206 BCE Jan 1
, China

China's first imperial dynasty was the Qin dynasty (221–207 BC). The Qin united the Chinese Warring States by conquest, but their regime became unstable after the death of the first emperor Qin Shi Huang. Within four years, the dynasty's authority had collapsed in the face of rebellion.

After the third and last Qin ruler, Ziying, unconditionally surrendered to rebel forces in 206 BC, the former Qin Empire was divided by rebel leader Xiang Yu into the Eighteen Kingdoms, which were ruled by various rebel leaders and surrendered Qin generals. A civil war soon broke out, most prominently between two major contending powers – Xiang Yu's Western Chu and Liu Bang's Han.

Chu–Han Contention | ©Angus McBride

Chu–Han Contention

206 BCE Jan 2 - 202 BCE
, China

The Chu–Han Contention was an interregnum period in ancient China between the fallen Qin dynasty and the subsequent Han dynasty. Although Xiang Yu proved to be an effective commander, Liu Bang defeated him at the Battle of Gaixia (202 BC), in modern-day Anhui. Xiang Yu fled to Wujiang and committed suicide after a violent last stand. Liu Bang subsequently proclaimed himself Emperor and established the Han dynasty as the ruling dynasty of China.

Han Dynasty founded

Han Dynasty founded

202 BCE Feb 28
, Xianyang

Liu Bang establishes the Han Dynasty (further divided into the Western Han by historians) and renames himself Emperor Gaozu.

Liu Bang was one of the few dynasty founders in Chinese history who was born into a peasant family. Prior to coming to power, Liu Bang initially served for the Qin dynasty as a minor law enforcement officer in his home town Pei County, within the conquered state of Chu. With the First Emperor's death and the Qin Empire's subsequent political chaos, Liu Bang renounced his civil service position and became an anti-Qin rebel leader. He won the race against fellow rebel leader Xiang Yu to invade the Qin heartland and forced the surrender of the Qin ruler Ziying in 206 BC.

During his reign, Liu Bang reduced taxes and corvée, promoted Confucianism, and suppressed revolts by the lords of non-Liu vassal states, among many other actions. He also initiated the policy of heqin to maintain a de jure peace between the Han Empire and the Xiongnu after losing the Battle of Baideng in 200 BCE. 

Han Dynasty Administration

Han Administration

202 BCE Mar 1
, Xian

Emperor Gaozu initially made Luoyang his capital, but then moved it to Chang'an (near modern Xi'an, Shaanxi) due to concerns over natural defences and better access to supply routes. Following Qin precedent, Emperor Gaozu adopted the administrative model of a tripartite cabinet (formed by the Three Excellencies) along with nine subordinate ministries (headed by the Nine Ministers). Despite Han statesmen's general condemnation of Qin's harsh methods and Legalist philosophy, the first Han law code compiled by Chancellor Xiao He in 200 BCE seems to have borrowed much from the structure and substance of the Qin code.

From Chang'an, Gaozu ruled directly over 13 commanderies (increased to 16 by his death) in the western portion of the empire. In the eastern portion, he established 10 semi-autonomous kingdoms (Yan, Dai, Zhao, Qi, Liang, Chu, Huai, Wu, Nan, and Changsha) that he bestowed to his most prominent followers to placate them. Due to alleged acts of rebellion and even alliances with the Xiongnu—a northern nomadic people—by 196 BCE Gaozu had replaced nine of them with members of the royal family.

According to Michael Loewe, the administration of each kingdom was "a small-scale replica of the central government, with its chancellor, royal counsellor, and other functionaries." The kingdoms were to transmit census information and a portion of their taxes to the central government. Although they were responsible for maintaining an armed force, kings were not authorized to mobilize troops without explicit permission from the capital.

Xiongnu Chieftain | ©JFOliveras

Peace with the Xiongnu

200 BCE Jan 1
, Datong

After the defeat at Baideng, the Han emperor abandoned a military solution to the Xiongnu threat. Instead, in 198 BC, the courtier Liu Jing (劉敬) was dispatched for negotiations. The peace settlement eventually reached between the parties included a so called Han "princess" given in marriage to the chanyu; periodic tribute of silk, liquor and rice to the Xiongnu; equal status between the states; and the Great Wall as mutual border. This treaty set the pattern for relations between the Han and the Xiongnu for some sixty years, until the Emperor Wu of Han decided to revive the policy to wage war against Xiongnu. The Han dynasty sent random unrelated commoner women falsely labeled as "princesses" and members of the Han imperial family multiple times when they were practicing Heqin marriage alliances with the Xiongnu in order to avoid sending the emperor's daughters.

