AP World History Unit 2 – The Formation of Classical Societies - 500 B.C.E. to 500 C.E.
Persia, India and China. Chapters 7, 8 and 9 – Pages 159-228.
I. The Empires of Persia
The Acheamenid Empire
The Persian Empire is the name used to refer to a number of historic dynasties that have ruled the country of Persia (Iran).
It is the Achaemenid Empire that emerged under Cyrus the Great that is usually the earliest to be called "Persian."
Persia lies in the arid area between Mesopotamia and the nomadic tribes of central Asia (Iran).
Empire was subject to intermittent invasions and migrations from the east.
In the sixth century B.C.E., the Persians began conquests that would put the area under imperial control for the next millennium.
The settlers of Persia were Indo-European ethnic groups organized into clans who became loosely connected to Mesopotamian overlords.
As descendants of central Asian tribes, the Persians had a military tradition.
With the prowess borne of this tradition, Acheamenid ruler Cyrus conquered a vast region between India and Egypt by 530 B.C.E.
Cyrus rallied the Persians together, and defeated the forces of Astyages, who was then captured by his own nobles and turned over to the triumphant Cyrus, now Shah of the Persian kingdom.
As Persia assumed control over the rest of their large Middle Eastern empire, Cyrus led the united Persians to still more conquest.
He took Lydia in Asia Minor, and carried his arms eastward into central Asia.
Finally in 539 B.C.E. Cyrus marched triumphantly into the ancient city of Babylon.
After this victory, he set the standard of the benevolent conqueror by issuing the Cyrus Cylinder.
In this declaration, the king promised not to terrorize Babylon nor destroy its institutions and culture.
The Cyrus Cylinder is an artifact of the Persian Empire, consisting of a declaration inscribed on a clay barrel.
Upon his taking of Babylon, Cyrus the Great issued the declaration, containing an account of his victories and merciful acts, as well as a documentation of his royal lineage.
It was discovered in 1879 in Babylon, and today is kept in the British Museum.
He was a clever and wily military leader who undoubtedly would have conquered more regions but was killed in battle on the northeast border.
His son, Cambyses, completed the conquest by gaining Egypt.
The empire then reached its greatest extent under Darius I.
He led conquering armies into the Indus River valley and into Thrace in Europe.
His invasion of Greece was halted at the Battle of Marathon.
A young kinsmen, Darius, extended the empire into northwest India and the western shore of the Black Sea.
It is his skill as an administrator that is most notable.
Darius built a new capital at Persepolis which became the center of a sophisticated bureaucratic state.
He set up an efficient administration of 23 satrapies (provinces) creating a fine balance between central and local control.
The provincial rulers, satraps, were constrained by the presence of imperial troops and tax collectors while traveling bureaucrats also monitored their actions.
In common with later administrators of far-flung empires, he standardized taxation and coinage.
While he did not set up a standardized legal system, legal scholars examined the laws in conquered areas to make sure that they did conflict with Persian law.
Established a complex postal system.
Established a network of spies he called the "Eyes and Ears of the King."
The other achievement of the Achaemenid emperors was the development of a network of roads providing communication with large parts of the empire.
Persian Royal Road.
Aegean Sea to Iran.
Eventually, differences between the Persians and its subject peoples became too difficult to overcome.
Unfortunately, the tolerance for other traditions exhibited by Cyrus and Darius was not continued by Xerxes, the successor to Darius.
His Persian policies led to rebellion which culminated in the Persian Wars with Greece.
A long period of warfare with Greek city-states resulted in defeat.
Battle of Marathon.
Battle of Thermopylae.
Darius was killed in a coup led by other family members.
In 334 B.C.E., Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great invaded Persia and defeated the Persians.
Three years later, Persia was then divided into three regions ruled by Alexander’s generals, one of which persisted until Arab warriors defeated it in 651 C.E.
The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanid Empires
The Seleucids, named after Alexander’s general, Seleucus, retained the Achaemenid administration but faced resistance to their foreign rule.
Internal rebellions and central Asian invasions diminished their holdings so that the Romans easily defeated their remnants in the first century B.C.E.
Those same invaders from central Asia became the next rulers of the central region of Persia.
The Parthians ruled with a somewhat less centralized government for two centuries.
Power of Parthian was heavy cavalry.
In 224 B.C.E., the Sasanids, from Persia, toppled Parthians.
