10. China’s Han Dynasty – The First Empire in Flames


In the early years of the third century around the Year 207 ad a Chinese poet by the named Cao Chi Made a journey back to the place of his birth a city called Luoyang At this time the lands of China were in chaos the armies of rival warlords Were now tearing the country apart and so his journey can’t have been an easy one South sure was the son of a powerful warlord in the central plains of China But he was also a notorious drunk He had embarrassed his family to such an extent that he was Exiled and he now returned to the only other place he knew his hometown of Luo, yang Luo, yang had once been a prosperous place for centuries Poets had written about its bustling life and its leafy avenues full of blossom leading up to grand palaces and temples decorated with thousands of bronze statues It had been the capital of China in the golden age of the Emperor’s which had lasted For more than 400 years But Hsiao had heard that Luo. Yang had suffered in the recent Wars Still when he came over the crest of the bay mang mountains to the north Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw stretching out beneath him The entire city of Luo. Yang was a blackened ruin Later he wrote a poem about what he saw Budem bay mom ban yawol law young Shan. I Climbed the ridge of bei mang mountains and look down on the city of lo, yang in low, yang hostilities palaces and houses or burnt ashes walls and fences all broken and gaping Thorns and brambles shooting up to the sky Oh boy fooled him Foot soldier the blackened ruins of lor yang became an emblem of the golden age that had now passed only decades before China had been ruled by a single emperor from a dynasty known as the Han and a period of prosperity a trained the Han were the first lasting dynasty to unite China under a single banner and People believed that this Golden Age would never end But now the poet South sure Walked among the ruins and ravaged fields of the former capital and felt his memories Rise up from the soot stained stones Jing Zhi Shan Santiam Booty and juicy Lao. I do not see elders from former days. I only see young men. I Turn aside for the straight road is lust the fields are overgrown and will never be plowed again. I have been away such a long time, but I do not know which streets is which Have sad and ugly. The empty fields are a thousand miles without the smoke of a chimney. I Think of the house I lived in all those years My breath catches and I cannot speak As he walked through those ruins South sure must have asked himself how Had the first great age of Imperial China come to such a devastating end why had the people of Luo yang left this city to burn and crumble into the earth and In all the centuries to come would the Golden Age of the Emperor’s ever return? You You My name’s Paul Cooper and you’re listening to the fall of civilizations podcast Each episode I look at a civilization of the past that rose to glory and then collapsed into the ashes of history. I Want to ask what did they have in common what led to their fall? And what did it feel like to be a person alive at the time who witnessed the end of their world? in this episode I want to look at the fascinating story of China’s Han Dynasty an Iron Age Kingdom that forged the first true imperial power in China, I want to tell the story of how this remarkable society rose out of the warring States of China’s Bronze Age and How it reached out its first tentative hands to make contact with the empires of the West Finally I want to explore what happened to bring the ornate palaces and towering temples of China’s first emperor z’ crashing down in ash and flame You If you’ve ever seen footage of a car crash in slow motion You’ll have some idea of what that looks like The two cars inching towards each other frame-by-frame The crash test dummies with their blank stares strapped securely into their seatbelts when the collision happens both cars crumple together solid metal rippling and buckling Our story starts with a car crash taking place in the slowest motion you can imagine Up until about 180 million years ago India was part of an immense super continent called Gondwana Which covered much of the southern hemisphere? but between about 180 million and 160 million years ago deep in the Earth’s liquid mantle an enormous plume of magma Rose up and began to shift the plates of the Earth’s crust above it Gondwana broke apart and the landmass that is now India tore away from it and out into the ocean India moved north slowly at first About five centimeters a year But then around 80 million years ago, it sped up Part of the reason for this is that the Indian plate is believed to be only about 70 to a hundred kilometers thick About half as thick as the other plates that made up Gondwana powered by the vast currents of molten rock beneath it this lighter plate now plowed northwards at a rate of 15 centimeters every year This is about the same rate as your hair grows But in terms of continental plates it was a speeding juggernaut Right in the path of this runaway plate was the continent of what is now Asia these two land masses hurtled together with the same inevitable force as those speeding cars and Somewhere between 70 to 35 million years ago the impact occurred Over millions of years inch by inch the Indian plate made contact with the mainland of Asia across an impact zone stretching for 2,000 kilometers the rock of the Asian plate began to crumple as The Indian plate was crushed beneath it Asia rocked and buckled and a great mountain range rose up the highest in the world These are the Himalayas This crash is still going on and behind the impact zone marked by the dramatic snow-capped peaks of the world’s tallest mountains The Earth’s crust has been pushed up like soil before a plow The result is a vast arid steppe a table of land Broken by salty lakes and glaciers and with an average altitude of over 4,500 metres the Tibetan Plateau The formation of this Plateau had a number of enormous effects for the climate of this region rain clouds from the Indian Ocean find it impossible to cross the Himalayas and So to the south the mountains create an enormous reservoir of cloud Bringing the yearly monsoon rains to India and Southeast Asia But behind the mountains to the north, the situation is quite different Here the Himalayas have created what’s called a rain shadow This is where barely any rain falls and where vast deserts have formed But it’s to the east of this plateau that our story really takes place and Where another unique landscape has been formed On its eastern edge the Tibetan Plateau drops off dramatically into a rolling mass of mountains and valleys and Finally into an enormous stretch of wide silty Plains These stretch for nearly 2,000 kilometers Between the snowy walls of the plateau in the West and the Pacific Ocean in the East These Plains are home to a number of enormous rivers The tens of thousands of glaciers in the highlands of the Tibetan Plateau Act as a kind of water tower releasing a steady flow of meltwater That cuts its way through the rocky mountain passes before spilling out into the plains in long meandering routes among these great water courses two of the most impressive are the Yellow River and the yanked see The Yangtze is the longest river in Asia and The third longest in the world after the Nile and the Amazon It flows for six thousand three hundred kilometres from the mountains to the sea from an altitude of five kilometres Right through the centre of what is today modern China? the Yangtze meanders through deep dramatic valleys and stone gorges and It’s a relatively peaceful and stable River the Yangtze has maintained a steady course for much of its history and Has discharged into the sea at the same point for the last 11 million years But to the north of the Yangtze is its sister the Yellow River and This waterway is far more changeable and deadly in its upper reaches the Yellow River passes through a region known as the Huang – or the yellow earth Plateau a landscape made up of some of the most easily eroded soil in the world as a result the Yellow River contains the highest amount of silt and sand of any River on earth and This colors it the distinctive yellow Brown that gives the river its name This huge quantity of silt gives the soil of the northern Chinese Plains an enormous fertility but it also creates a number of challenges as the river flows This silt constantly builds up at its bottom and the riverbed slowly Rises At times it can even rise to be higher than the land around it When this happens the river bursts its banks and floods vast areas of the countryside around it in The most dramatic cases the river can change its course entirely Sometimes sweeping across the landscape for hundreds of kilometers and washing away everything in its path Historically this kind of devastating event has occurred about once every hundred years Human activity has been verified in this region as far back as 27,000 years ago Rice first began to be cultivated along the Yangtze River around the year 8000 BC While wheat barley and millet were best suited to the drier lands in the north Farming of these calorie rich foods gave rise to an advanced culture known as the Yahoo Who experimented with written symbols on the walls of caves as early as? 7000 BC The first true villages were founded in the 4th and 5th millennia and the population of this region began to boom The Bronze Age brought the smelting of bronze from copper and tin and it began here around the Year three thousand BC a culture known as the longshan domesticated the water buffalo for use in fieldwork and they also developed the plow and Sophisticated irrigation techniques boosting the productivity of this already fertile land In the third and second millennia BC China’s first villages grew into towns and these towns into its first major cities In ancient Chinese conceptions of the world the lands between the Yangtze and the Yellow River were the heart of all goodness This was conveyed using the word qua Xie a word that contains a sense of grandness and beauty One ancient writer yin. Yue spells this out quite clearly Inside is the Chinese Empire and outside other barbarous nations The barbarians are covetous and greedy of gain Their hair hangs down over their bodies and their coats are buttoned on the left side They have human faces with the hearts of beasts The ancient Chinese believed that the further you moved away from this center the more the good qualities of the people faded One text calls the book of documents dated around 500 BC Contains a particularly precise version of this worldview It describes how the virtue of the lands inhabitants reduces in steady increments of five hundred Li or about 400 kilometers The further you get from the center The central 500 Li is the Imperial domain 500 Li beyond is the domain of the nobles and beyond that the domain of peace where they cultivate the lessons of learning and moral duties But as you move away from the capital in these increments of 400 kilometers things start to look a little different 500 Li more remote is the domain of restraint The first 300 is occupied by the tribes The other 200 by criminals who have been banished the most remote 500 Li is the wild domain In the south. These wild domains were the hilly lands south of the Yangtze and The people there were what the early Chinese the southern barbarians to the west the wild domain was the icy plateau where few could survive and in the north it was the Gobi Desert and beyond that the wide grassy steppes of Mongolia and Siberia a Fifth-century Mongolian poet named Alton would later write a description of this bear and level land Under the dark mountains where the sky is like the sides of a tents Stretched down over the great step The sky is gray gray and the steppe wide wide Over the grass that the wind has battered low sheep and oxen roam So this is where the people of early China found themselves hemmed in by the mountains to the west the jungle and the sea to the south and east and the harsh deserts to the north but within their fertile square of land their early civilizations flourished The first millennium BC in China Was a time of rapid change and feverish invention the lands large population had led to the swift development of complicated society and advanced technologies soon followed The people here learned to coat bronze in chromium to increase its resistance to corrosion and Inventions like the blast furnace and bellows later led to the production of cast iron replacing bronze as a cheaper alternative In agriculture iron tools and mechanical devices like the multiple seed drill led to a production boom the invention of complicated pulley systems and differential gears allowed the use of water wheels and other mechanical devices to power everything from flour mills to furnaces and They also allowed the invention of ingenious mechanical toys one early Emperor was buried with an entire mechanical Orchestra that could play their instruments and sing through pipes in their mouths all powered by running water One kind of vehicle was even invented known as a south-pointing chariot It had a mechanical gear system onboard Powering a device that always pointed south without the use of magnets The crossbow was invented during this time, too And it was in widespread use in Chinese armies nearly 2,000 years before it became a fixture on European battlefields Examples have even been found of repeating crossbows Which used delicate mechanisms to fire multiple bolts in quick succession? without the need for reloading one chinese inventor even invented an early form of pinhole camera in order to view solar eclipses This era of development and ingenuity is known as the spring and autumn period but with the rapid development of technology upheaval soon followed The spreading use of iron meant the production of weapons and armor had become cheap and easy large armies could now be supplied by anyone with the wealth to do so and this assured in an age quite fittingly known as the warring States period The period of the warring States saw countless feudal kingdoms fighting and conquering one another coalescing together like beads of mercury on a table The historian suma Chen recalls this as a dark time in Chinese history The land was torn by the strife of the warring kingdoms Men honored deceit and power and scoffed at benevolence and righteousness They put wealth and possessions first and courtesy and humility last Some commoners became so rich that their wealth was counted in the hundreds of millions While among the poor there were those who could not even get enough dregs and chaff to fill their bellies Soon they had settled into seven large kingdoms locked in constant competition Among these the two that matter most to our story are the kingdoms of Han and the kingdom of chin For some it must have seemed like the wars would never end But out of the violence of this time One of the seven warring states the state of Qin rose to eclipsed all the others Chin was the farthest west of these kingdoms with its back to the steep walls of the Tibetan Plateau The king of Qin a man named Qin Shi Huang was an enthusiastic reformer who revolutionized his kingdoms society and administration he moved to reduce the power of aristocrats and landowners and Strengthened the central government of Qin to collect taxes directly from the peasantry The Qin also used the latest military tactics making an unprecedented use of cavalry Still a relative rarity in Chinese armies To mount guerrilla raids on their enemy’s supply lines and river crossings for years Qin Shihuang bided his time and increased his power and When all his preparations were ready he struck with lightning speed He first attacked the Han the Chin’s much smaller neighbor Directly to the east and he took their capital of Xinjiang in the Year to 30 BC Next Qin Shihuang struck northward at the state of Jiao who surrendered two years later and He took the northernmost state of yarn two years after that In less than a decade after setting out on his campaign, Qin Shihuang Had conquered all the lands between the mountains and the sea For the first time in its history One man would now rule over all the kingdoms of China Qin Shihuang crowned himself as China’s first emperor He declared that he held his position through a kind of divine authority the Chan Ming or the Mandate of Heaven and It’s thought that the name of the Qin Dynasty is what has given us the word for China today For the most part Qin Shihuang ruled his Empire just as he had ruled his kingdom it was a reign of ambitious reforms and Territorial expansion that saw the young Empire of China grow even further But the Emperor Qin’s reign was also not without its troubles He suffered three separate assassination attempts narrowly