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Lifecycle of an Empire: The Han Dynasty

By mrsmize Feb 24, 2013 910 Words

Lifecycle of an Empire
Melissa Mize
World Civilizations to 1500

Dynasties or empires have a natural life span just like humans and usually only last three generations. There are many reasons as to the decline; bureaucratic corruption, inequitable economic burdens, costly technology, moral decline or even external enemies to name a few (Upshur, Terry, Holoka, Goff, & Cassar, 2002, p. 171). Whatsoever the reason, what an empire leaves behind can be contributed to the spread of ideas and practices across many continents (lecture notes, 2009). Lifecycle of an Empire

The Han Dynasty is one such declining empire. It was ruled by the family known as the Liu clan who had peasant origins. The reign started in 206 B.C.E. and lasted 400 years until 220 C.E. Having lasted longer than the usually life span, China considers it to be one of their greatest and most influential periods in history (Han Dynasty, 2009). During this dynasty, there were three periods—first was the Western or Former (206 B.C.E.-8 C.E.), second was the Wang Mang’s Xin (8 C.E.-22 C.E.), and third was the Eastern Later Han Dynasty (25 C.E.-220 C.E.). With each period, new leadership brought new clans and factions into the inner power circle of the empire (ChinaKnowledge, 2000). By all accounts, this dynasty was considered to be successful and durable for the following reasons: 1. It had a centralized leadership and an efficiently run government. 2. It was headed by a stable hierarchy bolstered by social and political elite. 3. Uniform currency and standards of weights and measures that simplified tax collection, finance, and very important aspect, trade. Silk was a prized trade commodity and was used as currency and as state gifts. 4. It recruited at least some officials on the basis of merit, education, and efficiency ratings; not birth. 5. It required service from its citizens, as in war and as corvee’ laborers. 6. Possessed superior weapons and military technology and supplemented with defensive installations such as the Great Wall. 7. It retained many of the legalistic, harsh codes and laws, and administrative developments of the dynasty before—Ch’in and other countries based their legal system on this code but it also softened it with Confucian beliefs of moral development and Taoism beliefs of compassion, moderation and humility. 8. Built elaborate public works such as roads—the Silk Road is linked to Han. 9. Patronized learning, expressed in literature, art, philosophy, and writing of history. (Upshur et al., 2002, p. 119-120)

To answer the question of did this empire make specific mistakes or was its decline a natural part of the lifecycle of an empire, it would have to be a natural decline. The Han Dynasty had weathered many leadership changes; 26 to be exact, but it wasn’t until the dynasty fell into corruption and political power struggle among three groups of individuals—eunuchs, empresses’ clan, and Confucian scholar officials that ended the dynasty. Harsh conditions of the peasants under the wealthy landholding families spurred insurgents to overthrow the Liu clan and consequently, the power fell into the hands of the local warlords (Han Dynasty, 2009). According to Upshur et al. (2002), there are nine reasons for the decline of an empire; dynastic succession, bureaucratic corruption, inequitable economic burdens, decline or martial spirit, costly technology, moral decline, escapist or otherworldly religions, external enemies, and regional, racial or ethnic tensions (Upshur et al., 2002, p. 170-172). Each of these was present in the Han downfall. A society can not dramatically or quickly change because it will lose the elements that initially gave it purpose and success. Change is inevitable and the Han Empire lasted 400 years until its downfall but because of inferior and minor rulers who were manipulated by relatives and who were weak, changed the dynamics of the empire to undermine its strength to the point where its defenses were breached (Upshur et al., 2002, p. 170-172). The most important factor in the decline is that with expansion comes corruption. All effective empires rely on an honest rulers and with the Han, it created state universities and examination system to educate and select men of integrity and ability for public service but soon they were polluted and were provoked by rebellion; for example the peasant revolt that caused the fall was called the Yellow Turban rebellion (Upshur et al., 2002, p. 171). In conclusion, the establishment of Chinese cultural, social, and political institution during the Han was so important and enduring an accomplishment that even today the people consider themselves as the “Han people”. The culture still flourishes today even 1800 years after the fall (About China, 2003). References

About China. (September 24, 2003). In (Ed.), China Culture. Retrieved January 28, 2009, from ChinaKnowledge. (2000). In (Ed.), Chinese History-Han Dynasty. Retrieved January 28, 2009, from Grand Canyon University Lecture Notes 4, (2009). Electronically retrieved on January 26, 2009, from Han Dynasty. (2009). In (Ed.), Wikipedia. Retrieved January 28, 2009 from Upshur, J. L., Terry, J. J., Holoka, J. P., Goff, R. D., & Cassar, G. H. (2002). World History Before 1600: The Development of Early Civilization (fourth Ed.). Boston, Ma: Thompson/ Wadsworth.

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