Rebuilt the Achaemenid bureaucracy.
Arabs defeated the last ruler and established an Islamic state in 651 C.E.
Even in defeat, Persian governmental traditions continued when the Arabs adopted them.
Social Development in Classical Persia
Classical societies like the Persians became more complex requiring increased numbers of bureaucrats, craftsmen, and slaves to function.
Similar to centralized Egypt, the demands of imperial administration required a large number of bureaucrats at the top of society to act as tax collectors and record keepers.
To tie together the vast reaches of the empire with all its different cultures, the bureaucracy also needed large numbers of translators.
Free classes and slaves formed the bulk of Persian society.
Free classes had few privileges beyond their freedom.
These consisted of craftsmen, artisans, merchants, and the lowest civil servants.
Priests and priestesses formed a significant portion of the population of Persian cities as well.
In rural areas, peasants and landless cultivators were included in the free classes.
Not only did they farm the lands but they built elaborate irrigation systems including the underground channels known as qanats, some of which have persisted to the modern period.
Large class of slaves who were prisoners of war and debtors.
Debtors were owned by private individuals.
The state itself owned slaves, as did temple communities, to use as laborers on massive building projects.
Economic Foundations of Classical Persia
Despite the arid regions of central Persia, the conquered regions of the Persian empire were exceptionally fertile agricultural areas so there was great agricultural prosperity in the empires.
Barley, wheat, peas, garlic, onions, dates, cucumbers, apples and pomegranates were in abundance.
Given its enviable position between eastern and western Asia, long distance trade flourished particularly after the fall of the Acheamenid Empire.
Trade from India to Egypt.
Several conditions promoted the growth of trade:
Standardized coins, good trade routes, markets, banks.
Specialization of production in different regions.
Persian Royal Road
Sea routes through the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea.
India supplied gold, ivory, and aromatics.
Mesopotamia – textiles and jewelry.
Anatolia – gold, silver, iron, and copper.
Zarathrustra and His Faith
In the late seventh or early sixth centuries B.C.E., Zarathustra developed a theology based on the dualism of good and evil represented by two gods.
Zarathustra is believed to be a historical person but the details of his life are not well understood.
Magi or priests transmitted his teachings through oral traditions that later were written into the Gathas.
Zarathustra named one main good deity, Ahura Mazda, and six lesser deities who conflicted with an evil spirit, Angra Mainyu.
Followers of Zoroastrianism could be assured of entrance to heaven by following a life of “good words, good thoughts, good deeds.”
Attracted Persian aristocrats and ruling elites.
Darius regarded Ahura Mazda as supreme God.
The religion spread widely throughout the Persian empire and persisted in some areas well beyond the fall of classical Persia.
As a religion of salvation, some specific Zorastrianism teachings influenced Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theology.
Religions of Salvation in a Cosmopolitan Society
Although Alexander attempted to obliterate Zoroastrianism, it persisted through oral traditions and had a revival in the Sasanid dynasty.
Later Islamic conquerors also persecuted the Zoroastrians until most converted and the remainder moved to India where small communities of believers remain to this day.
Meanwhile the tolerant rule of the Persians had allowed Judaism, Buddhism, Manichaeism, and Christianity to gain a foothold in Persian realms.
It was through these small communities that Zoroastrian beliefs moved into the other religions.
These beliefs included a beneficent creator god.
Conflict between good and evil.
Idea that human beings should strive to be moral so that when the day of judgment came, they would not be found wanting.
Mani was born near Baghdad, probably of Persian parents.
After wandering for several years he came forward as the inspired prophet of a new religion.
He returned to Persia after the coronation of Shapur I, who was tolerant of new religious movements.
He began preaching the doctrine that was to become Manichaeism, a great synthesis of elements from Zoroastrianism, other Persian religions, Christianity, Buddhism, and Daoism.
Rejecting all of the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament, Mani claimed Buddha, Zoroaster, Hermes, and Plato as his predecessors.
During the long reign of Shapur I, Mani was free to travel about the realm making converts.
However, the accession of Bahram I brought a reaction against the Manichaeans from orthodox Zoroastrian religious circles, and, after 272 C.E., Mani and his followers met with increasing persecution.
He died while imprisoned in SW Persia.
Good vs. Evil
The Christian notion of personal sin was repugnant to the Manichees.
They felt that the soul suffered not from a weak and corrupt will but from contact with matter.