escaping each time But these attacks filled him with paranoia He became terrified of death and soon began to tour the whole empire Talking to all the wise men He could find and trying to discover some secret Some medicine or magic spell that would allow him to live forever as His life wore on and his health got worse His search became desperate He began to execute scholars whose potions and elixirs had no effect on him At one point he even sent a fleet of ships out into the ocean carrying hundreds of young men and women in search of the legendary pang lamenting which was supposed to lie somewhere out in the southern sea and where he believed a thousand-year-old magician might live These people never returned perhaps wisely considering how Qin Shihuang treated those who failed him During these later years The Emperor became mortally afraid of evil spirits And he had workers build a series of tunnel and passageways Between each of his more than 200 palaces Believing that if he traveled unseen, they would find it more difficult to target him Soon this paranoia turned into tyranny He turned his rage against the scholars who were unable to unlock the secrets of eternal life At one point it’s even recorded that he burned the books kept in the libraries of the capital as the historian Sumathi yin recalls with bitterness The Confucian scholars loathe the Qin for having burned the book of ODEs and the book of documents and Mercilessly put to death the scholars who expanded them While the common people hated its harsh laws so that the whole world rose up in rebellion At this time everyone began to speak ill of the Qin During his fourth tour of eastern China the Emperor became seriously ill It’s thought that his court physicians had been giving him pills full of the liquid metal mercury believing that it would extend his life of Course mercury is actually highly poisonous Prolonged exposure can damage the entire nervous system causing depression and bodily tremors as well as delirium and hallucinations if Qin Shihuang was taking mercury this might explain some of his strange preoccupations towards the end of his life When the emperor fell ill it seems likely that his doctors would have increased his dosage the first emperor of China, Qin Shihuang Died in the year 210 BC and his dynasty died with him For all of its immense historical significance the Qin Dynasty barely lasted more than fifteen years The first emperor, Qin Shihuang left very specific requests for his burial and To this day, they stand as a testament to his greatness But also to the madness that played him in later life He was buried in a vast mausoleum one of the most remarkable constructions of the ancient world it was built in the form of an enormous underground Palace an Exact replica of the one he lived in during his life This buried Palace was filled with life-sized models of the courtiers and bureaucrats who had served the king fashioned with meticulous detail in terracotta their lifeless eyes Open and staring forever The Buried Palace was also guarded by an army of thousands of terracotta soldiers each with a slightly different face In total, it’s estimated that Qin Shihuang was buried with 8,000 soldiers 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 soldiers on horseback a Full retinue of royal bodyguards to protect their king in the next life There was even a replica of the Imperial stables Where the bodies of real horses were buried with terracotta figures of grooms kneeling beside them nearby a mass burial ground has been found for the countless slave laborers who died while being forced to build this complex at The center of the underground palace was the Emperor’s burial chamber the historian Sumathi Yin Describes how the floor was painted to look like the lands of China with its rivers represented by flowing streams of mercury the Tomb was filled with rare artifacts and wonderful treasure Craftsmen were ordered to make cross bows and arrows primed to shoot anybody who enters the tomb? Mercury was used to simulate the hundred rivers the young say the Yellow River and the Great Sea and set to flow mechanically Above were representations of the heavenly constellations below the features of the land While the tomb of Qin Shihuang has never been opened Studies have shown that the soil of the mound that covers it does contain an unusually high concentration of mercury One study even claims to show that the distribution of the mercury in the mound corresponds to the position of China’s rivers The Empire of China was still a very new idea and during Qin Shih Huang’s life It had been a thin veneer over a still very divided land With the death of the first emperor the Empire looked as if it might come crashing down the qin state began to fall apart and china Fissured into 18 kingdoms who once again began to war among themselves It looked like the old age of chaos was about to return But history had other plans and this is due to a rather unassuming character a common man named leo bang There’s not much to distinguish leo bang during his early life He was born in the kingdom of Han and it’s recorded that he liked to drink Nevertheless he rose to the position of a local sheriff after the death of Qin Shihuang He was ordered to bring a group of slaves to the enormous construction site where the old Emperor’s tomb was being built But along the way some of these slaves escaped Liu bang knew that when he arrived he would likely be punished for this mistake and So he made a remarkable decision He broke the chains of all the remaining slaves and declared that he would rather fight as a rebel against the Empire Then deliver them up to toil on the Emperor’s tomb Many of the slaves were so grateful. Did they took up arms and joined him? Liu bang and his followers took refuge at a place called mount, mang dang Setting up camp in the crumbling ruins of an old fortress From there. They watched the Empire of the Qin fall apart around them They soon entered the service of a rebel king Fighting what remained of the Qin Empire and Leo bang showed extraordinary scale on the battlefield So much so that the ancient historians Sumathi Yin attributes his military success to supernatural causes When Liu bang was still a commoner He once killed a great snake Whereupon a spirit appeared and announced this snake was the son of the white Emperor And he who killed him is the son of the red Emperor? When he first began his uprising he offered prayers at the altar of the soil at the city of Fang He sacrificed to the warrior god chi Yu and anointed his drums and flags with the blood of the sacrifice Whatever it was that set him apart leo bang managed to capture the chin city of Xian yang for the rebellion and he was crowned its king as a reward the civil wars raged on full of complicated alliances and rivalries Until finally it was only Liu bang and his rival of the true family remaining Two great warlords dividing all the lands of China between them Along the great water course of the Hong Canal In China to this day, the two sides of a chessboard are referred to not as black and white but as Chu and Han a few months of peace passed by as the players of this great chess game considered their moves and Then Liu bang marched across the Han canal and attacked the Chu He was victorious and Against all the odds after eight years of bitter fighting China was once more United In the year 202 BC the common olio bang Once our lowly sheriff from a small town Declared himself the next Emperor of China he would return to his small hometown in the state of Han only once and When he did, he wrote the following piece of poetry In seyoung a great wind came forth the clouds rose on high Wage a high Nishi quite cool Zhang now that my mind rules all within the seas I have returned to my old village under a mansion she shows so far Where will I find brave men to guard the four corners of my land on? His coronation Liu bang took the name Han because of its relation to his home province He set up his court in the city of Chang’an and took the new imperial name Pankow sue the age of the Han had begun I’ll take just a moment here to discuss the sources we have available on this era of Chinese history The Chinese of the Han period were exceptionally literate It’s thought that even in these early years At least one person from every family would have been familiar with at least a few hundred characters enough to get by with everyday things like calendars simple letters and official announcements at this point paper had yet to be invented and So books of this period were written on strips of flattened bamboo joined together with thread into long Clattering rows that could be rolled up into cylinders and wrapped in cloth These books of bamboo slats are part of the reason that Chinese was traditionally written from top to bottom From the earliest days colleges were set up for the nobility and charitable schools for the poor and the Emperor’s supported scribes and scholars in writing grand historical chronicles as A result even these early periods of Chinese history are very well documented One of the most remarkable of these documents was written in the first century BC By the chief astrologer to the imperial court a man named suma Chen Who we’ve heard from a few times already? This book is known as the records of the grand historian It’s a vast chronicle documenting Chinese history over a period of two thousand years It begins in the age of the Yellow Emperor the legendary ancestral father of all Chinese people Sumer Chen is a lively and colorful Storyteller and he loves to put direct speeches into the mouths of his characters But it’s worth introducing a note of caution where reading his work and the other works of Chinese history Suma Chen wrote his records mostly during the reign of the Emperor Wu and so he presents a typically flattering account of that Emperor acting as a kind of official propaganda but he was also a shrewd judge of human nature and Employed one interesting trick to allow some criticism of various official personalities to seep through Each of his chapters was named after a particular person and he knew that the various lords and ladies And even the Emperor himself were unlikely to read any chapter of his work other than the ones dedicated to themselves Suma, Chen would fill these chapters with praise and flattery and he would leave any criticism to other chapters But it’s clear. This didn’t always work There’s only one chapter of the records that has not survived to this day That’s the one focusing on the Emperor Wu himself It’s impossible to know whether Sumar Chen never wrote this section out of fear of his ruler or if the Emperor read something in those pages that he Didn’t like and had the document destroyed Another incredibly useful document is the Honshu or the book of Han This was written in the first century AD by a court official named Bangu and his sister Banjo Who is the first known female historian of China? Like virtually all histories that followed the Han Xu was modeled on Sumathi ends work It records Chinese history from the reign of the first Han Emperor Pankau Su up to the Year 23 ad it’s usually the best source and sometimes the only source for events during this period and A final major text is the one written by Fanny a a historian and politician of the fifths this is the who Honshu or the book of later Han and it covers the remainder of the Han period Up until the year to 20 a day While the previous book of Han was written by contemporaries who witnessed at least some of the events described Fanny a wrote the book of later Han from a distance of nearly 200 years He used a number of earlier histories and documents as sources, but we should always bear this in mind That he was about as distant from these events as we are from the Napoleonic war So alongside a number of other smaller sources these are the texts we have to work with as we’ll find out these scholars were supervised and sometimes terrorized by their Emperor’s meaning that their accounts have to be supported with archaeological and other evidence but thanks to their diligent scholarship a clearer picture does begin to emerge of What happened to bring China’s first great dynasty crashing down When the Han Dynasty Came into possession of the newly United China in the year 206 BC it inherited from the Qin Not just the young Empire, but also the empires problems Sumer Chen writes about this in the records of the grand historian When the han dynasty came to power it inherited the evils left by the Qin The able-bodied men were all away with the army while the old and underaged busily transported supplies for them There was much hard work and little wealth the son of heaven himself could not find for horses of the same color to draw his carriage and Many of his generals were reduced to riding around in ox carts The Empire’s economy was on its knees with prices spiraling out of control and in the midst of all the Rich merchants were taking advantage of the high prices of grain People who were intent on making a profit by underhanded means Began to hoard their wealth buying up the commodities on the market so that the price of goods shot up But easily the most pressing problem was the constant looming threat of China’s fearsome neighbors to the north These were people known as the Sheung knew a word that is sometimes translated into English as hun Around the Year 6000 BC the people of the Eurasian steppes had learned how to tame wild horses and In the intervening millennia had developed a symbiotic relationship with that powerful animal They lived nomadic lifestyles traveling on horseback in vast populations moving from grazing lands to grazing land and living without the need for agriculture By at least the 1st millennium BC these nomadic groups of horse riders had become a military threat to the settled societies of the Chinese plains The records of the grand historian gives one description of the Shang new people The song knew a mountain barbarians They move about in search of water and pasture and have no walled cities or fixed dwellings Nor do they engage in any kind of agriculture. They wear clothes of hide or wraps made of felt or fur They have no writing and even their promises and agreements are only verbal The little boys start out by learning to ride sheep and shoot birds and rats with a bow Thus all the young men are able to act as armed cavalry in time of war It’s clear that the settled armies of the Chinese Despite all their technological advantages found these nomadic armies Incredibly difficult to fight the records of the grand historian speaks with particular contempt about the battle tactics of these nomadic warriors The battles going well for them, they will advance but if not they’ll retreat for they do not consider it a disgrace to run away Their only concern is self advantage and then a nothing of propriety or righteousness The kingdoms that bordered the lands of the Xiong nu were under constant threat of raids and invasions Faced with this danger. The Chinese had for centuries resorted to desperate measures From as early as the 7th century BC they began building walls to defend the valleys and plains of the north During his reign the first emperor Qin Shihuang had approached this problem with a characteristic boldness He ordered that these scattered fragments of wall be joined together closing any gaps by the time he died in the year 210 BC a Single defensive barrier now ran the whole length of the Empire’s northern border For a time this offered some measure of protection but at the same time that the Han Dynasty was being formed all the disparate tribes of the Xiong nu Were also coming together They joined forces under the rule of a single ruler who took the title of shun you This word shun. You would change over the centuries to one day become the title of Khan The title that would be taken by the fearsome Jenga Scarn Taken together the vast wastes that the Xiong nu ruled over were the largest empire in terms of landmass on earth at the time and As the new Empire of China rose in the river Plains this xiang yu was preparing for war After the death of qin shi huang and the civil war that followed The shun you spotted his chance Xiong nu horsemen poured into any Chinese territory that lay to the north of the border wall With every Chinese army tied down they met with no resistance When the Empire was restored under Han cow, sue the Xiang Yu became more cautious for a time But it was only five years into the reign of the Han that he struck again The Emperor honk out sue was nearing the age of sixty when the armies of Xiong nu horsemen thundered into the province of Shaanxi Looting and burning cities as they went Han katsu was a confident military leader and rightly, so He had defeated all his rivals in the Civil War and he knew how to command