Why was the Han period considered as a golden age of the Chinese history? What are the golden periods of the Han dynasty? Is “Han people” related to the Han dynasty? You can find answers to these questions from this article, such as achievements of the Han Dynasty.

Table of Contents

When it comes to the golden age in ancient China, people will mention the Han and Tang dynasties, especially the Han dynasty.

han dynasty

In the Han dynasty in China, there were strong political and military forces and developed economy and culture, which have played an indispensable role in building the ethnic culture of China and affecting other countries.

The Han Dynasty in China and the Roman Empire were the most advanced civilizations with a population occupying 1/3 at that time.

For now, the largest people in China is called the Han people and the Chinese ideograph are called Chinese characters.

#Part 1. Historical Introduction to the Han Dynasty

In China, the Han Dynasty (202-220 BC) was the first unified dynasty after the Qin Dynasty and the second unified dynasty in Chinese history.

The Han Dynasty is divided into two periods: the Western Han Dynasty from December 202 BC to November 8 AD, and the Eastern Han Dynasty from June 25 AD to November 220 AD.

The two Han dynasties have gone through a total of 29 emperors, and in Chinese history, the Han Dynasty has lasted for a total of 405 years.

Founder of the Han Dynasty: Liu Bang
(Founder of the Han Dynasty: Liu Bang)

The Western Han Dynasty was established by Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty, and its capital was Chang’an (Xi’an today), also known as the Former Han Dynasty.

The Eastern Han Dynasty was established by Emperor Guangwu of Han, Liu Xiu, with its capital in Luoyang and self-proclaimed as the Middle Han Dynasty, also known as the Later Han Dynasty.

Western Han Dynasty

At the end of the Qin Dynasty, Liu Bang was crowned King of Han after overthrowing the Qin Dynasty. After winning the battle between Chu and Han, Liu Bang established the Western Han Dynasty in 202 B.C. in Luoyang. The political situation at the beginning of the Han Dynasty was stabilized after the elimination of the kings with surnames different from “Liu”.

Emperor Wen of Han and Emperor Jing of Han recuperated and enhanced strength, bringing the prosperity during the “Reign of Wen and Jing Emperors of the Han Dynasty”.

After Emperor Wu of Han ascended the throne, he conquered the barbarians and expanded the land, which is now known as the “Prosperous Era of Wu in the Han Dynasty” by modern people. During the reign of Emperor Xuan of Han, the national strength reached a peak.

In the year 8 A.D, Wang Mang usurped the Han Dynasty and the Western Han Dynasty perished.

Southern Han Dynasty

In 25 A.D., Liu Xiu became the emperor and established the Eastern Han Dynasty, setting the capital at Luoyang and maintaining the army and supporting the people after the unification of the country, known as “Guangwu Zhongxing” (the period when Emperor Guangwu Revitalized the Han dynasty).

Emperor Ming of Han and Emperor Zhang of Han followed the policy of light taxation to create “The Rule of Mingzhang”. Emperor He of Han succeeded to the throne to create “The Prosperity of Yong Yuan”. Finally, the state power of Eastern Han reached its peak.

In the middle of the Eastern Han Dynasty, there were disputes between officials and relatives of the royal family and the scourge of party confinement, and the “Yellow Turban Rebellion” (associated with secret Taiping Taoist societies, the rebellion also marked an important event in the history of Taoism) broke out in 184 A.D.

Although the Eastern Han Dynasty suppressed the rebellion, it led to the local government’s self-reliance, and the Eastern Han Dynasty existed in name only after the “Dong Zhuo Rebellion”.

In 220 A.D., Cao Pi, the king of Wei, forced Emperor Xian of Han to abdicate the throne, and Cao Pi ascended the altar to accept throne as emperor and established the state name of Great Wei, known as the Wei state of the Three-Kingdoms Period.

In this way, the Eastern Han dynasty ended with a history of 195 years and 12 emperors.