Evil was a physical, not a moral thing; a person’s misfortunes were miseries, not sins.
Mani’s followers were divided into two classes:
The elect, or perfect, were assured of immediate felicity after death because of the resource of light they had acquired through strict celibacy, austerity, teaching, and preaching.
The auditors, or hearers, the laity who administered to the elect, and who could marry.
Believing in reincarnation the auditors hoped to be reborn as elect.
All other were sinners, doomed to hell.
II. Unit 2 - Classical India – State, Society, and the Quest For Salvation in India
Chapter 9 – Classical India – Pages 207-228.
The Mauryan Dynasty and the Temporary Unification of India
Between 1500 and 600 B.C.E., a series of Aryan kingdoms consolidated into several regional kingdoms.
Although two dynasties enjoyed brief control over the subcontinent, India never established a tradition of one large, centralized state as seen in China.
When Alexander the Great withdrew from Northwest India, he left a vacuum that was eventually filled by the ruler of an Indian kingdom, Chandragupta Maurya.
The Mauryans expanded their empire into present-day Afghanistan and well into central and eastern India by 321 B.C.E.
However, the dynasty never captured the southern tip of India.
Chandragupta’s government was based on a set of administrative principles in a book called the Arthashustra written by his close advisor, Kautalya.
Like the Qin dynasty in China, his administration was quite harsh and incorporated the use of numerous spies.
The apex of the Mauryans was the reign of Chandragupta’s grandson, Ashoka.
In 268 B.C.E. Ashoka began his campaign to conquer the last state in the northern region of the subcontinent.
Once he had subdued the kingdom, Ashoka turned from conqueror to administrator.
He was a skilled governor who utilized a strong bureaucracy under his direct control.
Edicts were carved in many stone pillars to express his wishes.
Ashoka encouraged agriculture with irrigation systems and trade with road-building projects.
Travelers were impressed to find inns, wells, and shade trees along these routes.
After a victorious but devastating battle at Kalinga, in which thousands of people were slaughtered, Ashoka was deeply shocked and distressed.
He adopted non-violence and became a Buddhist.
Ashoka’s creed advocated non-violence and vegetarianism which certainly influenced the Hindus, the majority of whom do not eat meat anymore.
Ashoka used his power to build Buddhist temples and shrines, and to spread the Buddhist message to other lands, especially to China.
After his conversion, Ashoka ruled in peace for many years.
Ashoka died in 232 B.C.E., his policies failed to be sustained and the dynasty fell into decline.
The costs of sustaining a huge army and a large administration were so heavy that by 185 B.C.E., there was no Mauryan empire.
Many small, successful kingdoms succeeded the Maurya for the next 400 years until the advent of the Guptas in 320 C.E.
Their territory included much of the former Mauryan empire but nevertheless remained smaller.
Under Chandra Gupta (no relation to Chandragupta Maurya) and his two successors, the Guptas controlled every area except the Deccan Plateau and the southern tip of India.
White Hun invasions from the northwest split the Gupta empire into its original regions and the last Gupta rulers lost their power to regional rulers.
Then, once again, India became a continent of many kingdoms.
More similar to the Persians than the Mauryans, the Guptas left governance in the provinces to local allies.
Their rule produced a stability that lasted for almost two centuries.
Towns and Trade
The success of iron metallurgy and great harvests allowed India to develop more urban centers and fostered more trade.
However, both of these developments also intensified the caste system.
Indian craftsmen provided numerous manufactured products for the common and elite classes.
Many towns in India provided marketplaces to distribute goods from thousands of workshops.
Trade was most active along the Ganges River.
Long-distance trade was carried out primarily through the northwest region, following the roads built by the Persians, and maintained by Alexander and Chandragupta.
The endpoints of direct Indian trade along this route were China in the east and Persia in the west.
Increasingly, merchants turned to the Indian Ocean for trade.
Merchant ships benefited from the monsoon seasons that brought winds from the southwest in the spring and summer and winds from the northeast during the fall and winter.
Trade with Persia, China, Indian Ocean basin, Indonesia, southeast Asia, Mediterranean basin
Cotton, aromatics, black pepper, pearls, and gems were the principal Indian exports.
In exchange Indian merchants imported horses and bullion from western lands and silk from China.
Indian merchants traveled to the islands of Indonesia.