Empress Lu Zhi

Rule of Empress Lu Zhi

195 BCE Jan 1 - 180 BCE
, Louyang

When Ying Bu rebelled in 195 BCE, Emperor Gaozu personally led the troops against Ying and received an arrow wound which allegedly led to his death the following year. Shortly afterwards Gaozu's widow Lü Zhi, now empress dowager, had Liu Ruyi, a potential claimant to the throne, poisoned and his mother, the Consort Qi, brutally mutilated. When the teenage Emperor Hui discovered the cruel acts committed by his mother, Loewe says that he "did not dare disobey her."

The court under Lü Zhi was not only unable to deal with a Xiongnu invasion of Longxi Commandery (in modern Gansu) in which 2,000 Han prisoners were taken, but it also provoked a conflict with Zhao Tuo, King of Nanyue, by imposing a ban on exporting iron and other trade items to his southern kingdom.

After Empress Dowager Lü's death in 180 BCE, it was alleged that the Lü clan plotted to overthrow the Liu dynasty, and Liu Xiang the King of Qi (Emperor Gaozu's grandson) rose against the Lüs. Before the central government and Qi forces engaged each other, the Lü clan was ousted from power and destroyed by a coup led by the officials Chen Ping and Zhou Bo at Chang'an. Consort Bo, the mother of Liu Heng, King of Dai, was considered to possess a noble character, so her son was chosen as successor to the throne; he is known posthumously as Emperor Wen of Han (r. 180–157 BCE).

Posthumous Song dynasty depiction of Emperor Wen, detail from the Refusing the Seat hanging scroll

Emperor Wen reestablishes control

180 BCE Jan 1
, Louyang

After years of conflict. Emperor Wen, one of Liu Bang's surviving sons, takes the throne and reestablishes the broken lineage. He and his family punish the Lü Zhi clan for their rebellion, killing every family member they can find. His reign brought a much needed political stability that laid the groundwork for prosperity under his grandson Emperor Wu. According to historians, Emperor Wen trusted and consulted with ministers on state affairs; under the influence of his Taoist wife, Empress Dou, the emperor also sought to avoid wasteful expenditures.

Emperor Wen was said by Liu Xiang to have devoted much time to legal cases, and to have been fond of reading Shen Buhai, using Xing-Ming, a form of personnel examination, to control his subordinates. In a move of lasting importance in 165 BCE, Wen introduced recruitment to the civil service through examination. Previously, potential officials never sat for any sort of academic examinations. Their names were sent by local officials to the central government based on reputations and abilities, which were sometimes judged subjectively.

Jing of Han

Reign of Jing of Han

157 BCE Jul 14 - 141 BCE Mar 9
, Chang'An

Emperor Jing of Han was the sixth emperor of the Chinese Han dynasty from 157 to 141 BC. His reign saw the limiting of the power of the feudal kings/princes which resulted in the Rebellion of the Seven States in 154 BC. Emperor Jing managed to crush the revolt and princes were thereafter denied rights to appoint ministers for their fiefs. This move helped to consolidate central power which paved the way for the long reign of his son Emperor Wu of Han.

Emperor Jing had a complicated personality. He continued his father Emperor Wen's policy of general non-interference with the people, reduced tax and other burdens, and promoted government thrift. He continued and magnified his father's policy of reduction in criminal sentences. His light governance of the people was due to the Taoist influences of his mother, Empress Dou. He was criticized for general ungratefulness to others, including harsh treatments of Zhou Yafu, the general whose abilities allowed his victory in the Rebellion of the Seven States, and his wife Empress Bo.

Rebellion of the Seven States

Rebellion of the Seven States

154 BCE Jan 1
, Shandong

The Rebellion of the Seven States took place in 154 BC against the Han dynasty of China by its regional semi-autonomous kings, to resist the emperor's attempt to centralize the government further.

