(DYNASTIC RULE and the CHINESE – continued)

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DYNASTIC RULE and the CHINESE (8 of 13)

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Return of the Han, Prosperity, and Influence by Eunuchs

In the five years following the death of Wang Mang, millions died fighting as rival factions vied with each other for power. The most successful of the rival factions was led by a member of the Han family, a prince by the name of Liu Xiu. He surrounded himself with educated men, and he was popular among his troops. His army was the only force that did not loot when capturing towns, and this helped him win hearts and minds. Liu Xiu took control of the ruined capital, Chang'an. He proclaimed himself emperor, restoring the Han dynasty – to be known as the Later Han, or East Han. He moved the capital eastward to Luoyang, and for eleven more years he had to combat rivals. He absorbed some bands of Red Eyebrow rebels into his army, and his army killed other Red Eyebrows in great numbers.

What had not been accomplished by reforms was accomplished by violence: so many had died in the upheaval that land had become available to anyone who wanted it, and with many money lenders among the dead, many more peasants had become free of debt. Liu Xiu helped the economy by lowering taxes, as much as he thought possible: to a tenth or thirteenth of one's harvest or profits. During his reign of thirty-two years, he attempted improvements by promoting scholarship and by curtailing the influence of eunuchs and some others around the royal family. He defended China's western and northern borders by launching successful military campaigns on these frontiers, pushing back the Xiongnu, enabling him to take control of Xinjiang (the extreme northwest of modern China). Also, he tightened China's grip on the area around the Liao River and northern Korea, and he was able to expand control over all that had been China. The restored Han dynasty appeared to have won back the Mandate of Heaven.

In 57 CE, Liu Xiu died. He took the posthumous title of Guangwu-di (di, as mentioned before, signifying emperor), and he was succeeded by his son Mingdi, who reigned eighteen years while China's economy continued to recover. Emperor Ming's rule has been regarded as harsh. He associated himself with Taoism and theological Confucianism, and he declared himself a prophet. He supported growth in what was considered education, and he lectured on history at Luoyang's new imperial university – a lecture attended by many thousands.

Emperor Ming was succeeded by Emperor Zhang, who ruled from the year 75 to 88. He was succeeded by Emperor He, who ruled from 88 to 106. Despite Hedi's mediocrity, China continued to enjoy a rising prosperity. The university at Luoyang grew to 240 buildings and 30,000 students. China's trade reached a new height. Silk from China was becoming familiar to people as far as the Roman Empire – which was then in its so-called golden age. And in return, China was receiving glass, jade, horses, precious stones, tortoise shell and fabrics.

With prosperity came another attempt at expansion westward. A commander of a Chinese army, Ban Chao, led an army of 60,000 unopposed to the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea. He wished to send an envoy to make contact with the Romans. But the Parthians feared an alliance between Rome and China. They discouraged Ban Chao with tales of danger, so he turned back.

By the second century, China had caught up with and in some areas had surpassed Europe and West Asia in science and technology. Paper was coming into use in China. China had a water clock with an accuracy that Europeans would be without for more than a thousand years. China had a lunar calendar that would be consulted into the twentieth century. It had a seismograph that was invented in the year 132 – eight feet wide and made of bronze. The Chinese observed sun spots, which would not be observed by Europeans until Galileo in 1612. The Chinese charted 11,520 stars and measured the elliptical orbit of the moon. China had a machine that sowed seeds and a machine for husking grain. It had water pumps. And, unlike the Romans, the Chinese had wheelbarrows. The Chinese had horse collars and by 322 at least a few had saddles with stirrups. They were improving their use of herbal medicines and learning more about human anatomy and the diagnosis of physical disorders. They were using minor surgery and acupuncture, and they were aware of the benefits of a good diet.

But life continued to be hard for China's common people – its peasants. Too much was still being taken from them in taxes. They still had to labor once a month for the emperor. Punishments were still harsh. For the sake of order a poor peasant could be executed for using the central part of a highway, which was reserved for the emperor. And not enough grain was being stored for emergencies.

China's prosperity had risen under Emperor He (reign 88-106), and the court of Emperor He had become in size and luxury equal to the courts of previous Han emperors. At He's court, hundreds of wives and concubines were accompanied by a great many eunuchs to guard them. Under Emperor He, eunuchs and family consorts had acquired greater influence, with eunuchs having the ear of the emperor.

Those involved in choosing who was to be a successor to the throne preferred children because children could be dominated more than an adult, leaving considerable power with those who did the choosing. All Han emperors since Emperor Ming (reign 58-75) had become emperors when adolescents, two of them as young as two, and most had begun their rule with their dowager empress mother serving as regent. These women remained isolated and dependent upon men – usually their male relatives. As an emperor grew into adulthood, if he rejected his mother's relatives as advisors he usually turned to the only other males with which he had contact – the eunuchs – and he appointed them to high positions as a counter to his mother's influence.

With succeeding child emperors and powerful eunichs more trouble was on the way.


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