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The Han dynasty (202 BC - AD 220) reunited the China after the Qin dynasty fell apart. The Han ruled China for forty years, which was divided into two periods: the earlier period Western Han and the later period Easter Han. Gaozu, who was the first king of the Han dynasty, was a minor official in Qin dynasty. He became a leader of a small group of soldiers and acquired territories. Overtime, his army expanded to large number. In 206 BC, Gaozu took the title as King of Han and he ended the Qin dynasty in 202 BC.
The Han period was, for good reason, associated with the victory of Confucianism. Where the Qin had given political support to Legalism, the Han gave it to Confucianism. (Ebrey, P. 75) After the Qin acrimonious governing, everyone welcomed Confucianism because the basis of Confucian ethics was the concept of love or goodness. The Han was one of most remarkable and proud period in Chinese History. The Chinese displayed their pride from Hans accomplishment by naming themselves the Han people.
During Han times, the Chinese extended the size of the state and population. Behind all the success of the Han dynasty, there was one of these people who took all the challenges and made the changes was the minister. Everyone thought that the cold, dark and hopeless winter was gone and now came a warm, bright and vigorous spring. Gaozu was their angel and rescued them from the hell of Qin dynasty, due to Gaozu relax the harsh law of Qin, reduced the land tax, which under the Qin was said to have been as high as two-third of the total produce, and kept court expenditure at a minimum. (The Economic Order, P. 31). Under those policies, the population increased and the nation recovered with success. Because of this, the minister respected and admired Gaozu.
He believed that Han dynasty would last forever and serve the government until he died. The minister did not care about the benefits that he could gain from being a minister and how the other people might or might not realize his abilities because serving the government was his honor. As Confucius said the gentleman feels bad when his capabilities fall short of some task. He does not feel bad if people fail to recognize him. (Confucian Teaching. P. 19) To become a minister, he needed to have a full of knowledge of governing, know most of the philosophy and conversant with history.
The King of Han appointed men on the basis of merit rather than birth, therefore the minister had to read most books of Daoism, Legalism, Mozi, other school of thought and especially Confucianism. In Han dynasty, it became widely accepted that officials should be men trained in the Confucian classics and respected for their character. (Ebrey P. 77) and Wudi and other Han rulers made use of Confucianism notions of the moral basis of superior (Ebrey, P. 65). For Confucianism, the minister had to read the Five Classics: Books of Change, Books of Documents, Book of Songs, Book of Rite, and Spring and Autumn Annual. One might have asked why the minister still needed to read the other thoughts since Han only supported Confucianism, it was because Han still preserved many feature of the Qin system such as the administrative division of the country and the central bureaucracy. The minister had to know some of the Legalism to work with the Qin system as well. Furthermore, Confucius said The gentleman reverse three things.
He reveres the mandate of Heaven; he reveres great people; and he reveres the words of sages. (Confucian Teaching, P. 18) Daoism, Legalism, Mozi and schools of thought were the words of sages either. The minister disagreed Gaozu thus began by rewarding his old comrades with large territories to govern as vassal state. (Ebrey, P. 64). This rewarding decentralized the power and put Han into situation like the early Zhou dynasty. The primary cause for the end of the Zhou dynasty was the decentralization and the territories had more military power than the central government.
Thus, Han could not repeat the same mistake as Zhou, but some officials would agree to this rewarding policy. Their view was that Gaozu had to trust his old comrades as they trusted him. The decentralization was successful with the first generation subordinates in the early Zhou dynasty, but not with the generation subordinates at the end of the Zhou dynasty. Therefore, it was the challenge for the early Han government to develop a form of centralized power that could secure order and dynastic stability without undue harshness. (Ebrey, P. 64) When Gaozu died in 195 BC, his throne passed peacefully to Wudi. Wudi realized that the decentralizing would cause a war or rebellion in the future, thus, he worked to re centralize government by confiscating the domain of princes and other lords and guaranteed that the lords heirs would diminish in size with each passing generation. Han faced the first major difficulty from the invasion by the barbarian who lived near the China.
The barbarian had annoyed every dynasty. The best way to solve this problem was conquering the barbarian and let them become a part of China. Campaigns were carried out to establish Chinese dominion along the northern and northwest border in Wudi's reign. Some officials said the campaigns expended the boundaries of the state, but it also increased governments the expenditure.
The minister did not completely agree with them. The campaigns cost a lot of expenditure but it was worth it. It brought long lasting peace to the residents who lived in the north. Furthermore, barbarian had to pay taxes to the government after conquering them, which helped increase the income of the Han dynasty. The second major difficulty was the influence of the imperial consort families and this started after the death of Gaozu. The widowed Empress Lu dominated politics and almost succeeded in taking the throne for her family.
This brought shame to the Han. Confucius believed that women should always keep away from politic and they should only stay at home to serve their families and husbands. Empress Lu reminded the minister the selection from Han Feizi, Legalist. In the selection, Han Feizi mentioned When a ruler placed great trust in his wife, then treacherous minister would make use of her to achieve their private ends. and When the mother of the ruler was the queen, all orders were carried out and all prohibitions were effective. She enjoyed male-female relations as much as when the previous ruler lived and could control all the power of a large state without raising suspicions. (Legalist Teaching, P. 34) In 9 AD, Wang Mang, a nephew of the empress, became a king.
Confucius said One cannot expect so much from a saying, but the people do have this maxim: to be a ruler is difficult; to be a minister is not easy. (Confucian Teaching. P. 21. ) A wise king still needed good and loyal ministers, who were like a bridge between the king and citizens, to help him. Being a good minister had to be a gentleman, have humanity and be loyal to the king. The Han minister should have a credit for Han became one of most successful and outstanding dynasty in Chinese history.
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