After the usurp of the reign of Han Dynasty by Cao Pi and the collapse of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Liu Bei established the Kingdom of Shu Han (221—263), one of the Three Kingdoms, to continue the Han Dynasty, and China entered the Three Kingdoms period.

#Part 2. What Are the Achievements of the Han Dynasty? Why Is It Called the Golden Age?

Not only being the second great unified dynasty in China, the Han Dynasty was also the first mature feudal dynasty in China’s history. For more than 2,000 years afterwards, no dynasty had a system of state governance beyond the one set by the Han Dynasty, until the founding of New China in 1949.

It was under the mature state governance that the Han Dynasty had reached an unprecedented level in its politics, military, culture, economy, and technology and opened the Silk Road with great impacts on the world.

The Han Dynasty and the Roman Empire in Europe at about the same time ranked as the most advanced civilization and powerful empire in the world at that time.

The Han Dynasty and the Roman Empire in Europe ranked as the most advanced civilization and powerful empire in the world at that time.

1. Military: Strong Military Forces

military power of han

The Golden age of the Han dynasty was secured by the strong military force.

For a dynasty, defending against foreign invasion, guarding the territory and maintaining state power is the only way to ensure the prosperity and flourishing of social civilization.

The military power of the Han Dynasty was so strong in Chinese history that it was not unattainable by the Sui, Tang, Song and Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

Conquer the Steppe Empire Huns (A Nationality in Ancient China)

The biggest enemy of the Western and Eastern Han dynasties is Huns. At the beginning of the Han Dynasty, it was harassed by the Huns, and the Han Dynasty had to pay tribute and make peace with rulers of the Huns in the border areas by marriage. In the 300 years since the region of Emperor Wu of Han, the Huns were conquered by the Han people.

In the early years of the Han dynasty, the Huns was an extremely strong force that ruled the entire Mongolian steppe and had direct control up to the territory of present-day Russia.

From the Qiang tribes on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, to the city-states of the West, and even the powerful states of Central and West Asia, all submitted to it.

On the contrary, at the initial stage, the Western Han has a weak military power, so it had to rely on the ways to pay tribute and make peace with rulers of the Huns in the border areas by marriage to earn temporary peace for development.

Therefore, during the reign of the Emperor of Wen and Jing, the Han dynasty ushered in the first reign in Chinese history, the “Reign of Wen and Jing”, which greatly promoted the overall national strengths.

After Emperor Wu of Han ascended the throne, he successively sent famous generals such as Wei Qing, Huo Qubing, and Li Guang to attack the Huns northward, causing great damage to their vitality and splitting them into two parts: the north and the south.

Afterwards, the Huns suffered several attacks from the Han Dynasty and its allies, coupled with internal turmoil, which further weakened their national strength.

During the reign of Emperor Xuan of Han, Huhanye Chanyu of the Southern Huns surrendered to the Han Dynasty and gradually integrated into the Central Plains.

The Han dynasty attacking the Huns
(The Han dynasty attacking the Huns)

In the Eastern Han Dynasty, General Dou Xian attacked the Huns several times, and in the end, the Northern Huns was destroyed. The powerful Huns were ultimately eliminated by the Han Dynasty.

The Western Regions (a Han Dynasty term for the area west) and Central Asian countries broke away from the influence of the Huns and formed alliances with the Han Dynasty.

The Han Dynasty Directly Controlled Vietnam and the North Korea

During the reign of Emperor Wu of Han over two thousand years ago, the Han Dynasty directly ruled Vietnam and Korea.

Although these two areas were not under the jurisdiction of the Han Dynasty and were not vassal states of the Han Dynasty.

However, the Han Dynasty established prefectures and counties here, directly dispatching prefects and county officials to govern these two areas.

the han dynasty overcome the south korea

According to Records of the Grand Historian: Biography of Korea, the Han Dynasty established four prefectures on the Korean Peninsula: Lelang, Xuantu, Zhenfan, and Lintun.