Emperor Gaozu had initially created imperial princes with independent military powers with an eye to having them protect the dynasty from outside. By the time of Emperor Jing, however, they were already creating problems by their refusal to follow the imperial government's laws and orders. Had the seven princes prevailed in this conflict, in all likelihood the Han dynasty would have collapsed into a loose confederation of states. In the aftermath of the rebellion, while the principality system was maintained, the powers of the princes were gradually reduced and the sizes of the principalities reduced as well, under Emperor Jing and his son Emperor Wu. With the longevity of the Han dynasty, the Chinese mindset of it being normal to have a unified empire rather than divided states started to settle in.

Emperor Wu of Han | ©JFOliveras

Emperor Wu of Han

141 BCE Mar 9 - 87 BCE Mar 28
, Chang'An

Emperor Wu of Han's reign lasted 54 years – a record not broken until the reign of the Kangxi Emperor more than 1,800 years later and remains the record for ethnic Chinese emperors. His reign resulted in a vast expansion of geopolitical influence for the Chinese civilization, and the development of a strong centralized state via governmental policies, economical reorganization and promotion of a hybrid Legalist–Confucian doctrine. In the field of historical social and cultural studies, Emperor Wu is known for his religious innovations and patronage of the poetic and musical arts, including development of the Imperial Music Bureau into a prestigious entity. It was also during his reign that cultural contact with western Eurasia was greatly increased, directly and indirectly.

During his reign as Emperor, he led the Han dynasty through its greatest territorial expansion. At its height, the Empire's borders spanned from the Fergana Valley in the west, to northern Korea in the east, and to northern Vietnam in the south. Emperor Wu successfully repelled the nomadic Xiongnu from systematically raiding northern China, and dispatched his envoy Zhang Qian into the Western Regions in 139 BC to seek an alliance with the Greater Yuezhi and Kangju, which resulted in further diplomatic missions to Central Asia. Although historical records do not describe him as being aware of Buddhism, emphasizing rather his interest in shamanism, the cultural exchanges that occurred as a consequence of these embassies suggest that he received Buddhist statues from Central Asia, as depicted in the murals found in the Mogao Caves.

Emperor Wu is considered one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history due to his strong leadership and effective governance, which made the Han dynasty one of the most powerful nations in the world. His policies and most trusted advisers were Legalist, favouring adherents of Shang Yang. However, despite establishing an autocratic and centralised state, Emperor Wu adopted the principles of Confucianism as the state philosophy and code of ethics for his empire and started a school to teach future administrators the Confucian classics.

Mural showing cavalry and chariots, from the Dahuting Tomb (Chinese: 打虎亭汉墓, Pinyin: Dahuting Han mu) of the late Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 AD), located in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China

Minyue Campaigns

138 BCE Jan 1
, Fujian

The Han campaigns against Minyue were a series of three Han military campaigns dispatched against the Minyue state. The first campaign was in response to Minyue's invasion of Eastern Ou in 138 BC. In 135 BC, a second campaign was sent to intervene in a war between Minyue and Nanyue. After the campaign, Minyue was partitioned into Minyue, ruled by a Han proxy king, and Dongyue. Dongyue was defeated in a third military campaign in 111 BC and the former Minyue territory was annexed by the Han Empire.

Zhang Qian and the Silk Road

Zhang Qian and the Silk Road

138 BCE Jan 1
, Tashkent

Zhang Qian's travel was commissioned by Emperor Wu with the major goal of initiating transcontinental trade in the Silk Road, as well as create political protectorates by securing allies. His missions opened trade routes between East and West and exposed different products and kingdoms to each other through trade. He brought back valuable information about Central Asia, including the Greco-Bactrian remains of the Macedonian Empire as well as the Parthian Empire, to the Han dynasty imperial court.

Zhang's accounts were compiled by Sima Qian in the 1st century BC. The Central Asian parts of the Silk Road routes were expanded around 114 BC largely through the missions of and exploration by Zhang Qian. Today, Zhang is considered a Chinese national hero and revered for the key role he played in opening China and the countries of the known world to the wider opportunity of commercial trade and global alliances. He played an important pioneering role for the future Chinese conquest of lands west of Xinjiang, including swaths of Central Asia and even lands south of the Hindu Kush. This trip created the Silk Road that marked the beginning of globalization between the countries in the east and west.