They exchanged pearls, black pepper, and Indian manufactured goods for spices and exotic local products.
Along the seacoast were ships that went as far away as the Red Sea.
Indian pepper became so popular there that the Romans established direct commercial relations and built several trading posts in western India.
Family Life and the Caste System
Despite the ideal of the extended family living in one household, most Indians lived with their nuclear families.
Only the highest castes with wealth came close to the ideal.
Women’s positions became even more subordinate to men.
Women were viewed as weak in the Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata.
And, the evidence that the patriarchy became more dominant is that the number of child brides betrothed to men in their twenties increased.
Gupta era, child marriage was common.
Girls who were 8 or 9 were betrothed to men in their twenties.
Formal marriage took place when girls reached puberty.
Nevertheless, it is still highly probable that women dominated domestic issues.
The castes system continued with its four major groups but a new social order began to emerge.
As trade and industrial activity expanded, new groups of artisans, craftsmen, and merchants appeared, many of whom did not fit easily in the established caste system.
Groups of merchants and craftsmen formed guilds to set prices and provide aid to their members.
The guilds functioned as more subcastes or jati, with primary responsibility to all member of their occupation.
Organized their own courts.
Disciplined guild members.
Regulated community affairs.
Expelled those who did not abide by group rules.
Thus, social stability and security became a function of local groups rather than governmental bodies.
Another unusual change occurred in the social order during this time.
Tremendous wealth generated by increased manufacturing often gave more influence to members of the two lower castes (the vaishyas and shudras) than the two upper castes (brahmins and kshatriyas.)
But, both of these developments solidified the absolute power that castes had over life in India.
Outcastes then had to make their way through life – often by working as butchers, leather tanners, or undertakers or in other occupations deemed low and unclean.
They received no support from the jati
This period is regarded as the golden age of Indian culture.
The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent and creative architecture, sculpture, and painting.
The wall-paintings of Ajanta Cave in the central Deccan are considered among the greatest and most powerful works of Indian art.
The paintings in the cave represent the various lives of the Buddha, but also are the best source we have of the daily life in India at the time.
Also, the rock temple at Elephanta (near Bombay) contains a powerful, eighteen foot statue of the three-headed Shiva, one of the principle Hindu gods.
Each head represents one of Shiva's roles: that of creating, that of preserving, and that of destroying.
The period also saw dynamic building of Hindu temples.
All of these temples contain a hall and a tower.
The greatest writer of the time was Kalidasa.
Poetry in the Gupta age tended towards a few genres:
Religious/ meditative poetry.
Narrative histories (the most popular of the secular literatures), and drama.
Kalidasa excelled at lyric poetry, but he is best known for his dramas.
The plays all involve misunderstanding and conflict, but they all end with unity, order, and resolution.
Jainism and the Challenge to the Established Cultural Order
Founded in the 5th century B.C.E. by Vardhamma Mahavira.
Actually he was not the founder of Jainism, but he reformed and refined previous teachings of the Jaina tradition.
Jainism is a strict religion with two denominations:
The "Diganbara" (naked) are monks and nuns with vow of "nudity", usually living in monasteries.
The "Svatembara" (white-robed).
They have 6 rules:
1- Destroy no life.
2- Do not lie.
3- Practice charity.
4- Practice chastity.
5- Posses nothing, want nothing.
6- Devotion of whole life to task.
It is a rebellion against Hindu life: No gods, no priests, no caste system... but they have the Law of Karma and Reincarnation.
Here enlightenment is called "Jina" (the conqueror, victorious), and from "Jina" comes the name "Jainism".
It is a most paradoxical religion:
They rejected the gods of Hinduism, but now practically every existing thing is a god: The mountains and earth and stones have a "soul", every plant, every animal is a god... this leads to respect for the sanctity of life.
They carry a small broom to sweep all forms of life from their path, and even they ware masks over their mouths so as to not accidentally swallow flies or other insects.
They are only 5 million Jains in India, but very influential, because they are successful bankers and merchants.
Jainism places rigid restrictions on accumulating wealth.
Individuals underwent purification by observing the principle of ahimsa, or non-violence to other living things or their souls.
Used by Buddhists, Hindus, Gandhi and MLK, Jr.
If all creatures possessed souls, it made little sense to draw sharp distinctions between different classes of human beings.
Jains did not recognize the caste system.
Very popular with the lower castes.