an army But he was about to find out that fighting the Swift and mobile cavalry hordes of the Xiong nu Was a very different kind of challenge Han katsu marched out to meet the shun you but in the rocky mountain passes He was struck with an ambush with no warning young no cavalry poured down the valley sides with the thundering of thousands of hooves and Tore into the Chinese army on all sides The ancient Chinese poet qu yuan writing in the 3rd century BC records what a battle during this time must have felt like The enemy roll up like clouds Arrows full thick the Warriors, press forward. They Menace our ranks. They break our line The horse on the left is dead. The one on the right is smitten The fallen horses block our wheels. They beat the sounding drums The Warriors are all dead They lie on the field their swords lie beside them their black bows in their hand Russia won o fan ping around for she launched. How young The emperor han katsu was utterly defeated He retreated back to the walled city of by Deng locked the gates and peered fearfully from the city’s ramparts the Xiong nu Encircled the city and besieged it We can imagine the dust that the thousands of horses would have thrown up and the low drumming of their hooves Sounding through the earth Pankau su had only a limited supply of food and it looked in that moment like the Han Dynasty Was about to be an even shorter reign than even the Qin before them But after seven days of the siege some creative diplomacy at the Chinese Court came through Spies had been sent to bribe the wife of the Shan Yu and Bring him to the cheating table The siege was lifted and the emperor han katsu was allowed to return to his capital a much humbled, man From this point on he abandoned the idea of a military solution to the barbarian problem Instead he pursued a policy of diplomacy and appeasement This policy was known as Ho Chi in or the marriage alliance It saw Imperial China pay vast amounts of tribute to the Xiong nu in the form of what they called imperial gifts These were fixed amounts of silk wine Rice and other kinds of food that the Xiong nu couldn’t grow in their barren lands But the treaty also carried with it a more humiliating condition the Han Emperor was forced to send his eldest daughter to marry the Xiang Yu and Every time a new Xiang Yu came to power in the Barbarian kingdoms The treaty stated that he would be given a Chinese princess as a wife For the next hundred years or so, this would be the policy of the Han Empire in Exchange the Xiong nu agreed to stop their raids on the borders of the Empire and for a time an uneasy peace set in but for a number of reasons that peace wasn’t to last The piece brought about by this compromise assured in some measure of stability and Imperial China began to take on a more stable and prosperous form even with the exorbitant tributes it paid to the Shang know as The Year 130 bc approached china had become a wealthy land the historian zuma chen recalls this time of plenty The granaries in the cities and the countryside were full and the government Treasuries were running over with wealth in The capital the strings of coins had been stacked up by the hundreds of millions Until the cords that bound them had rotted away and they could no longer be counted in The central granary the grain overflowed and piled up outside where it spoiled and became unfit to eat But suma Chen also writes with something of a melancholy note that trouble was already approaching on the horizon It has ever been the law of change though when things reach their period of greatest Flourishing they must begin to decay Part of the reason for this is that han cows whose policy of appeasing the Xiong nu was no longer protecting the Empire? Large armies of horsemen were now regularly raiding deep into the northern provinces At one point even coming as close as a hundred and sixty kilometers from the imperial capital During the reign of Emperor Jing more than ten thousand citizens living in the border regions Were abducted and taken away to live as slaves One poet and politician of the time named Chiayi wrote with bitterness about what he saw as the Empire’s humiliation The situation of the Empire may be described just like a person hanging upside down The Sun of heaven is the head of the Empire. The barbarians are the feet of the Empire But the Xiang Noah are arrogant and insolent on the one hand and invade and plunder Us on the other hand yet each year. We provide them with money silk floss and fabrics And so the feet are put on top and the head at the bottom Hanging upside down like this is something beyond comprehension Gie and others like him were largely ignored by the rest of the Chinese Court Many nobles still remembered the ambush and defeat of the Emperor Han cow Sue and his narrow escape at by den They feared the Xiong nu and preferred to continue the policy of appeasement Despite this there was a small but vocal faction beginning to form at court who wanted to see China fight But it wasn’t until the reign of an emperor named Wu that they began to get people’s attention In his later life the Emperor Wu cut an imposing figure Traditional portraits show him as a broad man built like a barrel and wrapped in swathe of Imperial blue silk He’s painted with a furrowed brow and a delicate mustache framing a thick black beard but when he came to the throne in the year 141 BC Wu was only 16 years old What he lacked in age he made up for in tenacity Wu sat on the imperial throne For 54 years a record that would remain unbroken in china for nearly two millennia Over this time he let Han China through a period of rapid centralizing reform he founded an imperial university to train young scholars and he and developed an organization known as the Imperial music Bureau, which was in charge of cultural matters relating to music and poetry but All of this would be useless if he couldn’t solve the problem of the strong new threat in the year 133 BC at the age of 24 the Emperor Wu Summoned a council to decide what should be done for The first time the words of the pro-war faction at court resonated with the young ruler Who decided on a bold and aggressive new strategy the Han Empire would no longer cower behind its walls? Instead it would confront the Xiong nu head-on Whose plan was to lure the ruling Shan Yu South with his army and into a carefully laid trap It was an incredibly risky plan and it relied on total secrecy the bait in this trap would be a city called myyy a wealthy frontier town that acted as a trading post between china and the north and deserts To help with the deception the Chinese hired the services of a local trader and smuggler He crossed over into the Xiong nu lands and asked for an audience with the fearsome Xiang Yu We can imagine the Xiang Yu sitting on his throne in a large tent made of stretched yak skin surrounded by crackling gracious twirling his long moustache The smuggler would have bowed deeply and delivered the speech. He must have been rehearsing on the whole journey he said that he had killed the town magistrate of myyy and Taken over its government He said he was willing to offer the whole city up to become part of the Xiong nu Empire if the shan-yu would only come and take it The shan-yu was ecstatic he agreed to ride out immediately and claim the city of my Yi It seemed like the Chinese plan was going perfectly But the further the Xiang Yu marched into the Chinese lands the more he began to feel that something wasn’t right His horsemen met with little resistance and as he got closer to my Yi He began to notice how empty the roads were in the fields outside the city He saw herds of cattle, but no herdsmen guarding them The Xiang Yu ordered his men to halt and sent out scouts They managed to capture a Han soldier and under interrogation this man told them what waited nearby the massed force of the entire Han Empire 300 thousand infantry and chariots Concealed and waiting for him to step into their trap The Xiang Yu immediately ordered a retreat With the ambush betrayed the Han forces burst out of hiding and tried to chase him But the infantry could never keep pace with the Xiong nu Horses and the Xiang Yu fled back to his lands without losing a single man he must have been shaking with rage when he crossed back into the desert and he resolved to get his revenge he immediately ordered a devastating series of raids on Chinese border towns Pillars of black smoke must have risen over the horizon for weeks The Chinese ambush had failed The mood at the imperial court darkened and the pro-war faction was blamed for the failure But the Chinese now had no other option with their intentions revealed. They would have to go to war The records of the grand historian recalls what happened next After the unsuccessful attempt to ambush the Xiong nu at Mei Peaceful relations came to an end and the barbarians began to invade and plunder at the northern border Armies had to be dispatched time and again and could not be disbanded causing extreme hardship to the Empire In order to fight this war the Han knew that they would have to change their tactics The armies of infantry and chariots Effective in the civil wars fought in the river plains were now all but abandoned the war chariot was next to useless in the rocky terrain of the far north and Infantry moved too slowly in the wide-open deserts Instead the Chinese shifted their focus to cavalry They would now develop large armored horse units to match their Shung new enemies the Emperor Wu Recognized that the horse was the weapon of this new age of warfare And so he made securing a reliable supply of trained war horses a major focus of his government He would eventually maintain a supply of 300 thousand horses But even these were not enough the government began loaning breeding horses to farmers for a period of three years in exchange for a portion of some of the foals they gave birth to They even introduced a policy that allowed a family To excuse up to three of their male members from military service if they presented one horse to the government Soon this policy began to pay off as the records of the grand historian recalls The Han generals every year led forces of 20 or 30,000 cavalry in attacks on the barbarians The only use of chariots that continued in the Han Army was that of heavily armored chariots That acted like mobile fortresses These could be deployed to any part of the battlefield and arranged in a ring formation. So that archers and crossbowmen Could be shielded from the cavalry charges of the Xiong nu The war for the North raged on for decades But for a number of reasons the Han slowly began to gain the upper hand For one thing the desert country behind the wall had only a strategic importance to the Han But it had great economic importance to the Xiong nu as shown by one imperial edict celebrating the victories of a cavalry commander in the north The general of the Swift cavalry led forth the troops at mount qu UN Ascending the hills and gazing out across the sea of sand He executed the enemy leader cutting down his pennants and seizing his war drums he seized a great multitude of the enemy taking 70,000 captives snatched the food supplies of the enemy and penetrated deep into their territory The Xiong nu Empire was built out of trade taxis and tribute paid to them by weaker kingdoms and As the war dragged on they began to suffer a downturn in all three They had to raise taxes on the regions that remained under their control and their population grew resentful Soon more and more of the smaller tribes in the Xiong nu coalition began to question whether they had backed the losing side as the years of war dragged on Marginal kingdoms began to peel away and the trajectory of the war became clear It’s at this point that a narrow strip of land between the Tibetan Plateau and the Gobi Desert Began to become an important part of this story This place is known as the Hershey corridor Today the Hershey corridor is the site of China’s g30 highway in gansu province Standing on this long and lonely stretch of motorway today with cars zipping along it through the desert It’s hard to imagine that this was once a major battlefield in a war for the very existence of the Chinese state If you were a Chinese trader who wanted to make the lucrative journey to the west You had a very limited number of options the Tibetan Plateau was an impassable barrier Along the whole length of the Empire while in the South there were heavily forested mountains and impassable unmapped jungles To the north there was the desert which would spell certain death to any travelers foolish enough to try to cross it But there was one way through This was a narrow stretch of land. Where the Tibetan Plateau Finally drops off to the north and looks out over the Gobi Desert Water running down from the hills has created a number of fertile oases at the foot of the mountains providing fresh water and rest for travelers on this dangerous journey i’ll post some maps of this region on twitter and patreon in case you’re having trouble visualizing this The Hershey corridor stretching for 1,200 kilometers is the only possible route to the west in the north of China and So anyone who controlled the corridor controlled the flow of trade from one side of the mountains to the other? For centuries now the Xiong nu and other nomadic tribes had grown rich from taxing this trade But now the Hershey corridor was the battlefront of the bitter and grinding war for the north For the Chinese the logistical challenges of conducting a war across this desert landscape were enormous This letter sent to a later Emperor by one of his counselors describes in detail the difficulty of supplying an army in the Behrend Xiong nu lands The land is for the most part sandy insult with scarcity of water and plant life And before the army has been out a hundred days. The oxen will all die out While the quantity of provisions still left will be more than the men can carry The country is very cold in the ottoman winter and exposed to high winds in the spring and summer Which would necessitate a vast amount of pots and boilers firewood and charcoal a weight That would be utterly unmanageable There would be a want of dried food and water to drink and the cares consequent on sickness and epidemics among the troops The Xiong nu were also masters of hit-and-run tactics and would attack Chinese supply lines whenever they could and So as they pushed the Xiong nu back along the Hershey corridor the Han did what they did best They built walls The hon extended the existing segments of their great wall, so that it now ran the whole length of the corridor Creating a fortified highway between the wall and the mountains guarded by garrisoned forts The book of Han recalls the construction of this enormous defensive work The roads were skirted with lookout towers cities were built outside the wall and military colonies were established for protection These sections of wall weren’t the elegant snaking lines of stone walls that you’re probably imagining When you think of the words Great Wall of China? The most famous sections that always appear in photographs were built much later after the 14th century The Han era walls were rough-and-ready constructions made of rammed earth They were built using frames of Rose willow and layers of rushes filled with desert clay and gravel Packed together and left to dry in the Sun But they were immensely effective these walls have also withstood over 2,000 years of erosion in the elements of the Gobi Desert and many of them still stand magnificent against the barren desert or Post some images of these walls and some maps on patreon for you to picture this for yourself every 5 kilometres along the wall a beacon tower stood usually about seven meters high if Enemy troops were sighted the men in the beacon towers would light a fire Designed to produce smoke by day or light by night This cry for help would be passed on in both directions along the wall and a hand Cavalry army would soon be dispatched to meet the threat These walls completely neutralized the Shang news fast mobile tactics and Restricted their ability to move around the landscape This final move by the Han slowly choked the life from the Xiang new war machine In the early decades of the 1st century BC the Xiong nu truly began to fall apart Former members declared independence and joined the Han in carving up its territories By 60 BC they had split into five groups that engaged in a series of suicidal civil wars in 53 BC the Xiang Yu sent his son to China as a hostage and two years later He went in person to the Chinese Court to deliver his surrender It had taken more than 80 years since the Emperor was failed ambushed at my Yi But the war against the Xiong nu had been a remarkable success If you were a Chinese merchant around this time You could now