First Things First- What is an Empire? An empire is the rule of one group of people over other groups who have different languages and customs. An emperor rules an empire. A kingdom however, is a smaller state made up of people who share the same culture. If a kingdom is strong enough to rule over other lands, it can become an empire.
First Things First- What is an Empire? Throughout history, empires were built through wars. Conquered lands were forced to become part of the empire.
First Things First- What is an Empire? Empires were more difficult to rule than kingdoms. A well-organized government was needed to keep the many different lands and people united under the emperor’s rule. Transportation networks had to be built and protected so that products from the empire’s far corners could be brought to the capital. Long distance trade had to be established and taxes collected. Money was needed to build an army that would protect trade and defend the empire.
First Things First- What is an Empire? Enough tax money had to be collected to pay for roads, armies, and the officials needed to run the empire. But if taxes were too high, people couldn’t pay them. Trade suffered and the amount of money flowing into the treasury decreased. This type of economic mistake could cause people to rebel!
First Things First- What is an Empire? Emperors tried to win people’s loyalty by making people citizens and by sharing knowledge and technology. But, they had to be careful that people did not gain so much power that they could break away from or overthrow the government. Some empires throughout Afroeurasia maintained this balance for long periods of time. But from the 3rd to 7th centuries, three of the most powerful empires began to weaken and collapse: The Han, The Romans and the Gupta. We will be focusing on the Han and the Roman Empires…
Han Dynasty 206 BCE – 220 CE China enjoyed a true golden age under the Han. Many cultural and intellectual achievements came as a result of the strong leadership of the Emperor Wudi. Under Wudi, China strengthened both its government and economy, setting the conditions for the golden age. This included a period of expansion that saw the opening of the Silk Road as a major trade route. Trade along the Silk Road brought China in contact with other civilizations, and introduced new products such as cucumbers and grapes.
Mulan The original story of Mulan is a poem that focuses on one of the problems that helped lead to China’s downfall….
The Poem of Mulan Tsiektsiek and again tsiektsiek, Mu-lan weaves, facing the door. You don’t hear the shuttle’s sound, You only hear Daughter’s sighs. They ask Daughter who’s in her heart, They ask Daughter who’s on her mind. “No one is in Daughter’s heart, No one is on Daughter’s mind. Last night I saw the draft posters, The Khan [Emperor] is calling many troops, The army list is in twelve scrolls, On every scroll there’s Father’s name. Father has no grown-up son, Mu-lan has no elder brother. I want to buy a saddle and a horse, And serve in the army in Father’s place. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Poem of Mulan At dawn she takes leave of the Yellow River, In the evening she arrives at Black Mountain. She doesn’t hear the sound of Father and Mother calling, She only hears Mount Yen’s nomad horses cry tsiutsiu. She goes ten thousand miles on the business of war, She crosses passes and mountains like flying. Northern gusts carry the rattle of army pots, Chilly light shines on iron armor. Generals die in a hundred battles, Stout soldiers return after ten years. On her return she sees the Son of Heaven [Emperor] The Son of Heaven sits in the Splendid Hall. He gives out promotions in twelve ranks And prizes of a hundred thousand and more. The Khan asks her what she desires. “Mu-lan has no use for a minister’s post. I wish to ride a swift mount To take me back to my home.”
The Poem of Mulan When Father and Mother hear Daughter is coming They go outside the wall to meet her, leaning on each other. When Elder Sister hears Younger Sister is coming She fixes her rouge, facing the door. When Little Brother hears Elder sister is coming He whets the knife, quick quick, for pig and sheep. “I open the door to my east chamber, I sit on my couch in the west room, I take off my wartime gown And put on my old-time clothes.” Facing the window she fixes her cloudlike hair, Hanging up a mirror she dabs on yellow flower-powder. She goes out the door and sees her comrades. Her comrades are all amazed and perplexed. Traveling together for twelve years They didn’t know Mu-lan was a girl. Source: “The Poem of Mulan,” in The Flowering Plum and the Palace Lady: Interpretations of Chinese Poetry, trans. Hans H. Frankel (New Haven: Yale UP, 1976), 68-70.
The Poem of Mulan The Story of Mulan first appeared during the later Tang Dynasty, but her story reflects the long history of nearly continuous military struggles against the nomadic Xiongnu, who lived on China’s northern borders. The Han dynasty was able to keep the Xiongnu at bay for several hundred years through a combination of military defense and simple bribery. (Han officials found that it was cheaper to pay the Xiongnu to refrain from attacking than to fight them.) But the uneasy truce between the Han and the Xiongnu began to unravel around 50 CE. This crisis, in concert with many others, helped bring down the Han. Consider the following questions: • What clues can you find in the poem that Mulan was fighting the Xiongnu? • Use evidence from the poem to explain how Chinese emperors obtained soldiers for their armies. • Why do you think Mulan refused the emperor’s offer of a government job as a reward for her loyal military service? • For discussion: How does The Poem of Mulan compare to Disney’s movie, Mulan?
What Happened to the Han and Why? The constant struggle with northern nomads was indeed one of the contributing factors in the collapse of the Han. But there was more to the story- to get the whole picture use the Han Dynasty Graphic Organizer and the Handout 2.4- The Fall of the Han Dynasty!