Cao Dawei & Sun Yanjing. China’s History. Singapore: Cengage Learning, 2011.
Qin Dynasty Lays the Foundation for the Great Unification
The Qin and Han dynasties, from 221 BC to 220 AD, were the first unified multiethnic centralized states in Chinese history, laying the foundation for a united empire.
In 221 BC, Qin continued expansion outward after annexing the six states. It suppressed the Baiyue people on the southeastern coast and in southern China and the ethnic groups in southwestern areas and established administrative organs there for unified management. Qin’s troops also attacked the Huns in the north, regained the Great Bend of the Yellow River for its people to migrate to and cultivate, and constructed the Great Wall to consolidate its northern defense. Finally, Qin established an unprecedented vast empire with a population of 20 million multiethnic people.
Yingzheng, after unifying the six states, called himself “Shihuangdi” (the first emperor) because “his virtues were equal to the Three August Ones (Fu Xi, Nu Wa, and Shen Nong) and his merits were greater than those of the Five Emperors (Huangdi, Zhuan Xu, Di Ku, Yao, and Shun).” After establishing his supreme power, he carried on the social reforms that started during the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods and implemented a series of measures to intensify centralized sovereignty.
With respect to the political system, Emperor Shihuang believed that the feudal system was the source of the ceaseless wars of the Spring and Autumn Period and thought “it’s time to set up armies because peace has returned and the country is unified.” He accepted the suggestion of Li Si to award his sons and the officials who performed deeds of great merit in ways other than giving them an estate, and further established a complete set of bureaucratic administration systems at both central and local levels.
The emperor controlled the country’s military power, and his descendants inherited the throne from generation to generation. At the central level were three chief ministers and nine departments. The “three chief ministers” referred to the prime minister, military minister, and supervision minister. The prime minister assisted the emperor in handling political affairs and led all other officials. The military minister assisted the emperor in military affairs, and the supervision minister was responsible for supervision and law enforcement as well as literature management. The three ministers were not subject to one another and all obeyed the emperor’s orders.
The nine departments included the administrative organizations at the central level and those in charge of royal affairs. The system established imperial power as supreme, and the prime minister as the leading official. All officials were responsible for their own business. This has laid a foundation for the organizational pattern of Chinese central government.
The emperor established two levels of administrative organizations nationwide, namely prefectures and counties, and shaped their local bureaucratic administrative systems. The prefecture, the higher-level administrative organ of the central government, directly governed the local. The supreme executive of the prefecture was named the prefecture governor (Junshou). The Juncheng (prefecture governor’s assistant) helped the prefecture governor handle administrative affairs, criminal punishment, and prison affairs, while the Junwei (prefecture governor’s assistant officer) was in charge of military affairs and public security.
County governments were set up under the prefecture. The responsibilities of the county executive, county executive’s assistant, and county executive’s assistant officer were similar to those of the officials at the prefectural level. The prefecture and county officials were assessed, appointed, and dismissed by the central government. Under the county level were the basic organization township and Li (administrative units of twenty-five neighboring households). Among the township officials, Sanlao was responsible for education, Sefu was responsible for case hearing and taxation, and Youjiao was responsible for public security.
The country governed the people and levied taxes through the three chief ministers and nine departments as well as through administrative organizations at various local levels. The individual household became the basic unit of society in the country.
In the economic sphere, Emperor Shihuang ordered landlords and yeomen who owned land to base both household registrations and taxes on actual land area occupied. Thus, private ownership of land was confirmed by law to protect the advanced landowner economy mode. Before the unification of the Qin Dynasty, the currencies of different vassal states had different shapes, sizes, and weights, and the measuring units were not the same, which hindered the development of nationwide commodity exchange and tax collection. In 221 BC, Emperor Shihuang unified the currency and weight and measure standards to strengthen regional economic ties. This encouraged ease in the exchange of goods and services, enhancing the country’s economic unity.
