Political Contributions of the Han Dynasty

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  • 0:01 Who Were the Han?
  • 0:46 Administrative Innovations
  • 2:29 Expanding the Empire
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The Han Dynasty's impact on Chinese history is almost impossible to understate. This lesson provides details as to the organization of the Han, as well as how they were able to grow increasingly powerful.

Who Were the Han?

Following the chaos that ensued after the reign of the last Qin emperor, as well as the general fact that almost everyone hated him, a number of competing local kings tried to reestablish control over most of China. Luckily for the average Chinese peasant, who was always the victim of such armies running around and burning everything, it only took a few years for a new dynasty to establish itself.

The Han Dynasty was founded by Liu Bang and is perhaps the most enduring of all the ancient Chinese dynasties. It existed from 206 BCE to 220 CE, about the same time period as the height of the Roman Empire in the west. However, while the Romans left a legacy, the Han left an incredible way of administrative life that did not change until the beginning of the 20th century.

Administrative Innovations

As with any empire, the Han would require regional bases of power in addition to their capital. Unlike other empires, the Han approached this problem with a particular eye to detail on how to best create order. Throughout the empire, regional capitals were built on similar blueprints, with a great deal of similarity in the placement of official buildings, barracks for soldiers, and even marketplaces in capitals from the Han homeland in northern China well into the southern part of the country. These capitals allowed judges to maintain justice - and just as importantly for the Han - an efficient way to collect taxes, all while making sure that each region had a contingent of soldiers ready to establish order in the case of rebellion or protect the region against foreign invaders until the larger imperial army could arrive.

The Han Dynasty also greatly used the power of Confucius's teachings to guide their new empire. While they could not be standardized for hundreds of years later, the first Imperial Examinations based on Confucian ideals were held during the Han period in order to make sure that civil servants were ideally suited to the tasks at hand. Confucian ideals went beyond mere examinations. Then as other times in history, landowners were considered to be vital politically. Rather than try to fight the landowners, the Han gave them increasing responsibility, as well as establishing a sort of Confucian tie between landowner and those who worked the land. Needless to say, this extra level of respect made the landowners very happy, which in turn meant that they were less likely to revolt against the taxes raised by the Han.

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