The Han Dynasty lasted from 206 BCE – 220 CE, over 400 years. During this time, emperors of the Han Dynasty increased the size of China by conquering new lands. Eventually, the Han would control one of the largest and wealthiest dynasties of the ancient world.
The Han ruled their empire with the help of appointed officials who were paid salaries to perform certain jobs. To find people for these jobs, a civil service exam was administered. The people that scored the highest on the exam were then hired to perform jobs for the government. Many people wanted to work for the government because of the high-paying jobs and privileges that came along with it. The civil service exam tested a candidate’s knowledge in law, mathematics, and the writings of Confucius and other philosophers. Many students would attend training schools in order to study these subjects and prepare for the exam. All males were allowed to take the test, no matter what social class their families were a part of. This system provided a system of equal opportunity that was rare in the ancient world.
One of the weaknesses of the civil service exam was that it focused on learning old classics rather than new ideas. As a result, many government officials resisted change which led to problems for China for many years to come. The ability for leaders to adapt and change with the times is important for success.
The Han Dynasty increased the area of the Chinese Empire. They extended their borders to Southeast Asia, India, and Persia. The Silk Road started as a network of trading paths that linked China to many of the world’s other civilizations in the Eastern Hemisphere. This led to wealth and prosperity for the Chinese and also cultural exchange. Chinese traders would travel to parts of the world they had never seen before and brought back knowledge of the rest of the world. In 105 CE, the people of the Han Dynasty perfected the production of paper. The world’s first dictionary was written shortly after.
Contact with other civilizations, especially India, led to the spread of religions. Buddhism began in India, but became very popular in China among peasants (farmers). Many religious centers called monasteries were built throughout China. Buddhist monks worshipped and meditated within the monasteries. Over time, traditional Chinese religion became a blend of Buddhism and Taoism.
As the years passed, Han rulers became weaker. They found that it was difficult to prevent revolts by peasants and local rulers call warlords. Over time, the warlords caused the dynasty to break apart. With many different states and warlords fighting amongst each other for control, the next several hundred years were a time of great unrest in China.
1) Do you think the civil service exam was beneficial for China? Why or why not?
2) How did the Silk Road lead to “cultural exchange” for China?
3) Where did Buddhism begin? How do you think Buddhism got to China?
Use the following space to create a comic strip that tells the story of the Han Dynasty and what they are best known for. Write a caption under each frame to describe the illustration.