Founder: Siddhartha Gautama
Lived a pampered and sheltered life in palaces.
Married his cousin at age 16, excelled as a student and warrior.
Despite of the amenities of life, Siddhartha is not satisfied with the mere enjoyment of fleeting pleasures due to his inquiring and contemplative nature.
One day, he leaves the palace for an excursion and there he encounters what so far has been purposely veiled from him:
He sees a decrepit old man, a diseased person, a corpse being cremated, and a hermit.
He realizes that ultimately people have no control over their lives.
In the night of his 29th birthday, Siddhartha gives up his life as a prince and secretly leaves the court while everyone is asleep.
Siddhartha becomes a penniless and homeless wanderer.
He leads a life of self-mortification and spiritual study, becomes first a disciple of several then famous Brahman teachers, and later attracts his own disciples.
While meditating under a tree, Siddhartha experiences the Great Enlightenment, which reveals to him the way of salvation from suffering.
He spends seven weeks meditating and attains the status of Buddha at the age of 35.
He is extremely successful and attracts first thousands, then ten thousands, and later hundred thousands of people from all walks of life.
Buddha's success does not only attract admirers, but also provokes envy and ill will.
Several attempts are made on his life, but all of them fail.
Although he is being criticized, this does not affect the popularity of his teaching.
Having achieved the goal of spreading the teaching to the greatest number of people, Buddha dies at the age of eighty years, as a result of food poisoning.
Appeal of Buddhism:
Buddhists did not recognize social distinctions.
Language – avoided the use of Sanskrit, the literary language of the Vedas.
Used the language that was common in that area.
Buddhism focused primarily on meditation and concentration, the eighth of the Eightfold Noble Path; as a result, it centered on a monastic life and an extreme expenditure of time in meditating.
This left little room for the bulk of humanity to join in, so a new schism erupted within the ranks of Buddhism in the first century C.E., one that would attempt to reformulate the teachings of Buddha to accommodate a greater number of people.
They called their new Buddhism, the "Greater Vehicle" or Mahayana, since it could accommodate more people and more believers from all walks of life.
Theravada (“the lesser vehicle”)
AP World History – Unit 2 – The Unification of China. Pages 181-204.
The Unification of China
Confucius and His School
In the sixth century B.C.E., Kong Fuxi (Confucius) developed a philosophy that had moral, social, and political dimensions.
Despite a disappointing career, his teachings developed a following and those disciples compiled his sayings into a written work known as the Analects.
Distressed by the constant warfare between the Chinese states and by the venality and tyranny of the rulers, he urged a system of morality that would preserve peace and provide people with stable and just government.
His view of life was entirely practical as he did not deal with religion or abstract philosophy.
Rather, he focused on the moral and ethical behavior of the individual.
According to Confucius, there were three important qualities in a superior individual (junzi).
Ren--a sense of humanity, kindness, benevolence
Li--a sense of propriety, courtesy, respect, deference to elders
It is the presence of highly moral citizens that produces an effective society and government.
Confucius encouraged his followers to study classic texts from the Zhou.
The study of those classics, along with others, remained a fixture of Chinese education until the 20th century.
Confucianism became the state religion of China, but he was denounced as a class-exploiter during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76).
There are now thought to be over 6 million Confucians.
Confucian ideas had been expressed in general terms so the philosophy evolved with the input of later disciples.
Mencius in the 4th century B.C.E. put more emphasis on the benevolent aspect of ren.
Xunxi, even later, saw the less positive side of humans and emphasized li.
excerpts from the Analects by Confucius:
XV.23: Tzu-kung asked, saying, "Is there one world which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?" The Master said, "Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."
IV.16: The Master said, "The mind of the superior man is conversant with virtue; the mind of the base man is conversant with gain."
III.4: Lin Fang asked what was the first thing to be attended to in ceremonies. The Master said, "A great question, indeed! In festive ceremonies, it is better to be sparing than extravagant. In the ceremonies of mourning, it is better that there be deep sorrow than a minute attention to the observances."
IX.4: There were four things from which the Master was entirely free. He had no foregone conclusions, no arbitrary predeterminations, no obstinacy, and no egotism.
XVII.2: The Master said, "By nature, men are nearly alike; by practice, they get to be wide apart."
The Master said, "I would not have him to act with me, who will unarmed attack a tiger, or cross a river without a boat, dying without any regret. My associate must be the man who proceeds to action full of caution, who is fond of adjusting his plans, and then carries them into execution."