A Vast Political Territory

In terms of the political map, the ruling areas during the two Han dynasties were at their peak in Korea in the east, Vietnam in the south, the Onion Ridge in the west, and the Yin Mountains in the north.

In terms of population, in 2 A.D., the total population of the Western Han Dynasty reached more than 60 million, accounting for one-third of the world at that time.

(The red area is the map of the Han Dynasty in its heyday)

If you compare the current Chinese map with that of the Western Han Dynasty, you will find that they are very similar, indicating that the Han Dynasty, as early as 2000 years ago, developed the Chinese map to the limit of a farming people.

The map of Western Han dynasty
(The map of Western Han dynasty)

2. Diplomacy: Opening the “Silk Road” and Starting the Journey of Exchange between Chinese and Western Civilizations

During the reign of Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty, Zhang Qian was sent to the West to strengthen the economic ties between Han Dynasty and foreign countries, and the Silk Road was opened up by Zhang Qian’s visit. China’s ties with Central Asia, West Asia and even Europe began here.

Through Zhang Qian’s mission to the West, the influence of the Han Dynasty spread far and wide, and the Han Dynasty became known to the world. This is why China is known as the “Great Han Dynasty” in history.

Zhang Qian's Mission to the Western Regions
(Zhang Qian’s Mission to the Western Regions)

During the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, China not only expanded outward in terms of territory, but also open up commercial routes to the Western Regions (today’s Central Asia).

At that time, there was a frequent trade between China and the West. However, the trade routes were hindered by the trade was controlled by intermediate merchants and natural obstacles such as deserts and mountains.

Therefore, Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty wanted to send a trusted messenger to the Western Regions to communicate directly with the princes of various countries and open up a commercial road to the west.

In 138 B.C., Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty sent Zhang Qian on a mission to the Western Regions. After arriving in the Western Regions, Zhang Qian travelled for several years and gained an in-depth understanding of the customs, political system, religious beliefs and other aspects of the Western Regions.

In the communication with various princes of the Western Regions, Zhang Qian adopted the diplomatic means of treating them with courtesy, which successfully eliminated barriers between the Western Regions and the Han Dynasty and promoted the friendly relations between the Han Dynasty and the Western Regions.

Eventually, Zhang Qian and his entourage succeeded in opening up a commercial route from Chang’an to the countries of the Western Regions, which became one of the main routes of foreign trade for the Han Dynasty, namely, the ancient “Silk Road”.

Historically, the Silk Road ran from Chang’an (present-day Xi’an) in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west and eventually to Europe.

the silk road
(The Silk Road)

Although this road was primarily a commercial route, it was also used for political and cultural exchanges between China and other countries in Asia and Europe.

Through the Silk Road, Central and South Asian music, dance, painting, sculpture, architecture and other arts, astronomy, almanac, medicine and other scientific and technological knowledge, as well as religion, were spread to China. Chinese textiles, paper making and some craft techniques (such as gold and silver making, painting, etc.) were also spread to the West.

Zhang Qian’s mission to Western Regions opened up the Silk Road, which not only facilitated commercial exchanges between the Han Dynasty and the Western countries, but also promoted friendly relations, cultural exchanges and the spreading of knowledge between China and Western Regions, making it an important event in the history of ancient Chinese diplomacy and leaving profound impacts on Chinese history and culture.

3. Culture: Realizing the Cultural Unification and Confucianism Becoming the Mainstream Thinking

The Han Dynasty also marked a period of great cultural splendor in Chinese history. Culturally, the Han Dynasty completed the great unification and Confucianism became the dominant ideology, deeply influencing generations of Chinese people.

During the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, he adopted the advice of Dong Zhongshu and Gongsun Hong, that is, “paying supreme tribute to Confucianism while banning all other schools of thoughts”. Therefore, the study of Confucian classics turned to be the mainstream of scholarship.