After unification, the Qin removed barricades built by the six states, unified vehicle specifications, and built a network of roads centered around its capital, Xianyang (northeast of today’s Xianyang, Shaanxi). In the course of conquering the Lingnan area (today’s Guangdong and Guangxi provinces), the Lingqu Canal was dug to link the Yangtze River and the Pearl River systems. A wide valley road was built in the hills from today’s Yibin, Sichuan, to Qujing, Yunnan. These measures ensured the smooth communication of political decrees and the ease of dispatching an army, promoted economic and cultural exchanges among the regions and ethnic groups, and forged a solid material foundation for a unified state.
Before unification, the Chinese language varied from state to state in terms of pronunciation and spelling. After unification, Emperor Shihuang made the Xiaozhuan (small seal character) the standard for the whole country. It helped in terms of communicating political decrees and cultural exchange, and greatly intensified the the people’s sense of identification and belonging to a single Chinese culture. In the subsequent 2,000 years, written Chinese remained a unified form, and had a profound influence on the consolidation of a unified multiethnic country.
After unification, the Qin Dynasty also absorbed certain relevant rules and regulations of the former six states to formulate the legal system of Qin, which covered a wide range of laws, including criminal, procedure, civil, economic, and administrative.
In 213 BC, some conservative Confucians insisted that “no sustainable governance would be achieved without imitating ancient people and following long-established rules.” Li Si firmly criticized those opponents. Emperor Shihuang accepted the suggestion of Li Si and further strengthened ideological control. He allowed public schools only, prohibited private schools, ordered the historiographers to burn historical records and all folk books, including The Book of Odes, The Book of History, and other books of all schools. He kept only The History of Qin and books on medicine and forestation. He also ruled that those participating in private discussions on the Book of Odes and the Book of History would be executed, as would the entire family of those who questioned and criticized the government policy.
In 212 BC, some scholars and alchemists accused Emperor Shihuang of being “greedy for power” and “glad at severe penalty.” More than 400 people were arrested and buried alive under the crime of defamation. Although the action of burning books and burying scholars alive suppressed opponents and safeguarded his centralized reign, the emperor’s cruel manner caused a huge loss to the status of Chinese culture and had a negative political influence. Most wars and projects initiated by Emperor Shihuang were of progressive significance. However, the heavy taxation, the rigid penalties, the urgent deployment of men for his projects, and the construction of palaces and tombs, brought a heavy burden and suffering to the people. In 210 BC, Emperor Shihuang died of illness during a tour of inspection.
Emperor Ershi of the Qin Dynasty succeeded to the throne. The ruling classes were embroiled in internal discord, resulting in heavier taxation, more cruel punishment, and a rapidly intensifying social division. In 209 BC, a large-scale peasant uprising led by Chen Sheng and Wu Guang eupted, which heavily shook the rule of the Qin Dynasty. In 207 BC, the Qin Dynasty ended under the attack of Xiang Yu, Liu Bang, and other forces. After the four-year Chu-Han War, Liu Bang defeated Xiang Yu in 202 BC and set up the Han Dynasty in Chang’an (today’s Xi’an), known in history as the Western Han Dynasty.
Though the Qin Dynasty ended only after the rule of two emperors, the new systems established by Emperor Shihuang made pioneering contributions to the development of China as a unified multiethnic country and took Chinese history on a new path in its following 2,000 years.
Western Han Dynasty’s Strategies to Consolidate Centralized Rule
The tyranny and turmoil in the closing years of the Qin Dynasty left a shabby, jittery economy for the early Han Dynasty, whose rulers learned lessons from the collapse of the Qin and applied a policy of rehabilitation. During the period of Emperor Wendi and Jingdi, the economy recovered and society stabilized, resulting in the first peaceful period in Chinese ancient history.
Based on this, Emperors Wudi of the Han Dynasty abolished the tyranny of the Qin and continued its unifying and expansionary policy. Moreover, some adjustments and renewals were made, further consolidating the unified multiethnic country initiated by Qin.
