Once a freeman, Not Always a freeman; Once a slave, Not Always a slave: The Fluidity of Han Dynasty Era Slavery In Greater Detail

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Slavery in Han Dynasty China, while similar to the methods of slavery found in other parts of the world, differed in important ways, and can be seen as somewhat a unique system indigenous to a distinct country. Not only was slavery a punishment for the breaking of crimes, anyone within the Han Empire could sell themselves into slavery if compelled to by unfavorable circumstances. When someone sold himself/herself into slavery, there was not always a set limit of time that that slavery would last, but seems to have been a permanent or unlimited time frame, as deemed appropriate by the master. Thus we see this form of indentured servitude as different from other forms found throughout the world, most notably the British colonies in America. Anyone was also capable of becoming a slave, either by means of punishment, illegal kidnapping, or as war booty or foreign tribute; and all slaves, regardless of why they had been enslaved in the first place, were capable of being freed and even attaining high governmental positions in society. Further more, age, sex, ethnicity, government rank and societal status had little effect on enslavement and emancipation. From this information on Chinese slavery during the Han Dynasty it seems that even though actual instances were rare, anyone, based upon his merit, could become a government official, even those who were once or recently deemed slaves. There was not always a permanent societal labeling on individuals who were once slaves. From the information I have gathered, both from the secondary sources of Yates, T’sung-tsu Ch’u, and Wilbur, as well as the primary source documents from the Han Dynasty concerning the Han Dynasty practices of slavery, it truly appears that the title of this essay, “Once A Freeman, Not Always A Freeman; Once A Slave, Not Always A Slave”, can indeed be considered a correct assessment of Han Dynasty slavery.

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