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Mingqi

CHINESE TOMB FIGURINES

BY
WILLEM CLAESSEN

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The Early Han Dynasty

chinese word Han chinese word dynasty

206 BCE - 9 AD

From the turbulent Ch'in dynasty a rebel leader, Liu Pang, arose to seize control of the former Ch'in empire. He proclaimed himself emperor in 206 BCE. He established the Han dynasty which would become the most durable dynasty of the imperial age. The Han empire was established using what the Ch'in had already set up. The only difference is that some of the policies were modified, especially those that had caused the Ch'in collapse. Taxes were also reduced drastically, while the government played a smaller role in the economic policies.

 

One of important contributions of the Han was the establishment of Confucianism as the official ideaology over Legalism. The Confucianism was not the pure studies of Confucius, but a conglomeration of various other philosphies and superstitions to augment the complex and sparse teachings of Confucius. This changed the way that the empire was run. Before, emperors appointed people to positions regardless of thier competence. Now, the emperors chose the people they thought were the best suited for the job based on merit. Written examinations were used to identify the best qualified people for the job. In the 2nd cnetury BCE, an imperial university was established to teach students the five classics of the Confucian school to prepare them to become bureaucrats.

 

The height of the Han empire was under the rule of Emperor Wu Ti, who ruled the Han empire from 140 to 87 BCE. Emperor Wu wanted to expand his kingdom and did, but at a price. The once abundent coffers of the Han kingdom, collected in the days when the government was hands off regarding the economy, were empty. This led to the re-establishing of the legalist philosophy; taxes and old policies were reinstated. This did not go well with the people and large land owners opposed the centeral government by refusing to pay taxes. The government overlooked the large land cases and over-taxed the peasants. The peasants did not like the change and a revolt ensued.

 

The Xin Dynasty

chinese word Xin chinese word dynasty

9 AD - 23 AD

During the revolt, a courtier, Wang Ming, deposed and infant emperor and established the short Xin dynasty. Slavery was abolished in this time and the peasants' lives were improved. State monopolies on salt, iron, and coinage were strengthened and new monopolies were created. Wang Ming tried to do too much and this lead to his downfall. He tried to pass legislation on land but it was repealed. A large rebellion, led by a group known as the Red Eyebrows, succeeded in killing Wang Ming and restoring the Han dynasty.

 

The Later Han Dynasty

chinese word Han chinese word dynasty

25 AD - 220 AD

The weakness of the administration plagued the Later, or Eastern Han dynasty, from the beginning. As it was under the Earlier Han dynasty, the centeral government was weakened by infant emperors' mothers being appointed to leadership roles. With the help of the court eunuchs, the later emperors were able to get rid of this problem, but at the price of giving the eunuchs power equal to the mothers. This new power of the eunuchs did not sit well with officials, so the government was again divided by factionalism.

Between 168 and 170 warfare exploded between the eunuchs and bureaucrats. The new eunuch power threatened the bureaucrat's position, something that the eunuchs thought the bureaucrats should not have had in the first place. By 184, two great rebellions broke out, led by Taoist religious groups. It wasn't until 215 that the great Han general, Ts'ao Ts'ao, was able to calm the rebellious attitude.