Imperial China Early Imperial China Classical Imperial China Later Imperial China
Han Dynasty • The Han empire began in 206 B.C. when Liu Pang, prince of Han, defeated the Qin army in the valley of Wei. • The defeat was part of a larger rebellion that began after the First Emporer's death. The people were dissatisfied with the tyranny of the Qin leaders and their Legalist form of government. • However, while traditional Chinese history portrays the Han as implementing immediate changes in government, evidence shows the Han continued to rule in the tradition of the Qin, and only gradually incorporated Confucian ideals into their Legalist form of government. • Economic expansion, changing relationships with the people of the steppes, strengthening of the palace at the expense of the civil service, weakening of the state's hold on the peasantry, and the rise of the families of the rich and the gentry were all factors that led to the adoption of Confucian ideals..
Economy • The expansion also led to trade with the people of inner Asia. Thereafter, the Silk Road was developed. • The Silk Road actually consisted of more than one possible route through the mountains that the traders followed. • Agriculture grew with the development of better tools. Iron tools were made of better quality, and oxen drawn ploughs were commonly used. Irrigation systems were increased to help develop the areas of North China. Crop rotation was also practiced from 85 B.C. onwards. • The state attempted to monopolize the production of iron and salt, which were the two biggest sectors of the economy, but succeeded for less than a century. Silk weaving and copper work were also important activities.
Three Kingdoms • The end of the Han Dynasty was followed by a long period of disunity and civil war. It began with the Three Kingdoms. These kingdoms grew out of the three chief economic areas of the Han Dynasty. The leaders of the kingdoms strove to reunite the empire and were therefore at constant warfare. These three kingdoms were the Wei, in northern China, the Shu to the west, and the Wu in the east. The Three Kingdoms existed from 220-265 A.D. • Buddhism began to spread throughout China during this period. It was introduced in the first century A.D. but did not really begin to spread until after the Han empire collapsed. Tea, although not as popular as it would be in later times, was discovered in the south during this period. Porcelain was also developed during this time. • The kingdom of Wei was ruled by Ts'ao Ts'ao. This was the strongest of the kingdoms, and he had power over the valley of Wei even during the time of the Han rule. Ts'ao Ts'ao attempted to unify all of China under his rule, but was defeated by Sun Ch'üan and Liu Pei in the battle of the Red Cliff. This defeat was the beginning of the division into three kingdoms. The Wei and Shu kingdoms were both centralized, legalist kingdoms, while the Wu kingdom was ruled by a confederation of the most powerful families of the area. The Wei kingdom eventually captured the Shu kingdom in 263 A.D.
Ts'ao Ts'ao • Ts'ao Ts'ao instituted many military changes that would have a great impact on the future of China. • His army consisted of both Chinese and people that were considered barbarians, the Hsiung-nu, the Hsien-pei, Wu-huan and the Ch'iang. • The members of his army who provided the best troops were the former nomadic herdsmen of the steppes. They were the most skilled mounted bowmen. • The use of people from different groups resulted in an assimilation among the people which had not occurred in the past. In the future, these assimilated nomads would form independent kingdoms in North China. • The Ssu-ma was a militant family that rose to power very quickly, and one of its members, Ssu-ma Yen founded the new Chin Dynasty in 265 A.D.
Chin Dynasty • Ssu-ma Yen began the Chin Dynasty; he ruled from 265-289A.D. As an emperor, he was called Wu Ti. • The Chin managed to reunify China when, in 280 A.D., they conquered the Wu Kingdom, thus ending the period of The Three Kingdoms. • Despite this success, they were not a stable empire. After defeating the Wu, there was no longer a serious danger of being invaded. Therefore, the emperor declared the armies should be disbanded, and all the arms returned. However, this did not occur in every region. The princes, most of whom had been given their titles due to their relationship to the emperor, declared they needed personal guards. The discharged soldiers belonged mainly to the state and didn't give up their weapons either. Instead, they sold them, mainly to the Hsiung-nu and the Hsien-pi. This was a fatal mistake of the Chin government, as it made them virtually powerless, while all their rivals and enemies gained power. • After the death of Ssu-ma Yen, there was never again a strong leader. The leaders and princes were often assassinated in the struggle for power. During this time, the Chinese people surrounding the capital suffered due to the fighting and began a migration out from the center of the empire to the more peaceful frontier regions.
Dynasties of the North and South • The Dynasties of the North and South were another lengthy period of disunity and internal strife for China. • It lasted from 317-589 A.D. During this time period, the north and south were split and two separate successions of dynasties formed. • In both the north and the south, there were different groups of rulers. Many of the dynasties overlapped each other in terms of time.