travel along a secure and well maintained road along the whole length of the Hershey corridor Eventually you would reach the end of the hand fortifications which ended at a wide portal known as the u-men pass or the Jade gate This was the exit gate to the lands of China and beyond it. Lay the wide unknown world if You stepped through the Jade gate. You would see a vast desert of shifting sands Stretching out ahead of you This is the Taklamakan desert which fills an enormous? geographical feature known as the Tarim basin The Tarim Basin is easily visible from space It’s an enormous flat oval cut out of the Tibetan So a great sandy eye in the very center of the Asian continent Today this desert is in the very west of modern China in the province of Xinjiang on its border with Afghanistan Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan and Kashmir Today half the people of the Tarim Basin and the province of Xinjiang Belong to the Weger ethnicity who are still a persecuted ethnic minority The music you’re hearing now is a traditional song of the weaker people Recorded in the ancient races town of tor pond For millennia this kind of music has drifted over the shifting sands of this desert while trade caravans passed by in their thousands But for the Chinese of the time this wild area beyond their walls Was known only as the western regions The Taklamakan desert is the world’s second-largest Shifting sands desert with over 85% of it made up of dramatic sand dunes Crossing the desert itself is very difficult So trade caravans often made up of Bactrian camels Wood skirt along its edges in the shadow of the snowy mountains that make up the rim of the basin All of these caravans met on the far side of the desert in the ancient trading city of kashgar where a famous stone tower stood Here Chinese merchants would reach the end of their journey They would sell their goods here to merchants who came from the other side of the mountains From the exotic and distant land to the west and who knew the routes through the dangerous paths into Pakistan and Afghanistan Many goods originating in China passed West in this way, even before any diplomatic contact was made Tea was one of these products as well as fine items of carved jade and the newly developed technology of porcelain But by far the most valued of Chinese exports was a miracle material that was of immense value to all the people of the world that Material was silk Silk is a natural protein fiber produced by the larvae of a particular kind of moth During their larval stage these moths are called silkworms They like nothing better than to chew on the green leaves of a tree known as the white mulberry People as early as the year 3600 BC have recognized the potential for this remarkable material At first people would go out into the forest and harvest wild silk from the trees But soon more purposeful cultivation of silkworms began Over the centuries of breeding by humans. The silkworm has become a domesticated species compared to its wild cousins domesticated silkworms have increased in size digest more efficiently than wild silkworms They lay more eggs and spin larger silk cocoons and have become more tolerant of handling by humans All of this means that they’ve increased their soak production capacity tenfold But unfortunately for the silkworm larvae, they will never reach adulthood When they enter the cocoon phase of their lifecycle They are killed either lowered into boiling water or pierced with a needle The whole cocoon is then painstakingly? unraveled Generating a single unbroken thread that can be spun and turned into fabric It can take up to 2,000 cocoons to make one silk dress But silk was so soft and smooth Shimmering in the light and holding resplendent colors that it was immediately in enormous demand all over the world Outside of China silk was worth many times its weight in gold The Han Chinese may have been surprised to know just how far their textiles traveled Julius Caesar famously wore a silk cloak to the theater and began a fashion craze among the Roman nobility the Egyptian queen Cleopatra was an avid collector of silk items and silk has also been found in Viking graves We’ve even found traces of silk in the hair of an Egyptian mummy of the 21st dynasty dating to around 1070 BC After taking the Hershey corridor the Han chased the Xiong nu out of the western regions They soon absorbed these sandy cities into their empire these towns clinging to the edge of this vast desert basin Soon the whole of the western regions was under hand control And for the first time China was in charge of its own trade routes to the west By the end of the first century BC The territory of Han China had taken on a strange shape It now comprised the large central plains around the Yangtze and Yellow River but it also included the western regions in the Tarim basin and These two areas were joined by the narrow chain of the Hershey corridor It was an unusual shape for an empire but the size of the Han territories had now more than doubled a Han had also ground down those people who they called the southern barbarians Who lived in the hilly country south of the Yangtze? The Han now occupied lands right up to the borders of modern Vietnam Han China was now one of the largest empires on earth and The other great powers of the world were beginning to pay attention as the records of the grand historian recalls All the barbarians of the distant west craned their necks to the east and Longed to catch a glimpse of china The emperor wu had transformed the empire from a frightened and unstable entity into a confident Imperial state but in his old age He became plagued with the same kind of paranoia as the Emperor Qin nearly a hundred years before He began doling out excessive punishments to members of the court who he believed were spreading rumors about him The most tragic case is the punishment of Samar Chen The old historian who spent his life writing his texts the records of the grand historian Which we’ve already heard so much from in this episode one of sumerians friends a General fighting in the north was captured in battle with the Xiong nu and he was denounced as a by the Emperor only One man stood up to defend him in the imperial court that man was too much yen The emperor wu was enraged by this and he sentenced the old historian to death It was expected that any member of the court would take their own life before the sentence was carried out But too much yen refused he wanted to finish his great historical work before he died In the end the Emperor commuted his sentence to only the second most severe punishment To be castrated and turned into a eunuch After the cruel sentence was carried out Sumathi yen was given a role as a palace secretary and it’s here that he finished the work that stands as the only great record of the reign of emperor wu as the Emperor’s mental state deteriorated more similarities with the Emperor Qin began to arise He also toured the country talking to wise men and searching fruitlessly for the secret to eternal life Whether he also started taking mercury pills is unknown But in the year 88 BC the Emperor Wu fell suddenly ill He died a year later at the age of 69 One ancient poem called the Duan the garlic leaf was often sung at the burial of the kings and Princes of China and we can imagine that it may have been sung at the funeral of Emperor Wu How swiftly it dries the dew on the garlic leaf the dew that dries so fast Tomorrow will fall again But he whom we carried to the grave Will Nevermore return? The palace women would have wept and the court held a solemn wake The king was first placed in a bath of ice To help preserve his body and then he was wrapped in fine silks Pearls were put into his mouth and his body was completely Covered in a suit made of small plates of the precious stone Jade sewn together with gold thread He was placed in a great coffin carved from catalpa wood painted crimson red and adorned with ivory covered with designs of dragons tigers and the Sun and Moon while eunuchs stood by Guarding his body with weapons The emperor wu had turned the Empire of Han into one of the largest and most powerful societies on earth But he had fallen to the same curse of paranoia and tyranny he wasn’t the first Chinese emperor to fall prey to this fate and As we’ll see he was also far from the last As Is so often the case after the long rule of a successful king The reign of emperor wu was followed by a series of relatively inept successors But it was under the emperor cheng that the empire would experience its first slide into real Disintegration and for the first time it looks like the han dynasty was coming to its end Cheng was a type of emperor that you’ll soon start to find familiar he was lazy and incompetent and he was more interested in cock fighting and Chasing after beautiful palace women than administering his government He left much of the affairs of state to his relatives who belonged to the wang clan they wasted no time in gathering large amounts of personal power and wealth and Meanwhile corrupt and greedy officials continued to plague the government as a result rebellions broke out throughout the country Emperor cheng died in the year seven, BC his young nephew took the throne, but by this time the Wang family had become too powerful and among these one man had been going on a personal propaganda campaign to amass a vast body of support among the common people This was a man named Wang mang Wang mang is a remarkable character He was a Confucian scholar and a great speaker. And by all accounts was immensely popular among the peasants At one point the imperial palace even received a petition written on 500 thousand rolls of bamboos Demanding that wang mang be given the highest political offices in the land The source of Wang Wang’s popularity isn’t hard to see disillusioned by the corrupt politics of the imperial court the peasants of China were desperate for something to change and Wang mang offer them that change He believed that all the modern reforms of the last few hundred years had led the Empire astray And he was convinced that if the Empire will run exactly according to the principles of the ancient philosopher Confucius Then peace and prosperity would naturally follow At the age of 50 buoyed up by this groundswell of popular support Wang mang toppled the young boy Emperor and seized the throne for himself Wang mang was not from the dynasty of Han He was the first nan Han Emperor to rule China in two hundred years At the time it must have seemed like the time of the Han had ended for good crippled by the corruption of its officials and the mismanagement of its politicians But the rule of Wang mang was an unmitigated disaster Part of the problem was that since he himself had usurped the throne He was terrified of giving his advisors any power in case someone else did the same to him As a result he tried to make all of the countless decisions of state himself which completely paralyzed the government and When it actually came to putting his bold ideas into practice Wang, mang ran into further problems It turned out that there was more to administering an empire than choosing the proper music to play at court and the proper ceremonies to perform in the temples 1 Qing Dynasty historian writing in the 16th century Described his reign in the following terms After he is at the throne He did not know how to comfort and guide the people and felt that he could ceaselessly deceive ever Therefore he caused both the Chinese and the foreigners to hate him The entire Empire was already collapsing but Wang mang did not care. But rather buried his head in what is old? Believing that once he returned the government structure to the old days. The Empire will be peaceful He only sought to establish proper ceremony and music day and night without spending time on the important affairs of state Wang Wang also attempted some radical reforms He banned the private ownership of land and this was enough to cause significant unrest on its own but his real undoing would come from one of China’s deadliest and most unpredictable natural forces the great watercourse of the north of China the Yellow River As we’ve already seen the Yellow River was the most deadly and dangerous of China’s rivers Every hundred years or so it would change its course bursting its banks and washing away every town and village in its path as Fate would have it this once-in-a-century disaster occurred right at the time when Wang mang was sitting on the imperial throne The new emperor was completely unprepared for this natural disaster Peasants who lost their homes in the floods felt that the emperor had done nothing to help them and their resentment reached a fever pitch It wasn’t long before peasant revolts rose up around the country The most powerful of these were known as the red eyebrows Since they smeared their foreheads in red paint before going into battle The widespread chaos and loss of Imperial control meant that the Empire’s borders again to come apart the nomadic Xiong nu Began to once again gain power and confidence in the north and Wang mines lack of diplomatic skill Trouble to erupt in the western regions as the book of later Han recalls The principalities of the western regions split up and formed 55 kingdoms Wang mang after he usurped the throne demoted their Kings Following this the western regions became resentful and rebelled They therefore broke off all relations with China and altogether submitted to the Xiong nu once more The Xiong nu Subdued by the Han Empire for nearly a century now sensed weakness they launched a surprise attack on the Empire’s outposts and Seized the entire region of the Tarim basin right up to the Jade gate From there. They poured along the great wall into the Hershey corridor In just a matter of years all the gains of the great Emperor Wu were undone as the book of later Han recalls The northern savages forced several countries to help them plunder the commanderies and districts of Hershey the gates of the towns stayed shut in broad daylight Meanwhile the red eyebrow rebellion seized vast swathe of the countryside Soon the nobles of China were joining the peasants in revolt and one goal was now on all of their lips They wanted to topple the Emperor Wang mang and restore the dynasty of the Han Eventually the people of the imperial capital of Chang’an also rose up in the streets They overcame Wang mangs guard Stormed the palace and beheaded the Emperor The imperial palaces were burned to the ground Wang mang’s body was cut into pieces and his head was delivered to the temporary Han capital of one Cheng To be hung on the city wall There the people’s anger was so fierce That they dragged the head down from the wall and kicked it about the streets like a football The capital of Chang An was now occupied by the red eyebrows their leaders tried their best to keep order but before long the City’s food ran out and the rebels began to riot and steal They burned many of Chang Ann’s palaces and pillaged the city for days By the year 25 the Han Dynasty was restored under a new emperor called Guan Wu But the capital of Chang An was a smoking ruin and its palaces were just blackened skeletons One anonymous Chinese poet who stumbled on the ruins of an old palace Wrote the following poem of mourning at the site And although we don’t know for sure which ruin he stood by it may well have been the ancient Imperial capital as it stood then in ashes Wind howls in the pines the rats fly at my approach and hide under the old tiles What monarch once had this Palace built? of which there only remained ruins on a mountainside the owner of this palace had beautiful dancers who were today one with the cold dust of all this pomp of all this glory remains a Marble horse lying in the grass. I should like to express my great sadness in an enduring poem but I weep and my pencil trembles the Restored emperor guangwu Decided that he would move his capital from Chang An to the east to the city of Luo, yang These two phases of Han history are sometimes called the Western and the eastern Han Almost simply the former Han and the later Han Guan Woo’s rain was a new dawn for the Empire and another chance for the dream of a stable Imperial China that would stand the challenge of time a Number of tests would now arrive that would determine whether the lessons of the fall of former Han had been learned These tests would determine whether this new incarnation of the Empire would survive or whether it too would end in ash and flame The new capital city of Luo, yang was a beautiful place the shallow GU river flowed right past its walls and Diverted into a moat that encircled the city while the Luo river flowed two kilometers or so to the south crossed by a floating bridge of boats In the distance, the blue peaks of the bay mang Hills looked