Economically, the Han regime reduced taxes and the use of unpaid labor in exchange for taxes, and rewarded production. Liu Bang, Emperor Gaozu of the Han Dynasty, instigated a range of favorbale measures. He released soldiers to farm in the fields, offered amnesty for and enlisted refugees, freed servants and maids, exempted some and reduced the numbers of those doing unpaid labor, and set land rent at 1/15, resulting in a mass movement of population back into agricultural production.
Emperor Wendi used rates of agricultural and textile development to evaluate local officials and reduced the land rent to 1/30. These measures accelerated recovery and development of agriculture. Emperor Wudi further promoted the official monopoly of salt and iron, collected industrial and commercial taxes, established buffer institutions to control prices, unified the currency, prohibited private coin casting, and implemented other financial reforms. Thus, the country firmly stabilized the economy and increased financial income, laying a solid economic foundation for a unified empire.
As for the state regime, the Western Han Dynasty experienced its ups and downs. In the early Han Dynasty, Liu Bang rewarded some high-achieving ministers by granting them titles of vassals despite their family names being different from the royal one. Feudal and prefecture organizations coexisted. The area of seven vassals’ fiefs equaled half of the territory of the Western Han Dynasty. They had their own troops and constituted a threat to the imperial power.
Liu Bang exterminated the vassals successively and subinfeudated his nephews. He hoped to rely on Liu’s families to defend the borders. With the passing of time, the vassals of the same surname gradually became more powerful and did things in their own way. They established laws, collected taxes and tributes, and cast coins without permission from the central government. They became more wealthy than the emperor.
These vassals organized armed rebellions to challenge the central authority. Emperor Jingdi’s acceptance of Minister Chao Cuo’s suggestion to “remove monarchs” aroused the joint rebellion of Wu, Chu, and five other states. Emperor Jiingdi was forced to kill Chao Cuo to apologize to the seven states, but that didn’t stop an attack from rebel forces. Finally, General Zhou Yafu defeated the rebels. After putting down the rebellions, the court revoked the vassals’ power.
Emperor Wudi learned a lesson from the rebellion caused by feoffing and promulgated the “fief expansion order” for further distribution of fief to greatly reduce the vassals’ might. He also divested 106 nobles of their rank at one sacrifice ceremony on the pretext that the gold they presented was of insufficient weight and poor quality.
Meanwhile, Emperor Wudi also strengthened imperial power by controlling both central and local administrative institutions. To do this, he promoted some middle and lower officials, who formed a “central court” to assist the emperor in decision-making, while an “outer court” led by the prime minister exclusively took care of political affairs. The supervision system was an important part of the centralized political system and was greatly strengthened in the Han Dynasty. Emperor Wudi established the position of Silixiaowei at the central level to supervise the behavior of officials and imperial members.
He also divided the country into thirteen supervision areas and sent one Cishi (provincial governor) to each area to inspect local officials and to curb and attack illegally rich people on behalf of the central government, thus enhancing the centralized regime.
The rulers of the Han Dynasty practiced the recommendation system. Local officials recommended talented people to the court, which appointed them according to their capabilities upon examination. The government enrolled people with special reputations and capabilities to officiate in the court, a process called zheng (enrollment). The practice under which a senior official recruited his subordinates was called pi. The official selection system attached more importance to the capabilities of the talents, but could easily be subverted by cronyism, giving rise to phenomena such as a recommended scholar who was unable to read, and a recommended Xiaolian (a role model of being filial to one’s parents and clean as an official) who did not live with his parents.
To avoid decades of governance by an official in a place that might result in corruption or set-up of a separate regime, the Han Dynasty set terms for major local officials; their origins and any blood relations with their superior leaders would be taken into consideration as well.
