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Clay minature warior


The Gentry - a new class of people in China

Because education still relied on learning based on Confucian ideals, most scholars were Confucian in approach to their lives regardless of how they had been treated under the Qin. The new emperor of the Han, Liu Bang, used them and their knowledge whilst still supporting the Legalist ideals of Qin Shihuangdi.

However, Liu Bang struggled to find enough to fill the civil servant places he now had to create to administer the empire and he could not trust the men who had helped him win the war as most were ignorant peasants. So he created a new class of people - the gentry.

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The Scholars

Dong Zhongshu - Confucian Scholar

Dong Zhongshu tried to persuade Wu Di to introduce economic reforms to stop the crisis China was sliding into. He proposed

All these policies were rejected but it is interesting to note that the same set of complaints were to surface over and over again both in China and, in particular, Russia right up to the 20th century

Dong Zhongshu also introduced the concept of Yin and Yang into Confucian philosophy which was to have a profound effect on the way China developed.

Zhang Qian - Explorer

A Chinese explorer, in 138 BC he was sent out by Emperor Wu DI to travel west and discover what was beyond China's borders. He did not get far before he was taken captive by the Xiongnu (Huns). He was help prisoner for 10 years. On his release he continued his mission to the Yuezhi (modern Tajikistan), travelled around the area for about a year then returned to report to the emperor.

He was sent out a second time to build trade relations between China and central Asia and began the development of what became known as the Silk Road.

Subsequent missions at this time were responsible for bringing back the first Buddhist statues to China as the Emperior Wu Di is described as worshipping Buddhist statues around 120 BC.

Sima Qian - Han historian

Sima Qian's father was the court historian before him. Sima Qian was born around 135 BC and when he was about 20 he was sent on a mission to travel through the western regions of China. On his return he took up his previous employment as a palace servant. However, when his father fell ill and appeared to be dying, Sima Qian inherited his father's job as court historian. He continued with the position until his death in 90 BC.

True to his background and his training Sima Qian defended a general when he was made to take the blame for not defeating the Xiongnu during one particular battle. The emperor believed that Sima Qian was attacking the emperor's brother who was also being defeated by the Xiongnu and ordered Sima Qian's death or castration. Sima Qian chose castration so that he could finish the history he was writing.

Sima Qian, in his book, The Records of the Historian, is the earliest recorded commentary on Qin Shi Huangdi's tomb. In the book he stated

"They dug through three subterranean streams and poured molten copper for the outer coffin, and the tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions and offices, as well as fine vessels, precious stones and rarities. Artisans were ordered to fix up crossbows so that any grave-robbers breaking in would be shot. All the country's streams, the Yellow River and the Yangtse were reproduced in quicksilver (mercury) and by some mechanical means made to flow into a miniature ocean. The heavenly constellations were shown above and the regions of the earth below. Ladies of the imperial harem without children were killed and buried in the tomb. To prevent the artisans who made the mechanical contrivances from disclosing the treasure in the tomb, they were not allowed to emerge alive".

Quoted from Wu Xiaocong, The First Emperor of China, pp. 94 and 95.

The characters Sima Qian actually wrote have been reproduced onto a board and are displayed at the tomb site at Mount Li.. Below is a picture of that board. It copies the style of bamboo strips upon which writing was done before the invention of paper later in the Han Period.



Peasants continued to live the simple life, as they do today. Below is the main road through a very old village near Taiyuan in northern China. Records of this village show that it is essentially unchanged since the late Qin period.

Village street near Taiyuan

Grain mill, Pingyao

This grain mill separates the husk from the seed and can be used for millet or rice production.

Iron pick excavated in Shaanxi Province, now held in the provincial museum

Han iron pickhead, Shaanxi Provincial Museum, Xian


Farming near Kunming

Farming near Kunming. Still carried out the same way as it has for millennia - intensive farming, small crop production and hand labour

Farming near Kunming



Silk manufacture became extremely important in the Han Dynasty period as it became one of the most important trade items.

Facts and Figures Facts and figures

Silk worm thread was turned into many varieties of fabric. They included

In the 2nd century AD towards the end of the Han Dynasty, a pound of raw silk cost more than its weight in gold


The Silk Road emerged as the most important development of the Han Dynasty period. As a result merchants achieved higher status than they had ever previously.

Governments relied on the silk to provide taxation to help the economy, to be used as gifts to buy loyalty, and to trade with neighbouring countries.

Chinese silk was to become a luxury item in the Roman Empire in this period. It was traded to Rome, Japan, India, Arabia and Africa. There are many websites on the Silk Road and the silk trade and, if you want to know more, you should use the internet to find out, as the Silk Road extended way beyond the borders of China.

Merchants who made a great deal of money and became wealthy were able to marry their children into the lower nobility and this meant that their grandchildren became ennobled.

Transport, both land and water based, became more efficient as more roads and canals were built and better connections were made both across the empire and with the countries outside China's borders.



The army remained mainly made up of conscripts but, for most of the time of the Han dynasty they had little to do. Peaceful relations had been bought and paid for by trade between China and its northern neighbours and by conquest in the north east and south.

Han army attacking city walls, Pingyao, Court House Museum diorama