out over the city one Chinese poem from the Han period in the second century Describes the bustling streets of Luo, yang full of life beneath the shade of its leafy trees Law Yong Chun don’t know how a shallow pal On the eastern way at the city of lo yang at the edge of the road peach trees and plum trees grown flower matched by flower leaf touching leaf a spring wind rises from the Northeast Flowers and leaves gently nod and sway of the road Somebody’s daughter comes carrying a basket to gather silkworms for you Show Luo, yang had been an important holy city for centuries It was smaller than Chang’an about a third of its size But its position on the rivers and at the crossing point of various major canals Made it better connected economically It was also further from the frontiers of the Empire Making it a little safer than a smoking ruin. That was the former capital Once the new capital was established much of the first century in China Was spent rebuilding after the fall of the former Han and the destruction left by Wang Wang’s disastrous leadership Vast construction works took place to dredge the bottom of the Yellow River Dig drainage canals and to avoid any more devastating floods New palaces were built at Luoyang to accommodate the imperial court as well as religious institutions Guang Wu ordered the construction of an altar to the gods of the soils and grains and He also ordered the entire Imperial library be moved to Luoyang it took 2,000 carts to transport all the books that were contained in these libraries across the country to the new capital One poem written by the poet and history Bangu around the year 65 ad celebrates the new Han Emperor’s achievement in transforming the old city He refurbished Louis city Enhancing its imposing grandeur Making resplendent its order and proportion. He made the Han capitals shine through the empire controlling all eight directions and Then within the Imperial City the palaces were glittering and bright the hall Courtyards were divinely beautiful By the year 36 ad Guang Wu had crushed the red eyebrow rebellion as well as any lords who still resisted he announced that the Imperial color would from thereon be the color red and He would govern under the element of fire He had restored the Han Dynasty to power but the Empire was now a much weakened state the long period of chaos had sapped its wealth and In the North the Xiong nu had resurged as a power to be reckoned with The Chinese general ban Chao was put in charge of reclaiming the Hershey corridor and securing the western regions once more This struggle once again took decades ban, Chao painstakingly beat the Xiong nu back along the Hershey corridor reclaiming the old crumbling walls as he went and by the year 91 the Han Empire was once again in control of the deserts and the trade routes that ran through them This reopening of the route to the west came at a uniquely interesting time in world history In the decades since the Han had lost controlled the western regions a new power had risen up in Central Asia Known as the kushan empire In the mid first century this buddhist empire had grown to cover much of pakistan afghanistan and northern india This is significant because it created a stable and unified territory that stretched across central asia Touching the kushan empire on the West was the Parthian Empire which stretched across Iran much of the Middle East and into Turkey and even further to the west the Han Chinese had heard of an even greater power that rivaled even their own a mysterious Empire of enormous wealth centered on a vast Inland Sea This was the first time in history that for large empires formed an unbroken chain from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic and The general ban Chao recognized the potential that this unique moment in history could hold In the year 97 he summoned one of his most trusted men a man called GaN. Yang He told GaN yang to journey as far west as he could and to find out more about this great Faraway Empire on the other side of the continent which they knew only by the name Dhar Qin GaN yang travelled for what must have been many months Down the Hershey corridor through the gate of jade and across the shifting sands of the Taklamakan desert From there. He crossed the mountains through the dangerous snowy passes and into the high valleys of the Kushan Empire He would have traversed the arid lands of Pakistan and past the snow-capped peaks of Iran Then crossed over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers Where the city of Babylon still stood and where the ruins of Sumerian and Assyrian? Civilizations were still crumbling into the sands finally, he reached the frontiers of the great empire of Dutch in an Empire that we know by the more familiar name of Rome Later Gahan, yang wrote down everything he had learned about this exotic Empire Its territory extends for several thousands of Li it has more than 400 walled towns There are several tens of smaller dependent kingdoms The walls of the town are made of stone They have postal relays at intervals which are all plastered and whitewashed There are pines and cypresses as well as trees and plants of all kinds Gan yang made detailed notes about the customs and ways of the Romans which seemed to have greatly impressed him They shaved their heads and their clothes are embroidered They have screened coaches for the women and small white roofed one-horse cards When carriages come and go drums are beaten and flags and standards are raised He was also amazed to hear about the system for appointing Roman emperors Although it does seem that the Romans gave him a slightly sanitized version of their political system Their kings are not permanent. They select an appoint the most worthy man if there are unexpected calamities in the kingdom he is unceremoniously rejected and replaced The one who has been dismissed quietly accepts his demotion and is not angry But gang yang never actually made it to the city of Rome He reached the shores of a sea that may have been either the Mediterranean or the Persian Gulf There some Parthian sailors discouraged him from continuing his journey They gave him this dire warning If you encounter winds that delay you it can take two years That is why all the men who go by see take stores for three years The vast ocean urges men to think of their country and get homesick and some of them die It’s possible that these paths Ian’s Wanted to continue to control the lucrative trade Running between Rome and China and they didn’t want any Chinese ambassador cutting out the middleman But it’s also possible that gan. Yang made this story up perhaps he was simply tired of his journey and wanted to go home at the sight of the lapping waves of the Mediterranean he may simply have decided that he would make something up and head back to his family after All who back home would ever know At this time Rome and Han faced each other from opposite sides of the Eurasian landmass They were roughly comparable in size population and complexity while Rome governed an area of about five million square kilometers Han at its height commanded six million while Rome governed nearly fifty six million people Han governed over 60 million Around the time that gained yang made his epic journey across the continent It’s thought that half of all humans on earth lived in either the Roman or Han Empire’s Gun yang was perhaps the first recorded man to travel the entire length of a route That would be of enormous importance for the history of the world This would become known as the Silk Road named after the Chinese silk that poured along it in such vast quantities it Became a highway connecting the east and the west and would later spread inventions like gunpowder paper porcelain and the compass right around the world The opening of the Silk Road was one of Han China’s enduring achievements But already the storm clouds were gathering the days of the Han Empire were numbered and The reason for this would be found not in the barren wastes of the north but in the very heart of the Empire in fact within the capital and the Imperial Palace itself The imperial court of Han China was a place of elegance refinement and beauty Wealthy people in beautiful clothes would mill about its outer court While fine music and incense would have drifted on the air But this was also a battleground just as deadly as any in the desert lands to the north It was well known that anyone who had access to the Emperor and who the Emperor trusted could use their influence to amass a great amount of personal power and wealth and So people would stop at nothing to gain this kind of influence for themselves The Imperial Palace was one of the most heavily guarded places on earth Very few were ever allowed to even set foot in it and no men were allowed to remain there after dark there were only two kinds of people who were allowed regular inside access to the Emperor and Throughout the second century AD They were locked in a bitter struggle over who would control him These two factions were the palace eunuchs and the palace women The first of these factions the eunuchs were despised and mistrusted by society but held in an immense amount of trust by the Emperor a Eunuch simply speaking is a man who has been castrated In ancient China this was typically carried out as a punishment for adultery or other promiscuous behaviors If he survived his punishment the newly castrated man was then taken to the Imperial Palace and Forced to work there as what was called a special attendant essentially a form of high-class slavery In less common cases a man volunteered to become a eunuch in Exchange for the secure position in the Palace staff There were a number of reasons why eunuchs were prized as Imperial servants One reason was the sexual jealousy of the Emperor’s with multiple wives and consorts It was considered too risky to have uncashed rated male guards and attendants in their vicinity But another reason was the paranoia of the Emperor’s It was commonly believed that since a eunuch couldn’t produce a son and heir He will be less inclined to use his influence to amass personal power Crucially for the later history of Han China this belief turned out to be very mistaken The use of eunuchs in China as the servants of rulers goes back to at least 3,000 years ago But in the later Han Dynasty, they’re used as palace attendants increased dramatically Eventually the imperial court would be home to more than 2,000 eunuchs They acted as fetchers and carriers bodyguards nurses Butler’s maids and cooks they were virtually the only man that a young emperor would meet until he became an adult and because of this privileged access to the inner court these thousands of eunuchs soon formed a kind of shadow government within the Imperial Palace The second faction was the palace women and more specifically the Empress dowager’s An Empress Dowager was the wife of an emperor who had died While her husband had been alive she had enjoyed a supreme position in the royal court the focal point of adoration and influence But once the emperor was dead and his body was interred in the stone tombs on Bayman Hill The Empress dowager’s position became incredibly insecure In order to maintain her influence she would need to be clever and to gather allies around her in the polygamous society of early Imperial China an emperor could have a number of wives and This meant that the court could soon become quickly Overpopulated with Empress dowager’s each of them fighting and jockeying to maintain their influence These two factions the eunuchs and the dowager’s fought as much within their groups as between them Empress dowager’s were constantly poisoning each other and their children and Several were put on trial for attempting to use witchcraft against another Meanwhile, the eunuchs plotted against each other endlessly But over the next century these two groups would sink their teeth into every emperor of China The result was that the Emperor became just another chess piece in this complex and deadly game The emperors of the second century were not chosen for their skill or popularity But simply for how easy they would be to control For this reason these Emperor’s were very often children One extreme example of this is the fifth emperor of the later Han Dynasty the Emperor Shang He was a newborn baby who was crowned in the year 106 AD At an age of little more than a hundred days old His mother was a Dowager Empress wife to the previous Emperor all of her other children had died in mysterious circumstances quite probably murdered by other jealous Empress dowager’s and Now the tiny Emperor Shang was her best. Hope at maintaining her status at court if Her surviving child could be Emperor that her position was assured We have detailed records about what was involved in the pomp and ceremony of a Chinese imperial coronation We can imagine the drums and gongs The marching soldiers the music and the chanting of ceremonial words all going on around the oblivious Newborn Emperor as he lay in his crib with his tiny fists balled crying in fear and confusion as Usual the new emperor was gifted with a scepter carved of jade and the ancient legendary sword Known as the sword that slew the snake which had belonged to the first emperor honk out soon Perhaps these items were placed in the baby’s crib or perhaps his mother or another attendant was there to hold them for him The tiny baby was also given the formal documents of Accession Written on fine paper and the Great Seal of State tied with its ribbon Then the crowd would have burst out in rapturous cries shouting ten thousand years Ten thousand years as the baby wailed and screamed in the center of the Great Hall But the Emperor Shang would rule for only a matter of months before he also died his causes of death unknown But they are not hard to guess The fifth emperor of the later Han never even reached his first birthday Two decades later in the year 125 it was the turn of the eunuchs they led a successful coup to replace another Empress Dowager and her son and Put the ten-year old Emperor Sean on the throne They were a little more successful and the Emperor Xuan reigned for nineteen years But when his son was crowned at two years old, he died mysteriously after only six months on the throne These are just two of the countless examples of intrigue murder and plotting by these two factions that Turned the imperial court into a slaughterhouse throughout the second century In the rare instances when an emperor reached adulthood they were encouraged to stay away from the business of actually ruling instead they were usually directed to a life of indolence and pleasure as The second century wore on and weak young emperor followed weak young emperor the power of these two factions only increased But it would ultimately be the eunuchs who would truly seize the reins of power In the year 159 a group of eunuchs at court were even granted royal titles Seven years after that University students in Luoyang took to the streets to protest against the corrupt officials in the government At the advice of the eunuchs the Emperor had all of the students involved arrested One County Magistrate named Li Yuen, even submitted a petition urging the Emperor to curb the eunuchs power In this letter, he asked what many in the empire must have been thinking Is the emperor panning blind? The Emperor responded by having li executed soon a group of twelve eunuchs controlled virtually everything that happened in the Imperial Palace and This inner faction was led by four individuals One popular song written around this time mocks the enormous power that these eunuchs had gathered Whoa can reverse heavens decision Jew sits by himself without match Shu is a lying wolf tangs power is as prevalent as two falling rain Meanwhile outside of the insular world that the Imperial Palace had become the fabric of the Empire was truly beginning to come apart a Number of problems plagued the Han Chinese throughout the second century One of these was the continued presence of northern nomads on the Empire’s borders The Empire had beaten the Xiong nu a second time But now to their dismay a new group known as the CNB had swooped in to occupy their lands this new group was every bit as powerful a challenge as the Xiong nu had been as the book of later Han recalls Since the Xiong nu have fled away The Shang be have become powerful and prosperous and have occupied their former territory They can claim a hundred thousand soldiers Skills and strong and their ideas and understanding are steadily increasing They also have renegades from Han to serve them as masters of strategy in The sharpness of weapons and the clash of horse. They are more dangerous than worth a song new But it wasn’t until the reign of the Emperor Ling that the true disintegration of the Han Empire