Sui Dynasty • The Sui Dynasty lasted from 580-618 A.D. The Sui once again united China. They were led in their campaign to unite China by Yang Chien who had been an official of the Northern Zhou. • The Sui Dynasty had only two emperors, Yang Chien who was called Emperor Wen Ti and his son Emperor Yang. Traditionally, Emperor Yang is portrayed as usurping the imperial power, and is criticized for the amount of money he spent and his cruelty to the people. Yet most of the policies he followed were simply continuations of his father's policies. • Despite having a short lifetime, the Sui Dynasty accomplished many things. The Grand Canal was extended north from Hangzhou across the Yangzi to Yangzhou and then northwest to the region of Louyang. The internal administration also improved during this time, which is evident by several things; the building of granaries around the capitals, the fortification of the Great Wall along the northern borders, the reconstruction of the two capitals near the Yellow River, and building of another capital in Yangchow. Confucianism also began to regain popularity, as the nobles gained importance. • The Sui rulers were interested in expanding their borders and, along with their public works projects, they began costly military campaigns. They were largely successful with their efforts at territorial expansion into the south. However, to the north, in Korea, they did not achieve much. They attacked Korea four times, and each time were met with defeat. These defeats in Korea led to an attack by the Khan of the eastern Turks who surrounded the emperor. Independent governments arose and for five years, China was again split into smaller states.
T’ang Dynasty • The T’ang are closely associated with the Sui, and are often discussed as the same dynasty. Their dynasty lasted from 618-907 A.D. Much of their power was made possible through the canals built by the Sui. These canals allowed for communications to all parts of the empire. Also, the granaries the Sui built alongside the canals helped the T’ang to transport goods from the south to the north. This especially was important in the transfer of rice to the north in times of famine. These canals were important in the economic development of the T’ang empire. • The T’ang expanded on the administrative system that dated from the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. and earlier. The administration was comprised of four main departments: a Department of State Affairs, an Imperial Chancellory, an Imperial Grand Secretariat, and a Council of State. Judicially, the T’ang also made many advances. • They first compiled the T’ang Code in 624 A.D. This is the first complete Chinese code that still exists. It consists of a continuous scale of penalties that are applied based on both the crime and the degree of relation between the criminal and the offended person. The degree was based on the amount of time that would be spent in mourning if the person died. The T’ang Code had more than five hundred articles divided into twelve sections.
T’ang Accomplishments • The land distribution program of the T’ang was an important part of both their agricultural reform and their economic growth. The T’ang implemented a program where they gave life plots to the peasant families. This was supposed to be an equal distribution of the land. The T’ang wanted to ensure that the families had enough land to both support themselves and to pay taxes. Taxes were based therefore, not on how much land one had, but on the number of people in the family. Each person was responsible for certain taxes. This system of taxation by person rather than by land also implies an incredibly accurate census system. Archaeological finds of census records have proved this to be the case. This system probably worked better in the north where wheat was grown than in the south; land was not so easy to divide and more labor was required for rice cultivation. • The production of rice rapidly increased during this period. As rice growing became more profitable, population centers began to shift from the Wei valley and the central plain towards the lower Yangtze basin. Techniques such as planting out seedlings rapidly increased yield. Early ripening varieties and a systematic selection of varieties helped to increase yield. Three important tools were developed to aid in rice cultivation: the chain with paddles which allows water to be transferred among levels, the harrow, and the rice field plough.
The Female Empress • The T’ang dynasty has the distinction of having had the only female empress. • A concubine of the T’ai-tsung and Kao-tsung, named Wu Chao reigned as emperor. She removed the legitimate heir in 690 A.D. and took the throne under the name Emperor Tse-t’ien. • Her reign is actually a disruption of the T’ang dynasty, as she called her dynasty the Chou. This dynasty lasted for 15 years. • She was able to gain power largely as a result of the hidden support of the Buddhist church. They called her a reincarnation of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, a Buddhist savior. • She was also powerful as a result of earlier having been influential in placing her relatives in important administrative positions. • The peasants especially suffered under her reign as they were heavily taxed and required to pay dues. While the peasants were being devastated, the favorites of the empress and the monasteries enriched themselves and enlarged their states.
The Five Dynasties • The time from 907-960 A.D. is called The Five Dynasties. However, numerous small kingdoms also existed. • The Five Dynasties are the officially recognized dynasties of the north, while the south had ten kingdoms. • The north was continually ravaged by warfare during this time as they were attacked time and again by the Khitans and the Turks. • Conversely, the south enjoyed a time of peace, economic prosperity, and cultural growth. The leaders of the southern kingdoms were often the military governors of the T'ang dynasty.