The prevalence of the quiet and inactive Taoism in the early Han Dynasty had created a rather liberal intellectual space, a departure from the growing centralization. The political situation during the reign of Emperor Wudi was stable, and national power was strong. Hence, ideological control was strengthened. Emperor Wudi adopted Dong Zhongshu’s suggestion of “rejection of various philosophical schools and exclusive reverence of Confucianism.” Confucianism, which propagated centralized rule, held the position of dominant official ideology. The policy penetrated into politics, ideology, culture, and education, helping to attack local regimes and consolidate centralization. It had a far-reaching influence by intensifying both Chinese culture and the monarch’s control of popular thought.
The renovation measures concerning politics, economy, ideology, and other aspects implemented by Emperor Wudi, based on actual situations, proved quite fruitful and drove forward the development of the unified multiethnic country initiated by Qin.
Consolidating Northern Borders and Developing the Western Regions
The Qin and Han dynasties saw the rise of nomadic Huns living in the northern Mongolian Plateau. The oases west of Yumen Pass and Yangguan Pass, including present-day Xinjiang, Central Asia, and areas even further west, were called Western Regions, where “thirty-six kingdoms,” including Wusun and Cheshi, were created.
The Huns, who conquered the Western Regions in the early Han Dynasty, confronted the Qin and Han dynasty forces along the natural north—south agricultural boundary between them. The relationship between both parties had a direct effect on the stability and development of the river bends, the Western Regions, and even the unified multiethnic country.
In 215 BC, General Meng Tian, dispatched by Emperor Shihuang of the Qin Dynasty, led 300,000 soldiers to attack the Huns, regaining the previously occupied river bends and establishing counties there. To defend against the Huns, the Qin Dynasty reinforced the old walls along the northern borders built by the former states of Yan, Zhao, and Qin. The effort resulted in the initial formation of the world famous Great Wall that extends from Lintao, Gansu, in the west to Liaodong in the east. Twelve prefectures were set up along the walls. The vast number of people who immigrated there to consolidate the border areas laid the foundation for stabilizing the northern borders and developing the Western Regions.
The early Han Dynasty saw a depressed economy and failures in its defensive wars against the Huns. Even peace-making marriages and bribery couldn’t stop the Huns from achieving a large-scale intrusion. Relying on improved national strength, Emperor Wudi waged two great battles successively in places south and north of the Yellow River, driving the Huns out of the South Desert. He further sent Wei Qing and Huo Qubing to chase the Huns in the North Desert. Meanwhile, a vigorous effort was made to build walls along the areas west of the Yellow River, with beacon towers at short intervals extending west to Lop Nur in Xinjiang.
Before long, the Huns broke up into several groups. Huhanye, Khan of the Huns, led his troops to submit to the Han Dynasty and agreed that “the Han Dynasty and Hun are one family and no cheating or attacking is allowed.” Emperor Yuandi of the Han Dynasty accepted the request of the Huns for a peace-making marriage and married Wang Zhaojun, a court lady, to Huhanye as a princess.
The unification of the Hun and Han peoples resulted in decades of peace and stability in the northern border areas. Consolidating borders with walls, reclaiming land, building roads, and increased bilateral trade all followed the peace-making marriages between the Han Dynasty and the Huns. This facilitated both social and economic development in the central plains, and helped spread advanced culture into the border areas.
Livestock in the early Han Dynasty were few, and officials had to travel in oxcarts. While under the regime of Emperor Wudi, areas south of the Great Wall saw “hordes of horses and cattle in fields.” Livestock were used for farming and transportation, greatly enhancing productivity in the central plains. In the meantime, the Huns traded horses and cattle with inland merchants for daily necessities, which further spurred the development of a livestock economy.
Numerous unearthed cultural relics serve as proof that the iron plows, currencies used, and weighing and measuring instruments employed in such areas as Gansu, Ordos of Inner Mongolia, and Liaoyang of Northeast China differed little from those adopted in inland areas.