began Ling was a model specimen of the kind of young lazy ruler that had become the norm for Imperial China He came to the throne at the age of twelve put in place by one powerful Empress Dowager The Emperor Ling was brought up by the eunuchs at court now led by two Named Jo Jang and Jang rang They had so much influence over his upbringing that the book of Han recalls the young emperor making this statement Regular attendant Jang is my father a regular attending Jo is my mother When he came of age The Emperor Ling was more inclined to spend time with his palace women then actually run the state He especially enjoyed creating role playing scenarios to engage in with his beautiful consorts as recorded in the book of later Han The Emperor ordered a market set up in the harem apartments and had all his women trade there They robbed and fought one another and the Emperor dressed as a peddler Joined with the crowd and drank wine and feasted with them Ling was also financially irresponsible and increased the burden of Taxation on the people to fund his lavish lifestyle The Emperor was in the habit of laying by money and treasure for himself He arranged that all valuable goods from the Empire and all tribute sent in from the commanderies and kingdoms went first to the inner palace He took a share for himself and called it his commission Hatred of this corruption spawned peasant rebellions, which quickly emptied the Imperial Treasury Increasingly strapped for cash the Empire began offering minor titles and positions to its wealthiest citizens in exchange for payment This was a short-term measure to fund the armies that were needed to put down the rebellion But since the rebellions were in protest against corruption in the first place this policy had the effect of pouring gasoline on a fire Matters were made considerably worse by the Emperor Ling who started selling high political offices for money Even the position of chief of police in the imperial capital was put up for sale This policy severely damaged both the effectiveness and the legitimacy of the Hans civil service corruption now trickled down to every level from the Royal Court to the lowest officials as the book of later Han recalls During the reign of Emperor Liang the inspectors of provinces and the heads of commanderies and kingdoms were greedy as jackals and tigers oppressing the people in most cruel and ruthless fashion Most of these rebellions were easily put down but as the decades wore on Along with the simmering intrigue in the imperial court the rebellions got worse Some of these became truly enormous and perhaps the worst of these was the rebellion of the Qiang people The chiong were an ethnic minority who lived in the mountainous regions of the Tibetan Plateau In a province known as Liang an arid and rocky place in the northwest of China Liang has its back to the Tibetan Mountains in the west and south and stares out into the Gobi Desert to the north It was the gate to the Hershey corridor and the staging ground for caravans setting out through the deserts The cheering were Hardy people who herded yak and lived in fortress villages in the Stony Hills cultivating narrow Plains along creeks and mountain terraces they built strong houses from granite field stones and Tall narrow stone watchtowers to defend from attacks The first sheong rebellions were put down easily by the Empire But they were only the first in a long line of revolts there would be a thorn in the side of Imperial China for the rest of the Han Dynasty By the middle of the second century the Qiang rebellions had reached such a pitch that the Empire was considering extreme measures measures that we today would recognize as ethnic cleansing as This letter from one general to the Emperor shows If I have 5,000 cavalry and 10,000 foot soldiers with 3,000 carts for baggage in three winters and two summers. I can break these people and settle them The Emperor gave his permission for the campaign and a year later the general wrote back triumphantly After just one year with less than half the money Expended the remnant enemy are reduced to ashes and are on the point of total destruction These cruel reprisals against the Empire’s ethnic minorities only hardened the hearts of the common people Before long the state was locked in a number of rolling insurgencies in the West which combined with the peasant rebellions in the East to further SAP its strength and Combined with these were also a new kind of rebellion one that the Chinese authorities Were completely unprepared to deal with These were the devout religious Crusades of the Yellow Turban Religion in China around this time is a complicated subject in The royal court the most influential ideology was Confucianism Confucianism wasn’t exactly a religion more a series of guidelines about how a society Should be ordered and run but in the countryside religious beliefs were extremely diverse from region to region This extract from Sumerians records of the grand historian gives you a sense of this variety The shaman’s from the region of Liang Worships such deities as heaven and earth the heavenly altar Those from Qin worshiped the five Emperor’s the Lord of the East the Lord in the clouds The arbiter of fate the bringer of fire and so on The shaman’s of King worshipped the gods below the hall ancestor of shaman’s and the giver of gruel Since about 500 BC a new religion had also risen up among the peasants in the countryside the religion of Taoism Unlike Confucianism Daoism looked to nature rather than human beings as the source of morality It was a vision of a human society that conformed to the dao or the way the essential unifying element of all that exists around the year 180 ad About 12 years into the reign of the Emperor Ling a Taoist religious order was formed known as the Taiping sect It was led by a man named John Zhao who claimed he had the power to heal the sick The historian Johan regards these practices with particular contempt Such procedures did nothing to cure sickness. They were simply false and evil Petty fellows, however, stupid and confused were only too eager to follow such teachers It wasn’t long before several imperial officials became concerned about the dedication that Jang Zhao inspired in his followers They suggested that the Empire should act to crush this new cult But Emperor Ling Occupied with his harem women and hunting did nothing But the religious zealot Jiang Xiao was in fact planning a rebellion He was preparing his followers to rise up and topple the entire Imperial order This taoist mystic had named 36 of his followers as military commanders He set up a shadow government Ready to take over and even plotted with two eunuchs in the palace to overthrow the Emperor When the plot was discovered the Emperor realized too late how much power this mystic had gained and ordered his arrest the followers of Jiang Xiao Immediately took up arms They took local Garrison’s by surprise and swept through the country Capitalizing on the growing resentment people held for their rulers each member of this rebellion wore a yellow piece of fabric wrapped around their head and So they became known as the yellow turban rebellion The rebellion would ultimately prove a failure The Empire’s armies swept into the countryside and put it down with enormous force Jiang Xiao was eventually killed in the year 184, but the rebellion had a number of lasting effects The first of these was that the common people no longer trusted the Empire to protect them Villages and towns that had been plundered by the yellow turbans now formed their own militias in order to defend themselves Local governors took on greater powers and the central power of the Empire began to falter Another effect was the growing influence among the army of a company known as the Liang troops These were the soldiers that had spent their whole careers up in the tough mountain lands Crushing the constant rebellions of the Chiang people they were battle-hardened Remorseless and brutal in their methods and now they were being used Not against ethnic minorities like the Chiang But against the Empire’s own Chinese peasants in the depths of their heart lands The Liang company became feared not just among the peasants but among the other soldiers in the Imperial Army Too and they began to feel the power that came from that fear One of the generals leading these Liang troops was a man named dong Zhuo he is remembered to history as a fearsome tyrant a Butcher and a sadist and he would be the final nail in the coffin of the Empire of the Han When reading about the meteoric rise of dong zhuo, it’s hard not to draw comparisons with the figure of Julius Caesar who died less than a hundred years before Dongho was born on the other side of the continent like Caesar dong zhuo believed in the ruthless application of power and He was a man who understood how power really operated Dong zhuo was born in Lin Tao in Liang province That same arid rocky land where the Qiang people refused to bow to the Empire It was an unforgiving landscape that gave birth to this unforgiving man As dong-chul grew up, he would have seen many rebellions put down with brutality As a youth he was strong and showed an immediate talent for violence He excelled in horseback archery and in his early 20s joined an elite unit of Cadets Known as the guards of the feathered forest These were one of the units tasked with guarding the Emperor he spent some months in the imperial capital and it’s here that dong zhuo must have got his first taste of the power and prestige of the Emperor and Perhaps it’s here that he first dreamed of one day getting a morsel of that power for himself Less than a year into his time in the capital in 166 ad another Chiang rebellion, burst out and He was sent back to his homeland along with the other guards of the feather’d forest To crush those who defied the Empire The campaign would have been bloody and brutal Burning down villages and doling out collective punishments to civilian populations We don’t know the exact details of dong zhuo’s involvement But we do know that he sufficiently impressed his superiors that he was rewarded with 9,000 roles of fine silk Never one to miss an opportunity to increase his men’s loyalty dong Zhuo insisted that the silks should be shared with every one of his soldiers In the early 180s when the Yellow Turban rebellion sprang up Dong tuo was put in charge of a large and battle-hardened army of those most feared Liang troops For his services during that campaign dong Jo was given the title the general who smashes the cowards He was offered a position as the governor of a large province, but he refused His power had now grown to such an extent that he dreamed of even larger things he returned to the rocky hills of Liang province along with his army and Continued to exercise their brutality on the Chiang people The power that dong zhuo held over the Liang troops seems to have worried some people at the imperial court At one point they summoned him to the capital in order to take up office as the minister steward This was a promotion, but it was also clearly designed to remove him from military command Astonishingly dong zhuo refused writing back to the Emperor that his men would not allow him to leave My hyung joong auxiliaries They hold on to my carriage and refused to let me leave These Qiang and other non Chinese have evil hearts and the nature of dogs. I Cannot bring them under proper discipline, but I shall stay to keep them quiet Later and getting a little desperate the government tried again, but once again dong Zhuo refused I Have received your heavenly favour and held military command for 10 years My officers and men of every rank of long being close to me They appreciate my generous care. They’re always ready to obey my orders. I Begged to take them with me to the north to assist in the defense of the frontier Although wrapped up in the usual polite language. This was a clear affront to the imperial authority it shows that even at this point dong zhuo knew that his Army’s loyalty belonged to him and It’s easy to see why Dong zhuo had led his soldiers for years now out in the remotest parts of the Empire They had committed atrocious acts of violence on his behalf And he was also the one in charge of paying them and feeding them After a while these men must have begun to look on him as a kind of father figure Just like Julius Caesar with his Gallic legions These Liang troops now owed their loyalty not to the Empire and its weak succession of child Kings but to the man who rode at the front of their army and Whatever he ordered them to do they would carry out without question In the years to come this combination would spell doom for the fragile order of the Han Dynasty During the final years of the reign of Emperor Ling the book of later Han records a number of dark omens beginning to appear In The second month on the seventh day There was an eclipse of the Sun in the summer on the 11th day. There was an earthquake in the sixth month a black emanation Resembling a dragon came down in the eastern court when the Emperor was present in The autumn a dark rainbow appeared in the courtyard of the Jade Hall The Emperor immediately summoned his wise men and counselors, but their advice was not encouraging They were asked how these omens and strange occurrences might be halted one replied when heaven sends a rainbow all the world is angry and all within the Seas is in confusion a Period of four hundred years of governments is reaching its end now a gang of concubines and eunuchs have combined to dominate the court and They cheat and deceive your celestial intelligence I wish your Majesty might be hard-hearted enough to get rid of these evil associates When the emperor heard this he said to have simply turned his back and side These wise men were put in prison They were later exiled and the palace eunuchs arranged for them to be assassinated on the road By this time the eunuchs were despised by just about all the people of the Empire the Wealth they had amassed was staggering and it was now widely known how easily they could manipulate The Emperor as the book of later Han remembers The eunuchs built great houses for themselves rivaling the Imperial Palace on One occasion the Emperor wanted to climb the observation terrace of the Palace of Perpetual Peace, but the eunuchs were frightened. He would see their mansions They sent harem officials Shangdong to say the Sun of heaven must never climb high for if he does so his people will be impoverished and scattered From this time on the emperor never climbed the tower again in The year 189 the Emperor Ling became critically ill He died later that year and there was the typical power struggle between eunuchs and Empress dowager’s Which finally resulted in the crowning of a thirteen year old child as Emperor? But he wouldn’t make it through his first year Later that year a group of military commanders Saw their chance to rid the Empire of the curse of the eunuch advisors Among these commanders was the ruthless tyrant of Leon the fearsome general dong ho When he received the message asking him to become part of the plot dong Zhuo responded with glee The regular attendant Chong Yang and his eunuch fellows have corrupted and disrupted all within the seas Though it is painful to burst an abscess. It is better than a malignant tumor. I now sound the bells and drums of punishment and marched along Yang and I ask permission to clear away all evil and doing Dong zhuo arrived outside the capital of Luoyang in time to see flames Rising over the city’s southern Palace his co-conspirators had already struck storming the city The eunuchs were slaughtered in their mansions along with many young attendants Killed simply because they hadn’t yet grown beards and were therefore mistaken for eunuchs Stories are even recorded of palace officials stripping off their clothes so that the soldiers could see that they were not castrated Other members of the government fled the palace and went into exile One group of eunuchs tried to kidnap the boy emperor shao and his brother and tried to flee into the hills But dong zhuo’s soldiers caught up with them The eunuchs killed themselves by jumping into a river and the two princes were brought back to the capital This was a military coup and dong zhuo was now the true power in the empire Dong Zhuo occupied Liu. Yang, but he was afraid that the combined force of the Imperial armies could still out him In order to make his forces seem stronger than they were each night He ordered half of his men to leave a city in secret and then return by daylight to great fanfare This made it appear that he was constantly receiving reinforcements Three days after capturing Liu. Yang dong Zhuo deposed the young Emperor Xiao He was thirteen years old Only a few years from becoming a man in his