Dong Zhongshu: scholar-statesman in the Han dynasty playing an instrumental role in institutionalizing Confucianism and civil-service examinations;
Gongsun Hong: Prime Minister of the Western Han Dynasty.

Dong Zhongshu
(Dong Zhongshu)

With the theoretical system of Confucianism, the Han dynasty unified the confused thinking, correcting the country’s wavering course in its spiritual and cultural pursuits of sometimes Taoism and sometimes Confucianism, effectively eliminating internal conflicts, regulating the hierarchical order, and putting the country on a stable upward trajectory.

Throughout the Han Dynasty, great importance has been attached on education and learning. At the time of Emperor Huan of the Eastern Han Dynasty, the number of the imperial college students alone reached 30,000.

Therefore, there was a flourishing cultural development in the Han dynasty.

In terms of historical works, Sima Qian‘s Records of the Grand Historian is the first general history of China in the form of a chronicle, and also the first of the twenty-four histories, providing norms for the compilation of official history for the next two thousand years.

Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian
(Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian)

The entire book is divided into twelve chapters, ten tables, eight books, thirty families, and seventy biographies, totalling 130 chapters and 526500 words.

The “Book of Han” by Ban Gu is divided into twelve chapters, eight tables, ten chronicles, and seventy biographies. It is the first complete dynastic history in Chinese history and has become a model for future dynasties to write their own history.

Many Western scholars believe that the historical standards created by Han Dynasty writers remained ahead of the world until the 18th century.

The Han government also established “Yuefu” (a government office in the Han Dynasty for collecting folk songs and ballads) to collect folk poetry, known as Yuefu poetry.

In later generations, many Yuefu poems of the Han dynasty were collected from the “Collection of Yuefu Poems”, “Nineteen Ancient Poems”, and “New Odes to Yutai”.

During the Han Dynasty, Sima Xiangru’s “Zixu Fu”, “Shanglin Fu”, and Zhang Heng’s “Er Jing Fu” are all famous literary works that have been passed down throughout the ages in China.

During the Han Dynasty, Lishu (an ancient style of calligraphy current in the Han Dynasty) gradually replaced Xiaozhuan as the main writing font, and the emergence of Lishu laid the foundation for the modern Chinese character structure and became a watershed for Chinese ancient and modern writing.

“Lishu” in the Han Dynasty
(“Lishu” in the Han Dynasty)

Not only had the culture of the Han Dynasty significant impacts on the concept of family and country and ethical morality in later generations, but also condensed the spirit of unity and perseverance of the Chinese nation, which had a positive impact on China and the world.

4. Economy: Rising Population and Rapid Agricultural, Commercial, and Handicraft Development

The level of economic development directly determines the length of a dynasty’s lifespan.
With the development of centralization, the minting and circulation of currency also increased significantly. With the opening-up of the Silk Road, the economy of the Han Dynasty was thriving and prosperous.

The core manifestations of the Han Dynasty’s economic growth were a significant increase in population and rapid development of agriculture, commerce, and handicrafts.

The socio-economic development in the Han Dynasty - agricultural and commercial development going hand in hand
(The socio-economic development in the Han Dynasty – agricultural and commercial development going hand in hand)

In the era of natural economy, population size was the main indicator of the economic development. Population was one of the key drivers of economic development in the prosperous development of the Han Dynasty. According to records, at its peak, the Han Dynasty had a population of tens of millions.

In terms of economic model, the Han Dynasty officially established the feudal small-scale peasant economic model that has been practiced over two thousand years.

This economic model, coupled with the strategy of “Emphasizing Agriculture and Suppressing Commerce”, led to an unprecedented prosperity of agriculture in the Han Dynasty, laying the foundation of the feudal dynasty.

Besides, the development of handicrafts in the Han Dynasty was also relatively mature.

The ironmaking technology of the Han Dynasty was at the forefront of the world at that time, greatly improving agricultural efficiency, and iron tools became an important production tool.