The Han exploitation of the Western Regions is best showcased by the development of the Silk Road. It began in Chang’an, ran through the Hexi Corridor and present-day Xinjiang, to Central and West Asia, and finally to Europe. Along the land route that spanned the Asian and European continents, techniques of casting iron, digging wells, and making iron plows, and the concepts of plowing with oxen, raising silkworms, and reeling silk, as well as large quantities of metal tools and silk fabrics were transported from east to west, speeding the social progress of western areas. In return, the Akhal-Teke breed of horses, camels, fur goods, grapes, megranate fruit, benne (sesame), walnuts, and other products of the Western Regions, as well as wonderful foreign music and dances, were introduced to inland areas, blowing a fresh breath into to traditional Chinese culture.
The Silk Road also connected the Han Dynasty with countries of ancient civilization, such as Kushan, Arsacid, and Rome. In the 1st century BC, the Roman emperor Caesar once wore a “coat of Heaven” made of Chinese silk, and the Europeans called the Han Dynasty “Seres,” meaning “the country of silk.” Plinius, a Roman natural historian, mentioned in his book Natural History that, “despite the variety of iron, none equaled the iron from China (the Han Dynasty).” Furthermore, the Buddhism of ancient India, the art of ancient Rome, and various foreign sculptures and paintings were introduced from west to east. The opening of the Asia-Europe passageway, called the Silk Road by later generations, tightly connected the Western Regions with the central plains and produced a far-reaching influence on cultural exchanges between east and west and the development of human civilization.
The territory under Emperor Wudi, twice as large as that of the Qin Dynasty, supporting a population of 60 million at the peak of his rule. The establishment of such a vast and populous empire required mature political and economic systems, efficient management, harmonious relationships between the central and local governments and among ethnic groups, and a concentrated power based on consistent cultural concepts and values. Although territories changed, dynasties were replaced, and regime divisions and mergers were constant occurrences, the grand trend of unity was never reversed.
At the end of the Western Han Dynasty, Wang Mang, a relative of the emperor on his wife’s side, seized power and crowned himself in 9 AD, starting the Xin Dynasty that eventually replaced the Western Han. But, fourteen years later, insurgent peasant armies Lulin (Greenwoods) and Chimei (Red Eyebrow) captured Chang’an and exterminated Xin. In 25 AD, Liu Xiu resumed the Han Dynasty in Luoyang, known as the Eastern Han Dynasty. Liu Xiu released servants and maids and reduced taxation. The society and economy recovered and developed. The power of the local despots he relied on expanded accordingly. At the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, eunuchs and the relatives of the emperor on his wife’s side controlled the court. Struggle and strife led to social turbulence, and under the onslaught of the Huangjin (Yellow Turban) Peasant Uprising, imperial power declined and fell into the hands of scattered warlords. In 220 AD, Cao Pi dethroned Emperor Xiandi of the Han Dynasty and established the Wei Dynasty in Luoyang, marking the end of the Eastern Han.
Booming Culture of the Qin and Han Dynasties
The establishment of a unified country paved the way for sustainable cultural growth. The Qin and Han dynasties witnessed further advances in science and culture. The invention of paper is China’s most prominent contribution to human civilization. Chinese characters first appeared on pottery, tortoise shells, and bronze ware, and later on bamboo slips and silk cloth, all of which were either heavy or expensive and made cultural communication difficult.
In the early Western Han Dynasty, workmen, while beating pods into silk, found that characters could be written on the remaining silk membranes. Enlightened by the process, the Chinese people adopted flax as a raw material to produce the earliest plant fiber paper, which was still rough and not suitable for writing. In the Eastern Han Dynasty, the eunuch Cai Lun resorted to tree bark, flax cloth, rags, old fishing nets, and other readily available raw materials to make a high quality yet inexpensive paper called “Marquis Cai Paper.” From then on, paper was produced on a large scale and became the most popular material for writing.