own right and at that point he may have become difficult to control Instead dong Zhuo set his younger eight year-old half-brother on the throne crowning him as the Emperor Xian He would be the last emperor of the Han Age After the coronation of the new eight-year old Emperor dong-chul forced his older brother to drink poison and Then he issued this chilling command to the royal court Any person who seeks to impede the grand design will be dealt with by military law The corrupt reign of the eunuchs had been replaced with a military tyranny and the Golden age of the Han Empire was finally coming to a close The actions of the warlord dong Zhuo caused outrage among the lords and nobles of the Empire as He sat in the city of Luo, yang with the boy Emperor in his clutches dozens of China’s formally independent kingdoms declared their independence once more Slowly a resistance began to form against the usurper This resistance was started by a man named yuan shao who camped with his army on a crossing of the Yellow River north of Luo, yang He sent out word that he intended to fight the tyranny of dong Zhuo he was soon joined by his brother and other Nobles from the previous regime and By the Chinese New Year of the year 190 their forces were swelling Their tents would have spread out bright and colorful across the plains and Soon they began to pose a real threat to the usurper holed up in the capital Dong zhuo knew that he could not hold Luoyang against an all-out assault and As the rebel forces grew ever more powerful. He decided to take a drastic action He would flee West back to the ancient capital of Chang’an he would take all of his hardened liang soldiers and most of luo yiyang’s civilian population with him and as he left He would burn the imperial capital to the ground Dong-ho’s men burst into the city’s palaces and temples into the government offices and the houses of its people They looted and burned and stole everything. They could lay their hands on they sent men out into the countryside to loot and burn in the towns and villages – and Dongju Oh even sent one of his subordinates a man named Lou boo to tear open the tombs of the Han Emperor’s on the hills of bei mang and to despoil them of their treasures the vast Imperial libraries of Luoyang also went up in flames Some books were written on fine silk and the illiterate soldiers took them to use as screens scarves and umbrellas Dong zhuo ordered, luo, yiyang’s library in the eastern pavilion to be set ablaze It had once taken 2,000 carts just to transport the empire’s store of books from Chang’an to the new capital But after the destruction of dong Zhuo the books that survived could barely fill 70 More than 96% of the Empire’s entire collection of books were destroyed in a matter of hours Dong zhuo had the great bronze statues at Luoyang Melted down and turned into coins Since these were of a poor quality and not properly marked with the official stamps it Resulted in all of China’s copper currency becoming devalued and the economy went into freefall According to the book of later Han dong zhuo destroyed everything within a distance of a hundred kilometers outside of Luo, yang When the emperor guangwu had restored the Han Empire at the start of the first century He had announced that he would rule under the sign of fire But now it was fire that tore through the Imperial capitals palaces Through the ornate pleasure gardens and libraries through the homes and workshops of its people The fires of Luoyang would have lit up the sky for days The rebel Lords camped on the river crossing Realized what was happening too late They now marched on the imperial capital But when they reached it, they found only a desolate ruin No large buildings were left standing in the city and the whole land was covered in a layer of ash Like a dusting of snow There was barely any where to shelter Dong zhuo had escaped with the emperor. Xian and he had burned the Empire’s capital to the ground When dong zhuo reached the old capital of Chang An he set up an imperial court and Attempted to govern what was left of the Empire? Moving back to the old capital had solved some of his immediate problems, but it was still not a strong position For one thing Chang An was more isolated than Luo. Yang had been Dong zhuo had hoped that being closer to his home of liang province would help him But there the Chang rebellions had burst out again and made those lands all but uncover noble There was barely any economy left to speak of and dong Tours rule Depended on the vast stores of treasure. He had looted from the ruins of Luo. Yang He sent a constant stream of raiding parties out into the neighboring provinces to bring back whatever they could steal he was essentially a pirate Emperor and Meanwhile half the country was up in arms against him Quickly those around him began to realize how untenable their situation was Some accounts of this time paint a lurid picture of Don’s whoa They described him holding McCobb banquets. Where the main entertainment Was the site of prisoners of war being tortured to death? even boiled alive It said while all the other guests were put off their food at the horrific spectacle dongs Whoa alone ate hungrily while his prisoners screamed Some of these stories are likely later fabrications, but it is difficult to know for sure Dong zhuo’s love of feasting meant that he put on a great deal of weight and he soon became famously large Dong zhuo soon became paranoid and he built a vast personal fortress for himself on the way River 90 kilometers from Chang An He stalked his fortress with thirty years worth of supplies and spoke in confident tones about this insurance policy If things go, well I shall be master of the Empire But even if I fail I can hold out here in comfort die of old age This would not turn out to be the case and it’s here that the final comparison with Julius Caesar should become apparent on The 22nd of May in the year 190 to one of his bodyguards a man named Liu boo Decided that enough was enough He plotted with a number of other generals under dong ho and decided on a course of action When dong zhuo was on his way to inspect his troops one morning in his chariot boo and the co-conspirators struck They drew daggers and stabbed dong zhuo, and he later died of his wounds Lubu and the other plotters followed up this act by killing all of dong zhuo’s family and supporters Both in Chang An and in his fortress on the river way Dong zhuo’s body was left in the street and it said that his killers Mocked him by putting a candle wick in his bellybutton and lighting it He said to have been so large at the time of his death that the candle burned for days on the fat of his stomach The villain of this chapter of Chinese history had been defeated But the destruction he had caused could not be undone The boy Emperor Xian by that point only eleven years old Passed between the hands of the various warlords who fought for control of Chang’an after dong Zhuo had died Early in the year 195 two of these rival chieftains burned down the Imperial Palace at Chang An while fighting over who would control the capital Now both of China’s imperial cities lay in ruins Later that year at the age of fourteen the Emperor Xian managed to escape Chang An Sneaking through the gates in disguise with a select few attendants They fled back across the country traveling by ox cart evading the roaming bands of bandits and the Raiding parties of the Warlord’s that were even now beginning to tear China apart the historian ways Shu Recalls that on this journey the child Emperor no longer held any respect among the men who guarded him When the son of heaven mets with his ministers common soldiers his in the bushes to watch pushing and jostling one another to make a law When he finally reached his once beautiful home of Luoyang The Emperor Xian must have experienced something similar to the feeling described by the poet Saud sure Which opened this episode? When he crested the hills of Bay mang and saw the blackened ruin of the imperial capital Stretch out beneath him By this point Luoyang had been a ruin for five years Brambles and ivy would already be growing over the blackened stones of the city’s palaces The young Emperor Cheyenne and his attendants tried to move back into the ruins of the palace They made some repairs to a small part of the Imperial residence Rendering them just about habitable kicking among the broken stones at heaps of ash The human remains still scattering the palace halls and the blackened skeletons of the buildings Thick mats of thorns grew among the wreckage of the buildings The Emperor’s attendants spent their days for Jing for wild grains among the ruined buildings Some of them starved and others were killed by hungry lawless people who are still trying to eke out a living among the ruins This tragic situation continued for a year until Eventually a warlord named sau sau arrived and rescued the child Emperor By this time the ruler of all the Chinese the holder of the Mandate of Heaven Must have looked like any other suit blackened orphan wandering around the ruined streets of Luoyang This general soured sau made one last attempt to reunify China under the restored name of Han and He came close But he was defeated at the Battle of Red Cliff in the winter of the year 208 the Battle of Red Cliff involved around 300,000 soldiers on the waters and the banks of the Yangtze River and it has been called the largest naval battle in history South south failure confirmed the end of the Han Dynasty China was now divided into three kingdoms and a new age of history began The Emperor Sheehan was treated fairly by the victors He was made a Duke and lived out his life in peace and comfort The young boy Emperor the last of the Han died peacefully at the age of 53 The medieval writer Luo Guanzhong in his medieval historical epic known as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms Summarizes this period of Chinese history in the following way the Empire long divided must unite long United must divide Thus it has ever been The Han Dynasty had been a remarkably successful ancient empire but it was brought down by the corruption of its politicians and the power struggles in its royal court Today it gives its name to the largest ethnic group in the world the Han Chinese Who at? 1.3 billion people Make up nearly 1/5 of the world’s entire population The divided realm of China would one day reunite under a new emperor But that is a story for another day The ruins of Luo, yang would stand in the fields below the bay mang Hills Overgrown with thorns for decades before anyone returned to repopulate it The poet yang Shuang ji paints a beautiful picture of what the ruins of Luo Yang must have looked like after the fall of the Han Dynasty Way gone shoots The inner and outer walls had collapsed palaces and chambers had fallen down the Monasteries and temples were reduced to ashes The pagodas and stupas were in ruins Walls were covered with mugwort lanes were lined with thorns wild beasts burrowed in overgrown stairways hunting birds nested in courtyard trees vagrants and herd boys lingered in the avenues farmers and old tillers hunted broom corn millet by the twin gateways Oh shoot More than half a century after the burning of Luo, yang the poet Jiang chai Visited Mount bayman where the tombs of the great Han Kings had stood for centuries But what he found there was only a series of ruins Dong zhuo’s men had destroyed many of the tombs and stolen their treasures While grave robbers during the years of chaos had seen to the rest The walls of the mausoleums had crumbled animals had made burrows between the Fallen stones and children now played among the ornate carvings a Hmong who are lately fouling yo soup A mang how the graves to one to another I would ask whose graves These are all say they are of lords of the Han house at the end of the dynasty destruction and chaos arose Robbers and thieves were like wild dogs and tigers the earth was despoiled by more than a handful in the inner corridor the Secluded doors have been opened Precious gems have been pilfered and stolen the funeral Park and resting chamber had become waste There are no segments left of the surrounding walls on the tomb pathways climb boys and youngsters foxes and hares burrow within them overgrown with weeds they have not been swept The abandoned mounds are all plowed and Hills on them common folk tend their gardens Sad and sorrowful, I lament the distant past The ruins of the Han Dynasty stood empty and broken in the fields a testament to the greatness of former ages and to the passing transience of all things I Want to end this episode with some extracts from some of my favorite ancient Chinese poems Known as the nineteen pieces of old poetry They likely have a number of different authors But tradition typically attributes them to the first century Han Dynasty poet named Shang These poems are melancholy meditations on the transience of things as You listen try to imagine what it must have felt like to watch the peace and prosperity of your lands torn apart By corruption and greed Imagine seeing the life you’d known destroyed by the hunger of warlords who profited from death and destruction imagine watching the vast stores of the Imperial library’s centuries our accumulated knowledge going up in flames before your eyes and Watching the leafy city of Luoyang burning its flames licking at the night sky Imagine seeing the once great capital of a mighty empire Now reduced to nothing But ashes and smoke as an age of 400 years comes crashing Li devastatingly to a close So Yen due Abu sulla should I go Yoshi Lesion cool boots up the autumn winds shakes a hundred grasses on every side how desolate and bare prosperity and decay each have their seasonal The eastern Castle stands tall and high Far and wide stretch the towers that guard it the whirling wind up rises and shakes the earth the four seasons alternate without pause the year’s end how he swiftly on I Drive my chariot up to the eastern gate from afar I see the graveyard north of the wall beneath my men who died long ago Black is the long nights that holds them thousands of years they lie without waking in infinite succession light and darkness shift and years vanish like the morning dew Man’s life is just a visit mourners in their turn were mourned The dead are gone and with them we cannot converse The living are here and ought to have our love Leaving the city gate I look ahead and see before me only mounds and tombs The old graves are plowed up in either fields The years of a lifetime do not reach a hundred Yet they contain a thousand years. Sorry Cold cold the year draws to its end. I Go and lean at the gate and think of my grief and my falling tears wet the double gates. I want to go home to ride to my village gate I Want to go back? But there’s no road back. There’s no wrong back Sho sho toe sharin the one who knew Luke way down Oh in Luke we Dowe Thank you once again for listening to the fall of civilizations podcast I’d like to thank my voice actors for this episode Claire Hines Shem. Jacob’s Alex Petey and Jake, Barrett Mills special thanks also go to mang Wang of the Norwich Mandarin Learning Centre for allowing us to hear the sounds of Ancient Han era poetry in their original Mandarin. I Wanted to mention here But if you enjoy fall of civilizations and like to read fiction set in the past My second novel will be released worldwide on the 28th of May 2020 Its title is all our broken idols it’s a story set in the final days of the ancient Assyrian Empire right on the brink of its fall and It explores how the past is always resurfacing in the present It’s now available to pre-order in hardback and ebook on Amazon and anywhere else. They sell books if You’re hearing this after May 20 2010. All our broken idols is now available in all good bookstores. I Love to hear your thoughts and responses on Twitter. So please come and tell me what you thought You can follow me at Paul. Mmm Cooper and if you’d like updates about the podcast Announcements about new episodes as well as images maps and reading suggestions You can follow the podcast at fall of save part with underscores separating the words This podcast can only keep going with the support of our generous subscribers on patreon You keep me running you help me cover my costs and you help keep this podcast ad free You also let me dedicate more time to researching writing recording and editing To get the episodes out to you faster to make them longer and to bring as much life and detail to them as possible I want to thank all my subscribers for making this happen if you enjoyed this episode Please consider heading onto patreon.com Fall of civilizations underscore podcast Or just google fall of civilizations patreon That’s P a TR e o n For now, goodbye, and thanks for listening you