Southward expansion of the Han dynasty

Southward expansion of the Han dynasty

135 BCE Jan 1
, North Vietnam & Korea

The Southward expansion of the Han dynasty was a series of Chinese military campaigns and expeditions in what is now modern Southern China and Northern Vietnam. Military expansion to the south began under the previous Qin dynasty and continued during the Han era. Campaigns were dispatched to conquer the Yue tribes, leading to the annexation of Minyue by the Han in 135 BC and 111 BC, Nanyue in 111 BC, and Dian in 109 BC.

Han Chinese culture took root into the newly conquered territories and the Baiyue and Dian tribes were eventually assimilated or displaced by the Han Empire. Evidence of Han dynasty influences are apparent in artifacts excavated in the Baiyue tombs of modern southern China. This sphere of influence eventually extended to various ancient Southeast Asian kingdoms, where contact led to the spread of Han Chinese culture, trade and political diplomacy. The increased demand for Chinese silk also led to the establishment of the Silk Road connecting Europe, the Near East, and China.

Han–Xiongnu War

Han–Xiongnu War

133 BCE Jan 1 - 89
, Mongolia

The Han–Xiongnu War, also known as the Sino–Xiongnu War, was a series of military battles fought between the Han Empire and the nomadic Xiongnu confederation from 133 BC to 89 AD.

Starting from Emperor Wu's reign (r. 141–87 BC), the Han Empire changed from a relatively passive foreign policy to an offensive strategy to deal with the increasing Xiongnu incursions on the northern frontier and also according to general imperial policy to expand the domain. In 133 BC, the conflict escalated to a full-scale war when the Xiongnu realized that the Han were about to ambush their raiders at Mayi. The Han court decided to deploy several military expeditions towards the regions situated in the Ordos Loop, Hexi Corridor and Gobi Desert in a successful attempt to conquer it and expel the Xiongnu. Hereafter, the war progressed further towards the many smaller states of the Western Regions. The nature of the battles varied through time, with many casualties during the changes of territorial possession and political control over the western states. Regional alliances also tended to shift, sometimes forcibly, when one party gained the upper hand in a certain territory over the other.

The Han Empire eventually prevailed over the northern nomads, and the war allowed the Han Empire's political influence to expand deeply into Central Asia. As the situation deteriorated for the Xiongnu, civil conflicts befell and further weakened the confederation, which eventually split into two groups. The Southern Xiongnu submitted to the Han Empire, but the Northern Xiongnu continued to resist and was eventually evicted westwards by the further expeditions from Han Empire and its vassals, and the rise of Donghu states like Xianbei. Marked by significant events involving the conquests over various smaller states for control and many large-scale battles, the war resulted in the total victory of the Han Empire over the Xiongnu state in 89 AD.

Han expands west

Han expands west

121 BCE Jan 1
, Lop Nor

In 121 BC, Han forces expelled the Xiongnu from a vast territory spanning the Hexi Corridor to Lop Nur. They repelled a joint Xiongnu-Qiang invasion of this northwestern territory in 111 BC. In that same year, the Han court established four new frontier commanderies in this region to consolidate their control: Jiuquan, Zhangyi, Dunhuang, and Wuwei. The majority of people on the frontier were soldiers. On occasion, the court forcibly moved peasant farmers to new frontier settlements, along with government-owned slaves and convicts who performed hard labor. The court also encouraged commoners, such as farmers, merchants, landowners, and hired laborers, to voluntarily migrate to the frontier.

Jade burial suit of King Zhao Mo

Han conquest of Nanyue

111 BCE Jan 1
, Nanyue

The Han conquest of Nanyue was a military conflict between the Han Empire and the Nanyue kingdom in modern Guangdong, Guangxi, and Northern Vietnam. During the reign of Emperor Wu, the Han forces launched a punitive campaign against Nanyue and conquered it in 111 BC.