China’s paper-making technique was first exported to Korea and Vietnam, then to Japan in the 7th century, to Arabian counties in the 8th century, and to Europe in the 12th century. Paper played a significant role in worldwide communication, education, and trade, and had a profound impact on the progress of world civilization.
The iron-smelting sector of the Han Dynasty remained as advanced as before. Quenching techniques were invented and coal was used as a fuel for smelting. In the Eastern Han Dynasty, wind power was used to smelt metal, and a low-temperature steel-making technique was invented and popularized. With regard to ship-building, more efficient sculls, more flexible stern steering wheels, cloth sails that relied on wind power, and more firm anchors were invented, leading to improved navigation techniques.
In the handicraft sector, the superb black porcelains made in the late Eastern Han Dynasty marked the maturity of porcelain-making techniques first initiated in China. Improved silk embroidery workmanship resulted in more diverse categories of embroidery. Their exquisite patterns and bright colors enabled them to be exported to East Asia and Europe in large quantities and were reputed by the Romans to be “the world’s number one fabric.”
With regard to the measurement of celestial bodies, Zhang Heng of the Eastern Han Dynasty invented the earliest “armillary sphere” (instrument with rings showing the positions of heavenly bodies) that revolved with hydraulic power. He also invented a seismograph that could precisely measure the direction of earthquakes thousands of miles away—more than 1,700 years earlier than similar devices invented in Europe.
Unlike Greek classical mathematics that focused on theorem proving, ancient Chinese mathematics focused on the creation of algorithms, especially those that solved equations. The Zhou Bi Mathematical Manual written in the Western Han Dynasty first records a special case in geometry known as the Pythagorean Theorem, about 500 years earlier than that proposed in the west.
The Nine Chapters on Mathematical Art written during the Eastern Han Dynasty was a collection of mathematical achievements from pre-Qin to the Han Dynasty, and was respected as the most important book of its kind. The book records all the algorithms for practical problems closely related to production, such as those relevant to land areas, grain, trade, warehouse size, earthworks, and tax, and those that summarize ways of calculating positive and negative numbers, plus ways to solve quadratic equations. Its presence marked the formation of the ancient Chinese mathematical system in which counting rods were used as the calculation tool, and the decimal system was adopted.
The Nine Chapters on Mathematical Art was introduced to Japan in the Sui and Tang dynasties, and some parts of the book spread to India and the Arab world, and even to Europe.
Many famous doctors and classic books emerged in the Han Dynasty. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine written during the Western Han is a pioneering book of traditional Chinese medical theory. The book, in two parts, has 162 articles in eighteen volumes. It discusses basic theories concerning the body, physiology, causes of disease, and diagnosis, as well as acupuncture, channels and collaterals, and health care.
Emperor Shen Nong’s Materia Medica, written during the Eastern Han Dynasty, is a summary of medicines used since the Warring States Period, and became the foundation for subsequent Chinese pharmacology. Zhang Zhongjing, known as the “Medicine Saint” in the Eastern Han Dynasty, proposed a set of traditional Chinese theories in The Treatise on Febrile Diseases, including the three causes of disease and treatment according to syndrome differentiation. Hua Tuo, a highly skilled doctor in the Eastern Han, invented Mafeisan, the earliest surgical anesthetic, performed the first abdominal cavity operation in China, and invented the five-animal frolics.
Against the backdrop of unification, the official mainstream ideology in the Qin and Han dynasties experienced a transformation from “contention of a hundred schools of thought” to “paying supreme tribute to one thought while banning all other schools of thought.” The legalist thought of the Warring States period was adopted by Emperor Yingzheng as a sharp tool for pushing reform; through abandoning Confucianism and absorbing part of the diverse thoughts of many schools, it further became the dominant ideology guiding the politics of the Qin Dynasty after unification.