Daoists looked at the same Warring States period and came up with an opposite philosophy.
They emphasized a withdrawal from society because there was no real solution to the problems.
Instead, the advocated learning to live in passive harmony with the world.
If everyone worked on following the dao or “the way of the cosmos,” society would fix itself.
The ideal citizen practiced wuwei, complete withdrawal from the active world, and emphasized pursuit of self-knowledge.
They believed that following the natural principles that governed the world, like diet and meditation, would restore balance and harmony.
What would such a government look like?
It would not wage war.
It would not be complex.
It would not interfere in people's lives.
It would not wallow in luxury and wealth, and, ideally, it would be inactive, serving mainly as a guide rather than as a governor.
The traditional founder of Daoism was a philosopher named Laozi.
However, historians believe that he is a composite of several different thinkers of the era.
Particularly interesting is that Confucians found parts of Daoism very appealing and since neither philosophy requires exclusivity, Chinese scholars often were faithful Confucian bureaucrats as well as devoted followers of Daoism in their private lives.
Neither Confucianism nor Daoism solved the problems of the Warring States; it was Legalism that unified and calmed China.
Legalists were representatives of the Qin state who believed that the only answer to chaos was harsh governance.
They believed the basis of an orderly society was agriculture and the military, so they emphasized soldiers and peasants while de-emphasizing other classes.
Men were discouraged from becoming merchants scholars, or educators.
The doctrine of practical and efficient statecraft.
No concern with ethics and morality.
No concern with the principles governing nature.
Harsh penalties were imposed on criminals and dissenters and even entire families could be punished along with the offender.
Legalism was used effectively in the Qin and early Han dynasties.
In later dynasties, there continued to be tension between ruling on the model of the moral behavior of Confucianism or the harsh rule of law in Legalism.
Legalism was effective but history was written by the Confucians, so Legalists have been harshly criticized in the annals of Chinese history.
The Qin Dynasty
The harsh policies of Legalism allowed the Qin state to unify China.
While it lasted a very short time, its governmental structure persisted into the twentieth century and its cultural unity continues to this day.
Qin was very brutal from the start of his reign.
Qin's first act as a king was to execute his mother's lover and to exile his mother.
Sometime later Qin ordered the expulsion of all aliens in his state.
The Qin state built up the loyalty of its common citizens with land reform and produced a powerful army with the profits of its agriculture.
Then, it systematically conquered surrounding states.
By 221 B.C.E., its ruler, Qin Shihuangdi, was able to pronounce himself as the First Emperor of the new Qin dynasty.
Like the Egyptians and Persians, the Qin then developed a strong centralized administration over a vast era.
Qin Shihuangdi divided China into provinces but kept strict central control over them.
He built roads to facilitate communications and governance.
He standardized measurements, as well as coinage and laws to further unify the state.
While each region’s spoken language remained incomprehensible to others, Qin Shihuangdi ordered the standardization of Chinese script.
One thing to note is how other large empires like Rome will institute many of the same policies.
While the Chinese must have welcomed orderly governance after the wars between states, his tactic drew significant criticism from the Confucians and Daoists.
The First Emperor responded with executions and book-burnings.
Many classics completely disappeared and others had to be reconstructed in the Han dynasty.
He conscripted millions of workers for public projects.
Thousands died reinforcing defensive walls on the northwest border.
What is commonly referred to as the Great Wall is actually four great walls rebuilt or extended during the Western Han, Sui, Jin, and Ming periods, rather than a single, continuous wall.
These walls became components of the Great Wall.
Furthermore, some seven hundred thousand other laborers were conscripted to build the elaborate tomb for Qin Shihuangdi.
The rows of life size terra-cotta soldiers that were discovered in the modern excavations of his tomb.
The harshness of the Qin regime led to its downfall soon after the burial of the First Emperor and traditional Chinese scholars remembered him as China’s most cruel ruler.
The Early Han Dynasty
Among the peasant rebels who defeated the Qin Dynasty was a talented commander named Liu Bang.
He was able to consolidate control over competing forces by sheer persistence and the immense loyalty of his army.
In 206 B.C.E., he declared himself the first emperor of the Han dynasty.
At first, he allowed the provinces to operate fairly independently but when they failed to support the Han during an invasion, he returned to the Qin model of centralized control.