Saka Kingdom

War of the Heavenly Horses

104 BCE Jan 1 - 101 BCE
, Fergana Valley

The War of the Heavenly Horses or the Han–Dayuan War was a military conflict fought in 104 BC and 102 BC between the Chinese Han dynasty and the Saka-ruled Greco-Bactrian kingdom known to the Chinese as Dayuan ("Great Ionians"), in the Ferghana Valley at the easternmost end of the former Persian Empire (between modern-day Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). The war was allegedly instigated by trade disputes compounded by the extended geopolitics surrounding the Han-Xiongnu War, resulting in two Han expeditions that eventuated in a decisive Han victory, allowing Han China to expand its hegemony deep into Central Asia (then known to the Chinese as the Western Regions).

Emperor Wu of Han had received reports from diplomat Zhang Qian that Dayuan owned fast and powerful Ferghana horses known as the "heavenly horses", which would help greatly with improving the quality of their cavalry mounts when fighting the Xiongnu horse nomads, so he sent envoys to survey the region and establish trade routes to import these horses. However, the Dayuan king not only refused the deal, but also confiscated the payment gold, and had the Han ambassadors ambushed and killed on their way home. Humiliated and enraged, the Han court sent an army led by General Li Guangli to subdue Dayuan, but their first incursion was poorly organized and undersupplied. A second, larger and much better provisioned expedition was sent two years later and successfully laid siege to the Dayuan capital at Alexandria Eschate, and forced Dayuan to surrender unconditionally. The Han expeditionary forces installed a pro-Han regime in Dayuan and took back enough horses to improve Han's horse breeding. This power projection also forced many smaller Tocharian oasis city-states in the Western Regions to switch their alliance from Xiongnu to the Han Dynasty, which paved the way for the later establishment of the Protectorate of the Western Regions.

Reign of Zhao of Han

Reign of Zhao of Han

87 BCE Mar 30 - 74 BCE Jun 5
, Chang'An

Emperor Zhao was the youngest son of Emperor Wu of Han. By the time he was born, Emperor Wu was already 62. Prince Fuling ascended the throne after the death of Emperor Wu in 87 BC. He was only eight years old. Huo Guang served as regent.

Emperor Wu's long reign left the Han Dynasty greatly expanded; however constant warfare had depleted the empire's coffers. Emperor Zhao, under the tutelage of Huo, took the initiative and lowered taxes as well as reducing government spending. As a result, citizens prospered and the Han Dynasty enjoyed an era of peace. Emperor Zhao died after reigning for 13 years, at the age of 20. He was succeeded by He, Prince of Changyi.

Reign of Xuan of Han

Reign of Xuan of Han

74 BCE Sep 10 - 48 BCE Jan
, Chang'An

Emperor Xuan of Han was the tenth emperor of the Chinese Han dynasty, reigning from 74 to 48 BC. During his reign, the Han dynasty prospered economically and militarily became the regional superpower, and was considered by many to be the peak period of the entire Han history. He was succeeded by his son Emperor Yuan after his death in 48 BC.

Emperor Xuan has been considered a hardworking and brilliant ruler by historians. Because he grew up among commoners, he thoroughly understood the suffering of the grassroot population, and lowered taxes, liberalized the government and employed capable ministers to the government. He was said by Liu Xiang to have been fond of reading the works of Shen Buhai, using Xing-Ming to control his subordinates and devoting much time to legal cases. Emperor Xuan was open to suggestions, was a good judge of character, and consolidated his power by eliminating corrupt officials, including the Huo family who had exerted considerable power since the death of Emperor Wu, after Huo Guang's death.

Emperor Cheng riding a palanquin, Northern Wei painted screen (5th century)

Reign of Cheng of Han

33 BCE Aug 4 - 17 BCE Apr 17
, Chang'An

Emperor Cheng of Han succeeded his father Emperor Yuan of Han. After the death of Emperor Yuan and the accession of Emperor Cheng, Empress Wang became empress dowager. Emperor Cheng was very trusting of his uncles (Empress Dowager Wang's brothers) and put them in important roles in government.

Under Emperor Cheng, the Han dynasty continued its growing disintegration as the emperor's maternal relatives from the Wang clan increased their grip on the levers of power and on governmental affairs as encouraged by the previous emperor. Corruption and greedy officials continued to plague the government and, as a result, rebellions broke out throughout the country.