Cattle farming technology has also developed, and many farming models have also emerged. Cattle farming technology has also developed, and many farming models have also emerged.

During the Han Dynasty, cattle were cultivated using iron farming tools
(During the Han Dynasty, cattle were cultivated using iron farming tools)

Not only were there iron tools, but water conservancy tools have also emerged. The Han Dynasty also placed great emphasis on the construction of water conservancy projects, such as the famous Longshou Canal.

The technological implementation promoted the development of agriculture at that time and also laid a good foundation for the development of water conservancy in future generations.

Han Bricks: A Miniature of Production and Economic Life in the Han Dynasty
(Han Bricks: A Miniature of Production and Economic Life in the Han Dynasty)

There has been great commercial development in the Han Dynasty. During the Han Dynasty, corresponding urban commercial management systems were also introduced, such as unified regulations on trade time, and specialized commercial zones and related market trading institutions were established in Chang’an City, which was the earliest prototype of a market economy.

During the Han Dynasty, currency circulation was achieved, domestic and international trade was relatively open, and the Han Dynasty also inherited the land ownership system of the Qin Dynasty, where land was privatized and freely traded.

Since the Silk Road, China has been standing at the commanding height of the world economy, until the emergence of the Yuan Dynasty over a thousand years later, which rewritten history and became another golden age in Chinese history.

5. Technology: The Four Ancient Chinese Inventions Appeared in the Han Dynasty

In terms of technology, there are also great achievements of the Han dynasty, exerting huge impacts on the world.

Paper making, one of the four great inventions of ancient China
(Paper making, one of the four great inventions of ancient China)

Paper making, one of the Four Great Inventions in ancient China, was invented in the Western Han Dynasty. The original paper making technology was just the manufacture of hemp and cotton batten.

In the Eastern Han Dynasty, Cai Lun improved the paper-making technology on the basis of his original papermaking techniques, bringing paper that we use today at lower production cost and improved quality.

cai lun
(Cai Lun)

Another great invention was the seismograph invented by Zhang Heng during the Eastern Han Dynasty, which could predict earthquakes.

This invention is not only Zhang Heng’s contribution to the technology of the Han Dynasty, but also a significant breakthrough in technology for the world. Zhang Heng invented the seismograph nearly 1700 years earlier than Europe did.

The seismograph for earthquake prediction
(The seismograph for earthquake prediction)

There is also a scientific and technological achievement in medicine. Ma Fei San (a kind of Chinese ancient narcotic drug) is the earliest drug with anesthetic functions, invented by the divine physician Hua Tuo in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. Ma Fei San has a great influence on medical research in later generations.

Divine Doctor Hua Tuo
(Divine Doctor Hua Tuo)

On the Eurasian continent at that time, there were four strongest empires, one of which was the Eastern Han Dynasty, and the other three were Gui’an, Anxi, and Rome. It is because of the prestige of the Han Dynasty that foreign countries refer to Chinese people as “Han people”, and “Han” has become the eternal name of the Chinese nation.

6. Management: Six Periods of Golden Age and 7 Wise Kings (the Largest Number in the Han Dynasty)

Ranging from 202 BC when Liu Bang defeated various feudal lords such as Xiang Yu and established the Han Dynasty (Western Han) after the Great Rebellion in the Qin Dynasty to 8 A.D when Wang Mang usurped the Han Dynasty to establish a new dynasty to replace the Western Han and 25 AD when Liu Xiu, a descendant of Liu Bang, defeated Wang Mang and various uprisings to establish the Han Dynasty (Eastern Han) again, the entire Han Dynasty lasted for 405 years, spanning four centuries.

In Chinese history, the Qin Dynasty lasted for only 15 years, the Tang Dynasty lasted for only 289 years, the Song Dynasty lasted for a total of 319 years, and the Ming Dynasty lasted for 276 years.