The Han dynasty lasted for more than four hundred years from 206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E.
It is so revered by the Chinese that they refer to themselves as the “people of Han.”
The most successful Han emperor was Han Wudi, who followed the Legalist principles and governmental policies of the Qin.
An energetic and talented administrator, Han Wudi built a more elaborate bureaucracy, added more canals and roads, and founded a university.
Confucianism returned to its central position in the Han government with the education and examination of scholar-bureaucrats based on Confucian ideals.
Government service was determined by exam, not by patronage.
The Mandarins, or bureaucrat scholars, became the premiere class in China.
The Han had faced a persistent problem from nomads from the northwest, the Xiongnu.
The Xiongnu were nomadic herders with supplementary agriculture and some slaves.
And like other nomads they had a warrior tradition.
The Xiongnu had been making raids into China.
They had a highly disciplined army and ruled a confederation of Turkish nomads across central Asia.
The Han tried economic and diplomatic means to appease the Xiongnu but neither bribes of tribute nor marriages between the two peoples had any lasting effect.
Han Wudi added the conquest of the Xiongnu to his conquests of Korea and Vietnam and rightly became known as the Martial Emperor.
Combination of Confucianism and legalism explains the superior lasting power of the Chinese imperial system.
The Pax Sinica, or Chinese Peace, created a vibrant culture and centuries of peace and prosperity.
Productivity and Prosperity during the Former Han
The structure of the Chinese household changed little from the Zhou, with the average household size of five inhabitants.
The Han saw families as the essential unit of an orderly society.
The Confucian Classic of Filial Piety demonstrates the importance that the Han attached to the patriarchal structure with children obedient to their elders.
Women were admonished to be humble, obedient, and subservient in the Admonitions for Women.
Iron metallurgy and silk production added to the prosperity of the Han.
While iron weapons and armor contributed to the Han military prowess, Chinese silk was valued as a trade item as far away as Rome.
Commodities flowed along the silk roads from east Asia to the Mediterranean.
During the Han, the Chinese invented paper, a less expensive product than silk scrolls.
Agricultural yields and general prosperity were so great that the population tripled to sixty million by 9 C.E.
Economic and Social Difficulties
Han Wudi’s military expeditions required higher taxation and he eventually had to resort to confiscation of businesses and properties to obtain the revenue.
This policy discouraged investors which caused the economy to suffer.
Furthermore, the gap between rich and poor widened causing increased social tension.
This disparity was exacerbated by inequitable land distribution as profitable land became concentrated in the hands of the wealthy.
The reaction by the poor was banditry and rebellion but the Han leaders were reluctant to alienate the large landholders by addressing the problem.
The reign of Wang Mang (9-23 C.E.).
Land reforms by the "socialist emperor."
Overthrown by revolts, 23 C.E.
Despite the short-lived reform efforts of the usurper Wang Mang who seized the Han throne, proclaimed a new dynasty, and was ousted.
Chaos ensued as landowners refused to give up their property and drought devastated agriculture.
The Later Han Dynasty
Despite renewed centralized power, the Later Han emperors continued the failure to address land distribution and in the late second century C.E., the rebellions of peasant societies like the Yellow Turbans further weakened the Han.
Led by Chang Chüeh, a Daoist faith healer who gained numerous adherents during a widespread pestilence, the rebellion was directed against the tyrannical eunuchs who dominated the emperor.
The rebels wore yellow headdresses to signify their association with the “earth” element, which they believed would succeed the red “fire” element that represented Han rule.
To suppress the uprising, which erupted in east China, the Han conscripted huge armies at great cost, but their efforts were hampered by inefficiency and corruption in the imperial government.
Chang Chüeh was killed in 184 CE, but the rebellion was a continuing menace to the government for the subsequent two decades.
The dynasty then deteriorated into competing factions of bureaucrats, eunuchs, and imperial family members within the imperial administration.
In ancient China castration was both a traditional punishment (until the Sui Dynasty) and a means of gaining employment in the Imperial service.
At the end of the Ming Dynasty there were about 70,000 eunuchs in the Imperial palace.
The justification of the employment of eunuchs as high-ranking civil servants was that, since they were incapable of having children, they would not be tempted to seize power and start a dynasty.
Concurrently, a similar system existed in Vietnam.
Han empire dissolved; China was divided into regional kingdoms.