The Wangs, while not particularly corrupt and apparently genuinely trying to help the emperor, were largely concerned with increasing their power and did not have the best interests of the empire when they were selecting officials for various posts.

Emperor Cheng died childless after a reign of 26 years (both of his sons by concubines died in infancy; one of them starved to death and another was suffocated in prison, both the babies and the mothers were killed by the order of favorite Consort Zhao Hede, with the implied consent of the Emperor Cheng). He was succeeded by his nephew Emperor Ai of Han.

Wang Mang

Wang Mang's Xin Dynasty

8 Jan 1
, Xian

When Ping died on 3 February 6 AD, Ruzi Ying (d. 25 AD) was chosen as the heir and Wang Mang was appointed to serve as acting emperor for the child. Wang promised to relinquish his control to Liu Ying once he came of age. Despite this promise, and against protest and revolts from the nobility, Wang Mang claimed on 10 January that the divine Mandate of Heaven called for the end of the Han dynasty and the beginning of his own: the Xin dynasty (9–23 AD).

Wang Mang initiated a series of major reforms that were ultimately unsuccessful. These reforms included outlawing slavery, nationalizing land to equally distribute between households, and introducing new currencies, a change which debased the value of coinage. Although these reforms provoked considerable opposition, Wang's regime met its ultimate downfall with the massive floods of c. 3 AD and 11 AD. Gradual silt buildup in the Yellow River had raised its water level and overwhelmed the flood control works. The Yellow River split into two new branches: one emptying to the north and the other to the south of the Shandong Peninsula, though Han engineers managed to dam the southern branch by 70 AD.

The flood dislodged thousands of peasant farmers, many of whom joined roving bandit and rebel groups such as the Red Eyebrows to survive. Wang Mang's armies were incapable of quelling these enlarged rebel groups. Eventually, an insurgent mob forced their way into the Weiyang Palace and killed Wang Mang.

Red Eyebrows Rebellions

Red Eyebrows Rebellions

17 Jan 1
, Shandong

The Red Eyebrows was one of the two major peasant rebellion movements against Wang Mang's short-lived Xin dynasty, the other being Lülin. It was so named because the rebels painted their eyebrows red.

The rebellion, initially active in the modern Shandong and northern Jiangsu regions, eventually led to Wang Mang's downfall by draining his resources, allowing Liu Xuan (the Gengshi Emperor), leader of the Lülin, to overthrow Wang and temporarily reestablish an incarnation of the Han dynasty. The Red Eyebrows later overthrew the Gengshi Emperor and placed their own Han descendant puppet, teenage Emperor Liu Penzi, on the throne, who ruled briefly until the Red Eyebrows leaders' incompetence in ruling the territories under their control caused the people to rebel against them, forcing them to retreat and attempt to return home. When their path was blocked by the army of Liu Xiu's (Emperor Guangwu) newly established Eastern Han regime, they surrendered to him.

Emperor Guangwu, as depicted by the Tang artist Yan Liben (600 AD–673 AD)

Han Dynasty reinstated

23 Jan 1
, Louyang

Liu Xiu, a descendant of Liu Bang, joins the rebellion against the Xin. After defeating the army of Wang Mang, he reestablishes the Han Dynasty, making Luoyang its capital city. This launches the Eastern Han period. He is renamed Emperor Guangwu of Han.

Eastern Han

Eastern Han

25 Aug 5
, Luoyang

The Eastern Han, also known as the Later Han, formally began on 5 August AD 25, when Liu Xiu became Emperor Guangwu of Han. During the widespread rebellion against Wang Mang, the state of Goguryeo was free to raid Han's Korean commanderies; Han did not reaffirm its control over the region until AD 30.

Chinese soldiers of the Han Dynasty engage in battle

Reign of Emperor Guangwu of Han

25 Aug 5 - 57 Mar 26
, Luoyang

Emperor Guangwu of Han restored the Han dynasty in AD 25, thus founding the Eastern Han (Later Han) dynasty. He ruled over parts of China at first, and through suppression and conquest of regional warlords, the whole of China proper was consolidated by the time of his death in AD 57.