In the early western Han Dynasty, the economy was seriously damaged and a host of neglected tasks cried for attention. Faced with a need to rehabilitate the economy, the intellectual field was relatively open, and the philosophy of Huang Di and Lao Tze prevailed. During the reign of Emperor Wudi, ideological control intensified as the political situation became more stable and the economy prospered. Confucianist Dong Zhongshu put forward the opinion of “paying supreme tribute to Confucianism while banning all other schools of thought” and “banning all ways of spreading other schools of thought” except Confucianism, which he believed could make the people know how to behave and who to obey, and thus safeguard the imperial power. Emperor Wudi accepted his suggestion and established it as a national strategy.
The new Confucianism of Dong Zhongshu, was in fact, a new ideological system shaped by combining many schools of thought—the Yin-Yang School, Taoism, and Legalism based on Confucius’ political outlook of maintaining the hierarchical system, and the thought of unification highlighted in The Kung-Yang Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Annals. Dong Zhongshu claimed that “social norms originate in nature, and no changes in social norms shall happen without changes in nature.” He advocated that “regality is awarded by heaven,” based on the theory of “induction between heaven and man.” He also warned that if the emperor was brutal in his rule, the heaven would send calamities to condemn and deter him. Therefore, the emperor must observe the way of the heaven and exercise benevolent rule. Dong emphasized that the emperor should rule the country with benevolence at its core and punishment as supplement, and put forward the ethical norms of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and fidelity. The three cardinal guides—the ruler guides his subjects; the father guides his son; and the husband guides his wife—were cardinal relationships that could not be changed.
“Paying supreme tribute to Confucianism while banning all other schools of thought” is an important event in the history of China. Confucianism’s dominant position in politics was conducive to consolidating the unified country and stabilizing the social order. Confucianism became a required course in all schools and was the court’s standard of assessment when selecting officials. Thus was the dominant position of Confucianism established in the traditional culture of China.
The Records of the Grand Historian written by Sima Qian, and The Book of Han written by Ban Gu are two famous historical books. Sima Qian, once the Prefect of the Grand Scribes and Chief of the Secretariat during the regime of Emperor Wudi, compiled China’s first general history. He assembled parts of previous historical books and the thought of many schools, made use of files collected by the State, and conducted field investigations and interviews. The book includes 130 chapters and more than 500,000 words, recording all major historical events during the 3,000 years from the legendary Huangdi to Emperor Wudi.
The Records of the Grand Historian marked a fresh start in documenting historical events, systems, human activities, and social changes. It combines multiple ways of recording, including Benji (biographical sketches of kings), Biao (tables), Shu (records of systems), Shijia (records of vassals), and Liezhuan (biographies), becoming the model for subsequent Chinese historians.
The Book of Han written by Ban Gu was the first book of dynastic history, offering detailed and in-depth descriptions about the social evolution of the Han Dynasty.
The achievements of literature in the Han Dynasty were best reflected in the creation of Fu and Yuefu. Fu is a rhymed prose style that combines the rational spirit of The Book of Odes prior to the Qin Dynasty with the romantic expression of the Chu odes. Fu attaches importance to expatiation, parallelism, and ornate language. Sima Xiangru and Yang Xiong were the most notable writers of Fu.
Yuefu was a musical department established during the reign of Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty. Poems collected, sorted, and recorded by the Yuefu department were called Yuefu poetry, which inherited and developed the excellent tradition of the folk songs in The Book of Odes with lively language and various forms.
The Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Emperor Shihuang of the Qin Dynasty showcase the outstanding artistic achievements of the Qin and Han dynasties with their exquisite artistic shapes and spectacular scale.
Nearly 10,000 terracotta warriors and horses have been found. The same size as real ones, all have different expressions and lively postures. The 14,000-square-meter No.1 pit holds a huge army: 6,000 terracotta warriors and horses, more than 40 chariots, and 160 war-horses. The army is “marching” eastward with the momentum of an avalanche, like a living army, reproducing the gallant manner of the Qin troops that bravely fought against the other six states in the central plains, manifesting the pioneering spirit of the time and the grandness of a unified empire.