic principles of good government. By misconduct an emperor can lose his right to rule or the mandate of Heaven. To aspire to move upward socially, a person first disciplines himself, then learns how to act as the head of his family, then to rule his country and finally to govern the entire world in peace. This particular teaching was mainly aimed at men, although there were woman emperors in Chinese history. The positions of men and women were not equal, but the assigned roles provided social stability for many years.