He established his capital in Luoyang, 335 kilometers (208 mi) east of the former capital Chang'an (modern Xi'an), ushering in the Eastern Han (Later Han) dynasty. He implemented some reforms (notably land reform, albeit not very successfully) aimed at correcting some of the structural imbalances responsible for the downfall of the Former/Western Han. His reforms gave a new 200-year lease of life to the Han Dynasty.

Emperor Guangwu's campaigns featured many able generals, but curiously, he lacked major strategists. That may very well be because he himself appeared to be a brilliant strategist; he often instructed his generals on strategy from afar, and his predictions generally would be accurate. This was often emulated by later emperors who fancied themselves great strategists but who actually lacked Emperor Guangwu's brilliance—usually to great disastrous results.

Also unique among emperors in Chinese history was Emperor Guangwu's combination of decisiveness and mercy. He often sought out peaceful means rather than bellicose means of putting areas under his control. He was, in particular, one rare example of a founding emperor of a dynasty who did not kill, out of jealousy or paranoia, any of the generals or officials who contributed to his victories after his rule was secure.

Trưng Sisters of Vietnam

Trưng Sisters of Vietnam

40 Jan 1
, Vietnam

The Trưng Sisters of Vietnam rebelled against Han in AD 40. Their rebellion was crushed by Han general Ma Yuan (d. AD 49) in a campaign from AD 42–43.

Reign of Ming of Han

Reign of Ming of Han

57 Jan 1 - 74
, Luoyang

Emperor Ming of Han was the second emperor of China's Eastern Han dynasty. It was during Emperor Ming's reign that Buddhism began to spread into China.

Emperor Ming was a hard-working, able administrator of the empire who showed integrity and demanded integrity from his officials. He also extended Chinese control over the Tarim Basin and eradicated the Xiongnu influence there, through the conquests of his general Ban Chao.

The reigns of Emperor Ming and his son Emperor Zhang were typically considered the golden age of the Eastern Han Empire and known as the Rule of Ming and Zhang.

Emperor Zhang of Han

Emperor Zhang of Han

75 Jan 1 - 88
, Luoyang

Emperor Zhang of Han was the third emperor of the Eastern Han. Emperor Zhang was a hardworking and diligent emperor. He reduced taxes and paid close attention to all affairs of state. Zhang also reduced government spending as well as promoted Confucianism. As a result, Han society prospered and its culture flourished during this period. Along with his father Emperor Ming, Emperor Zhang's reign has been highly praised and was regarded as the golden age of the Eastern Han period, and their reigns are collectively known as the Rule of Ming and Zhang.

During his reign, Chinese troops under the leadership of General Ban Chao progressed far west while in pursuit of Xiongnu insurgents harassing the trade routes now collectively known as the Silk Road.

The Eastern Han dynasty, after Emperor Zhang, would be plagued with internal strife between royal factions and eunuchs struggling for power. The people for the coming century and a half would yearn for the good days of Emperors Ming and Zhang.

Reign of He of Han

Reign of He of Han

88 Apr 9 - 106 Feb 12
, Luoyang

Emperor He of Han was the 4th emperor of the Eastern Han. Emperor He was the son of Emperor Zhang. It was during Emperor He's reign that the Eastern Han began its decline. Strife between consort clans and eunuchs began when the Empress Dowager Dou (Emperor He's adoptive mother) made her own family members important government officials. Her family was corrupt and intolerant of dissension. In 92, Emperor He was able to remedy the situation by removing the empress dowager's brothers with the aid of the eunuch Zheng Zhong and his brother Liu Qing the Prince of Qinghe. This in turn created a precedent for eunuchs to be involved in important affairs of state. The trend would continue to escalate for the next century, contributing to the fall of the Han dynasty.

Cai Lun improves on paper

Cai Lun improves on paper

105 Jan 1
, China

The eunuch Cai Lun develops a method of making paper by dipping a screen into a pulp of rice, straw, and tree bark, and pressing and drying the pulpy residue. During Han times, paper is used mainly to wrap fish, not for written documents.
Creative Assembly

Reign of An of Han

106 Jan 1 - 123
, Luoyang

Emperor An of Han was the sixth emperor of the Eastern Han. Emperor An did little to revive the withering dynasty. He began to indulge himself in women and heavy drinking and paid little attention to affairs of state, instead leaving matters to corrupt eunuchs. In this way, he effectively became the first emperor in Han history to encourage corruption. He also trusted his wife Empress Yan Ji and her family deeply, despite their obvious corruption. At the same time, droughts ravaged the country while peasants rose up in arms.

