10 September 2015

#History of World Civilization, Day Ten

Dynastic China

What were the major achievements of the Qin and Han dynasties?

The Qin Dynasty was the first to unify China under a single, central government. They established a tradition of centralized government that dominated Chinese politics for thousands of years. The administrative state they imposed upon China brought political and economic stability and order, and encouraged investment and trade. They promoted economic development by standardizing laws, money, weights and measures, and building vast networks of roads and bridges to make travel and military movements easier. Most importantly, they imposed a standardized script that has lasted thousands of years, making cultural and linguistic differences communicable in a common written language. They employed thousands of impressed laborers in building defensive fortifications along the northern borders of their territory, a precursor to the massive Great Wall finished centuries later. They expanded their territory by subduing the nomadic tribes to the north and jungle tribes to the south. The Qin established the doctrine of Legalism as the dominant administrative philosophy of the empire, burning most contradictory literature and murdering thousands of scholars and critics.

The Han Dynasty arose after the fall of the Qin due to popular revolt. The peasant leader, Liu Pang, named the Dynasty after the Han River in his home province. While largely continuing the centralized administration of the Qin, the Han realized that the large, complex bureaucracy needed talented, educated administrators to function successfully. Although Legalist philosophy still guided the imperial court, Confucianism, suppressed under the Qin, became the dominant philosophy in education. The Han established China’s first University to recruit and train public servants. The Han Dynasty was an economically prosperous time in Chinese history, with agriculture, trade, and silk textiles flourishing. The Han extended Chinese influence to the west almost to Bactria (modern Afghanistan), and to the east onto the Korean peninsula. Advancements in iron metallurgy allowed the manufacture of better weapons, utensils, and farming implements. Paper was invented to replace bamboo and silk as a common writing medium. The oldest surviving piece of writing on paper in the world was found in a Han watchtower. The Han Dynasty was a time of great advancements in science, architecture, mathematics, engineering, and medicine. The ship rudder, seismometer, and three-dimensional maps were all invented or improved during the period of Han reign, as well as the use of negative numbers in mathematics. To finance the massive bureaucracy and military expansionism, the empire successfully nationalized salt and iron production. After about 200 years of rule, the Han suffered a brief period of usurpation by the Xin Dynasty, but reestablished itself about 16 years later and ruled China for another 200 years.

What were the reasons for the decline of the Han?

Rising wealth due to great agricultural success created a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Land ownership became concentrated in the hands of a few elite families, while the vast majority of citizens lived as peasants, often in miserable conditions. High taxes, military conscription, and income/lifestyle inequality fomented resentment amongst the lowest classes, while corruption and intrigue in the Imperial court angered societal elites, contributing to a turbulent series of rebellions. By the early second century AD, the empire had fractured into three warring factions, led by Cao Cao, Sun Quan, and Liu Bei. The constant battles for control of Emperor Xian and civil unrest amongst the peasantry eventually tore the empire apart, finally collapsing with the abdication of the throne by Xian to Cao Pi, son of Cao Cao, in December 220 AD.

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