Five Dynasties • Despite the political division of China, four important advances occurred. • In the south, trade became increasingly important, especially the tea trade. • Efforts at state monopolization occurred in an attempt to control the revenue of the tea trade. • Salt monopolies were developed and the salt tax was the top budget item during this period. • The second development was translucent porcelain. This also happened in the south and was used both within China and as an export item. • The next important development was in the field of printing. In about 940 A.D., the first printing of the Classics occurred. Attempts at movable type began in about 1045 A.D. • Finally, in northern China, paper money was introduced. This introduction was due in part to the fact that metal is scarce in China. Also, the existing copper money was very heavy and difficult to transport. The beginnings of paper money were deposit certificates that merchants used in provinces that prohibited the export of copper coins. • The practice of binding women's feet also began during this time. The first evidence of this practice shows up in about 950 A.D. Scholars are not sure why this practice began, however, it was widely practiced among both the rich and poor of China. Only a few groups did not participate in this custom. They were the boat women of Kuang-tung and the aboriginal people of the southwest. None of the non-Chinese groups surrounding China participated in this custom.
The Northern and Southern Song dynasties • Chao K’uang-yin founded the Song dynasty. He was a general, made emperor by his soldiers in 960 A.D. • Unlike the generals before him who had declared themselves emperors of dynasties that soon failed, Chao K’uang-yin lived a long life. • This allowed him to establish a more solid foundation for his successors. Another reason that his dynasty lasted longer was that he did not try to fight the Khitans to the north; rather he conquered the southern half of China. • The southern kingdoms, while economically and culturally advanced, did not have strong militaries and were relatively easy to defeat. In order to maintain peace with the Khitans, the Song were forced to pay them annual tributes. These annual tributes were more cost effective than maintaining a military that could hold the Khitans back.
Song Dynasty • Great advances were made in the areas of technological invention, material production, political philosophy, government, and elite culture. • The Song used gunpowder as a weapon in siege warfare, foreign trade expanded greatly, and the Chinese had the best ships in the world. • Their ships contained as many as four decks, six masts, and a dozen sails. The ships were guided by a stern post rudder, while navigation was done through the use of charts and compasses. These ships could carry 500 men. European ships on the other hand used muscle power and an inefficient steering oar. • Advances were also made in medicine, as the first autopsy was performed in about 1145 AD on the body of a Southern Chinese captive. • Education, and the examination system became central to the upper class. This rise in the popularity of education was due in part to advances made in printing and the greater availability of books. • Examinations grew steadily in popularity throughout China; although, only enough were allowed to pass them as was needed to fill the administrative positions. This resulted in the education itself, and the attempted examination, gaining more importance socially than it had in the past.
Yuan Dynasty • The Yuan Dynasty, which lasted from 1279-1368 A.D., was the first of only two times that the entire area of China was ruled by foreigners, in this case, the Mongols. • During the Yuan Dynasty, China was part of the Mongol Empire. Genghis Khan led the Mongols in their defeat of much of China, however, it was his grandson, Kublai Khan who became the emperor and founder of the Yuan dynasty. • The Mongols were able to conquer China due to their superior military capabilities.
Mongols • The Mongols were culturally very different from the Chinese. This made ruling them very difficult. • The Mongols and the Chinese spoke different languages, had a different form of dress and many different customs. These background differences proved impossible to overcome. • Despite attempting to rule in a Chinese custom, the government of the Yuan Dynasty had virtually no Chinese. Mongols and other foreigners were given all government positions. • The cultural gap resulted in lighter government than that of previous empires, punishments were much less severe. • The Chinese nobility were better educated than the Mongol invaders and the best scholars refused to teach in government schools, rather they founded private academies. • The Mongols did not succeed in censoring Chinese literature and drama or in providing intellectual or cultural leadership.
Mongols • The excessive spending and trade restriction enacted during the Yuan Dynasty severely depleted China economically. • Canals and palaces were built, which required the peasants to both supply more tax money and to leave their homes to build them. • Campaigns were also launched against Japan which were not successful and destroyed many Chinese ships. • External trade, while not forbidden was made very difficult for the Chinese. • The Chinese were forbidden to learn to speak any other language. Travel outside of China for commercial reasons was made very difficult. • Foreign merchants, however, were able to trade within China and were given privileges by the Yuan. They were free of taxes and were allowed to travel throughout China without restrictions. It is at this time that Marco Polo gave his description of China. • It thus follows that he as a foreigner experienced a much friendlier China than the native Chinese themselves did. The Mongols took over a rich China and less than one hundred years later left an impoverished nation.