An Eastern Han (25-220 AD) mural of a banquet scene, from the Dahuting Tomb (Chinese: 打虎亭汉墓, Pinyin: Dahuting Han mu) of Zhengzhou, Henan province, China

Reign of Huan of Han

146 Aug 1 - 168 Jan 23
, Luoyang

Emperor Huan of Han was the 27th emperor of the Han dynasty after he was enthroned by the Empress Dowager and her brother Liang Ji on 1 August 146. As the years went by, Emperor Huan, offended by Liang Ji's autocratic and violent nature, became determined to eliminate the Liang family with the help of eunuchs. Emperor Huan succeeded in removing Liang Ji in 159 but this only caused an increase in the influence of these eunuchs over all aspects of the government. Corruption during this period had reached a boiling point. In 166, university students rose up in protest against the government and called on Emperor Huan to eliminate all corrupt officials. Instead of listening, Emperor Huan ordered the arrest of all students involved. Emperor Huan has largely been viewed as an emperor who might have had some intelligence but lacked wisdom in governing his empire; and his reign contributed greatly to the downfall of the Eastern Han Dynasty.

Missionary An Shigao attracts followers to Buddhism

Missionary An Shigao attracts followers to Buddhism

148 Jan 1
, Louyang

Buddhist missionary An Shigao settles in the capital of Luoyang, where he produces a number of translations of Indian Buddhist texts. He attract a number of followers to Buddhism.

Eastern Han (Late Han) Infantryman

Reign of Ling of Han

168 Jan 1 - 187
, Luoyang

Emperor Ling of Han was the 12th and last powerful emperor of the Eastern Han dynasty. Emperor Ling's reign saw another repetition of corrupt eunuchs dominating the eastern Han central government, as was the case during his predecessor's reign. Zhang Rang, the leader of the eunuch faction (十常侍), managed to dominate the political scene after defeating a faction led by Empress Dowager Dou's father, Dou Wu, and the Confucian scholar-official Chen Fan in 168. After reaching adulthood, Emperor Ling was not interested in state affairs and preferred to indulge in women and a decadent lifestyle. At the same time, corrupt officials in the Han government levied heavy taxes on the peasants. He exacerbated the situation by introducing a practice of selling political offices for money; this practice severely damaged the Han civil service system and led to widespread corruption. Mounting grievances against the Han government led to the outbreak of the peasant-led Yellow Turban Rebellion in 184.

Emperor Ling's reign left the Eastern Han dynasty weak and on the verge of collapse. After his death, the Han Empire disintegrated in chaos for the subsequent decades as various regional warlords fought for power and dominance.

Yellow Turban Rebellion

Yellow Turban Rebellion

184 Jan 1
, China

After years of weak central rule and growing corruption within the government, a large peasant rebellion breaks out. Known as the Yellow Turban Rebellion, it threatens the imperial capital at Luoyang, but the Han ultimately quash the revolt.
Dong Zhou seizes control

Dong Zhou seizes control

190 Jan 1
, Louyang

Warlord Dong Zhou seizes control of Luoyang and places a child, Liu Xie, as the new ruler. Liu Xie was also a member of the Han family, but real power is in the hands of Dong Zhou, who destroys the imperial capital.

Han dynasty ends

Han dynasty ends

220 Jan 1
, China

Cao Pi forces Emperor Xian of Han to abdicate and declares himself Emperor of the Wei dynasty. Warlords and states vie for power for the next 350 years, leaving the country splintered. Imperial China enters the Three Kingdoms period.


References for Han Dynasty.

  • Hansen, Valerie (2000), The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600, New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company, ISBN 978-0-393-97374-7.
  • Lewis, Mark Edward (2007), The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-02477-9.
  • Zhang, Guangda (2002), "The role of the Sogdians as translators of Buddhist texts", in Juliano, Annette L.; Lerner, Judith A. (eds.), Silk Road Studies VII: Nomads, Traders, and Holy Men Along China's Silk Road, Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, pp. 75–78, ISBN 978-2-503-52178-7.