Thus, the Han Dynasty claime the longest period of reign with most wise emperors, and the most prosperous dynasties among various dynasties in China.

There was a total of six prosperous periods in the Han Dynasty.

Emperor Wen of Han and Emperor Jing of Han implemented the national policy of recuperation and rejuvenation, creating the age of “Enlightened Administration of the Han emperors Wen and Jing”.

Emperor Wu of Han attacked the Huns, opened up the territory, shook the four corners, and created the “Prosperous Era of Han Wu”.

Emperor Xuan of Han surrendered the Huns, controlled the Western Regions, broke through the Western Qiang, and created the “Prosperous Era of Han Xuan”.

Emperor Guangwu of Han restored the Han Dynasty and achieved the “Rejuvenation of Guangwu”.

Emperor Ming and Emperor Hanzhang practiced slack governance, achieving “Rule of Ming and Zhang”.

Emperor Hanhe made every effort in governance, rectified the governance of officials, and created the “Prosperity of Yongyuan”.

The Great Emperor of the Han Dynasty
(The Great Emperor of the Han Dynasty)

Overall, the large number of wise emperor and periods of prosperity in the Han Dynasty has greatly contributed to the “Golden Age” of the Han Dynasty in terms of its politics, economy, military, and many other aspects.

The name of a people often comes from self-identification and external identification. The origin of the name “Han” is actually related to the Han Dynasty. The name “Han” was given and formed during the Han Dynasty.

The Han ethnic group consist of the largest population in the Chinese nation and the most populous ethnic group in the world who live throughout the country and even around the world. The Han ethnic group has also formed its own unique cultural system – “Han culture”.

“Han culture” can also be understood as the culture of the Han ethnic group, also known as Chinese culture, Huaxia culture, and Confucian culture.

Before the appearance of the term “Han”, the main ethnic group in China was called “Xia”, “Hua”, or “Huaxia”.

In the Qin Dynasty, Emperor Qin Shihuang (the first emperor in Qin Dynasty) unified the six states, implemented the system of prefectures and counties, unified currency and weights and measures, and promoted unified writing, which laid a solid foundation for the formation of the Han people.

However, due to its short duration and strict ruling, the Qin Dynasty was overthrown before its cultural influence was fully exerted. Therefore, as a nation, the term “Qin people” only existed for a period of time.

However, the Han Dynasty had unparalleled comprehensive strength in terms of its territorial area, ruling time, cultural and military achievements, economic and cultural achievements, international influence, and other aspects compared to other dynasties.

The enterprising, brave, open, heroic, confident, and martial arts spirit of the Han Dynasty gave people an unprecedented sense of national dignity and pride. Being known as the “Han people” was the people’s self-identity in Han Dynasty.

The “Huaxia ethnic group” has gradually been referred to as the “Han” since the Han Dynasty, and Han culture has become the main body of Chinese culture.

Traditional Clothing of the Han Ethnic Group – Hanfu
(Traditional Clothing of the Han Ethnic Group – Hanfu)

With the expansion of Han Dynasty, the entire East and Southeast Asia were deeply influenced by the “Han culture”. As the core of Han culture, Confucianism has found its way to countries worldwide, fully reflecting the recognition of Han Dynasty’s influence by other countries in the world.

To this day, “Han people” are still the self-proclaimed names of most Chinese people, while the “Huaxia” ethnic group is gradually referred to as “Han people”, and the “Huaxia” script is also named “Chinese characters”. Confucianism has become the ruling ideology of China for thousands of years.

In short, the Han Dynasty was a very powerful dynasty in ancient Chinese history in terms of politics, military, economy, culture, and technology, and had a profound impact on the world at that time concerning commerce, culture, technology, and other aspects.

Of course, the charm of the Han Dynasty goes far beyond that. We look forward to exploring more about the charm of the Han Dynasty together with you! Hope this article can help you learn valuable facts about the Han Dynasty.

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