Ming Dynasty • The Ming dynasty began in 1368, and lasted until 1644 A.D. • Its founder was a peasant, the third of only three peasants ever to become an emperor in China. • He is known as Hongwu Emperor, and led the revolt against the Mongols and the Yuan Dynasty. He was constantly worried about conspiracies against himself, and despite the many moral homilies he gave, favored violence in dealing with any one suspected of plotting against him or associated with the conspirators. • The capital was originally located in Nanjing but the third emperor moved the capital to Beijing.
Hongwu • As a result of his peasant origins, he created laws that improved the peasant life. He kept the land tax low, and kept the granaries stocked to guard against famine. • He also maintained the dikes on the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. • However, economically he lacked the vision to push trade. He supported the creation of self-supporting communities and, in a typically Confucian viewpoint, felt agriculture should be the country's source of wealth and that trade was ignoble and parasitic. • While retaining the Confucian view that being a merchant is an inferior occupation, Hongwu discarded the belief that military too was inferior and developed a militant class that ranked higher than any civil servant. • Maintaining and having a strong military was important because, even though the Mongols had been defeated, they were still a threat to China. The name Hongwu means Vast Military and reflects the increased prestige of the military.
Great Walls of China • Many public works projects were also undertaken. • Several walls built as in the Zhou dynasty • The “Great Wall” was built in the north, to protect against invasions. Roads and irrigation canals were built throughout the country.
The Great Wall Another accomplishment of the Ming was the building of the Great Wall. While Great Walls had been built in earlier times, most of what is seen today was either built or repaired by the Ming. The brick and granite work was enlarged, the watch towers were redesigned and cannons were placed along the wall.
The Qing Dynasty • The Qing Dynasty was the second time when the whole of China was ruled by foreigners, the Manchu. • The Qing Dynasty lasted from 1644-1911 A.D. The reigns of the first three emperors of this dynasty were a time of peace and prosperity for China. • These three rulers provided strong leadership for 133 years; they were the Kangxi Emperor who reigned from 1662-1722 A.D., the Yongzheng Emperor who reigned from 1722-1736 A.D. and the Qianglong Emperor who reigned from 1736-1796 A.D.
The impact of the West • The impact of the west was also felt for the first time in China. • Great Britain especially was interested in trading with China for silk and tea. However, the British did not have anything that was easy to import to China until they began importing opium. • This was devastating to China. Many became addicted to opium, and land that had previously been used for food began to be used to produce opium. Also, a large amount of Chinese money left the country in payment for the opium. • Finally, in 1839 A.D. the opium trade was abolished. This set off a war with Great Britain that came to be known as the Opium Wars, and in 1842 A.D., China was forced to sign a treaty in which Great Britain received Hong Kong, and ports were opened to European trade. • The terms of this treaty were not fully carried out by either side, and in 1857 A.D., fighting again broke out. The British again won and the Chinese were forced to grant more privileges to the British, that virtually turned China into a British colony.
The Last Emperor • While these struggles were occurring, the emperors became younger and younger, so that they had no control and power was in the hands of empresses and other advisors. • The empress who held the most power was Tzu Hsi. She was uneducated and opposed to any type of reform or modernization that might have helped China economically and politically. • Reformers who felt that China had to change were executed, despite the validity of their arguments that people whom they had previously regarded as inferior and barbarians were easily defeating China. • Tzu Hsi had the former emperor executed, and the next day, she too died, albeit of natural causes. • However, before her death she placed a two year old on the throne. This further weakened the government and strengthened the revolutionaries. His reign lasted from 1909-1911 A.D., at which point the revolutionaries won and the Republic of China arose.
Chinese Inventions and Remedies • Some of the greatest inventions in the world were by made by the Chinese. • In the T'ang dynasty, fireworks were invented. These were originally for shows, but later on they used them to scare of enemies in war. The fireworks were mainly small bamboo cases filled with gunpowder, and a fuse was put on the side. • In the Han dynasty, they invented the wheel barrow, which was for carrying loads too heavy for a normal person's back to support. The wheel barrow was originally wood, so the Chinese nick named it the 'wooden ox'. • The compass was for religious use. When a new houses was being built, the used it to see if the house was faced in perfect harmony with nature (which meant they thought if you faced your house to magnetic north, you and nature would get along). The compass - which started out as a wooden circle with markings on it, and a magnetic spoon on top. • Invented paper and printing • In their writing, there were 80,000 different symbols • The first to invent books and had book shops in every city by the end of the T'ang dynasty • The Chinese were the first to discover iron casting around the sixth century, when they mixed tin and copper together. • They invented the first object for counting, called an abacus. • The Chinese used a method of medicine called acupuncture.