68 thoughts on “10. China’s Han Dynasty – The First Empire in Flames

  1. Been waiting for this. These are fantastic. Thank you so much for your time and effort.

  2. yesterday i just finised with ALL episodes!(listening them for two weeks)and today Han China?! as we say here- Ester day is already:)))

  3. This channel is incredible! I just stumbled upon it by chance (lloking for meaningful history and being very much disappointed by the "great" channels"), I think I found a treasure trove here. I am listening to the Songhai episode now but this will be the next one. Thank you SO MUCH!!!

  4. So glad to see the notification for your current installment. If you dont have a historical grant, it's a crime against humanity.

  5. HURREY!!! Been waiting for the next one – really look forward to I'm sure repeated listenings!

  6. Another top notch well read edition to a truly excellent channel. Subscribe now, you won’t be sorry ! 👍😀

  7. I don’t, “comment, like, and subscribe.” Except when one of your videos come out. Thank you for what you do!

  8. Even tho there are a few months between uploads, it always such a pleasure when the podcast drops. I fully appriciate how you take ur time and create fantastic content that is not only entertaining but well researched and educational. Thanks for all the hard work

  9. Finally ! A YouTube podcast where the creator has a larger vocabulary than Co Co the Monkey .

  10. I love this channel, the care and attention to detail with editing on each podcast is second to none. Stumbled upon by chance not too long ago and have binging each podcast enthusiastically. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to more in the future.

  11. Superb! Travelling from Glasgow back to London, extensive podcasts are a must! Thank you for your perfect timing, and captivating stories.

  12. Definitely the best history podcast around; I've been binge listening to you for days. The Aztecs episode was especially brilliant and well researched. Cheers, Paul!

  13. Please give us another way to donate other than Patreon! An EU bank account number or something!

  14. By far the best history channel out there in this area. The voice, the rhythm of the speech fits perfectly with well edited topics. Keep up the great work!

  15. Another superb episode! Brilliant work!

    And, all those hours of playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms on SNES paid off as I was able to keep all the names straight in the last portion… It was great to hear about Lu Bu killing Dong Zhou and the detail about the candle burning for days burning off of the fat of Dong Zhou's stomach…

  16. Thank you for the upload. Saw this in the morning, but had to go to work. Been looking forward to giving you a listen all day.

  17. This channel is a diamond in the rough, where the rough is fantastic history channels with millions of subscribers including myself.

  18. A true Knight. Thank you for putting together these podcasts. Very enjoyable. I actually smiled and said “Sweet” when I saw this come up today!

  19. Got the impression the Han dynasty period was pretty violent, full of political intrigues and backstabbings. The eunuch thing is kinda creepy too.

  20. Thank you thank you thank you.. been telling everyone about this channel!! Kicks ass !!

  21. I feel like I'm acting like a spoiled brat by saying this but the last two episodes were just too long.

    I feel like these could be made into two (or even three) part episodes to make the most of YouTube's algorithm and because finding 3 uninterrupted hours and focusing for that whole length of time is a big ask for myself, and I can't be the only one who feels this way.

    So long as you don't piss off your Patreons by making them feel like they are paying 2 or 3 times over for the one episode, breaking episodes up into parts could help maintain a better presence and it would make more of your efforts by spreading them out a little (especially if you spaced out the release of the parts week by week, for example, though maybe you could make it so the Patreons access them all at once as a perk?)

    Thank you for all your hard work!

  22. Shakespeare would have done much with the Han. "The old graves are plowed up into fields. There is no road back."

  23. Wow that was incredible! I would love so many more civilisations, the Carolingians, the Mauria, the Byzantine, perhaps even the Ottomans? I hope you'll keep doing this for ever

  24. The only complaint I have about ur vids… There's not enough of them! Lol! I want more! Fr though great work. Keep it up!

  25. You are remarkable. We are so lucky to be gifted such incredible content. Thank you for sharing these wonderful episodes. They are brilliant and much appreciated.

  26. Bro, I just came across your channel, while looking for a thorough history channel to listen to while falling asleep. Your content, pacing, tone of voice are spot on.

    New subscriber well earned!

  27. The author of the poem at the beggning 曹植 should pronounced as CaoZhi not Caoche in Mandarin.

  28. Comprehensive and excellent as always. I've kept a running interest in systems collapse since the end of school. BTW in light of COVID-19, would an episode on the Black Death bringing an end to the Western Medieval world and the changes it wrought leading to the rise of the Early Modern period be possible? It's not exactly complete collapse but it was very close to that. I would argue that is was the end of a civilization, just as Ancient Egypt didn't need a complete systems collapse to stop being itself. Even that would illuminating: the quiet senescence as a collapse into something else.

  29. I can probably say that this is the most reliable content on any podcast right now. You have continued to improve as well imo. Remarkable job!

  30. Honestly one of my top 5 history channels along with kings and generals, history time, fire of learning and the histrocrat. Every time you upload I can't wait for the next

  31. I normally don't listen to podcasts but I fell upon this and hadn't noticed it was a podcast and ended up listening and playing solitaire:) So now I have subscribed because you have a great way of telling history and you don't have to sit and watch the same scenes again and again and having things repeated as docs often do. Thank you for all your work!!

  32. Fantastic effort. Do you know the China history podcast? With Laszlo Montgomerie? You might enjoy it.

    Also, would you cover the fall of the northern Song dynasty. Very interesting

  33. Loved the episode. Thank you for the good work. I just wished you would've gone into more details when discussing the reforms of the Qin, especially those of Shang Yang, such as the utilisation of collective punishments for military units and civilian households, establishments of twenty ranks of nobility that enable soldiers to climb the social hierarchy through the slaying of foes in battle, and the control of food prices through the restriction of trade on agriculture produces. When discussing ancient historical reforms people often merely touches it briefly without going into details, making it difficult for the audience to truly understand how they impacted the society and were the society bettered compared to its past and other societies around it.

    Although I am not an expert in history myself, there are a few inaccuracies in the video which I've noticed. Some was probably due to the simplification of history to make this easier for those less knowledgeable to consume. Nonetheless, I've like to clarify below for those that wishes to know more.

    1. Toward the end of the Warring States period the two most important states were Qin (秦) and Chu(楚), not Han(韩).

    2. Qin Shi Huang(秦始皇) was not the name of the first emperor of Qin, that was his title, meaning The First Emperor of Qin. His actual personal name was Yin Zhen (嬴政).

    3. Qin Shi Huang did almost none of the reforms himself. The most important reforms were largely implemented by the six Qin kings that came before him. The reason for Qin Shi Huang's successful wars was due to the hard works done by his ancestors.

    4. The first state to deploy large quantity of cavalry in warfare was the state of Zhao, not Qin.

    5. Qin Shi Huang killed scholars that politically against him, not for them unable to provide him with medicine of immortality. He also kept copies of the books which he burned in the imperial library. the library was later burned by the rebel Xiang Yu (项羽).

    6. The first emperor of Han (汉) comes from the state of Chu (楚), not the state of Han (韩). The Chinese character for the dynasty of Han (汉) and the Chinese character for the state of Han (韩) are different and unrelated. The Han (汉) dynasty was named after the the commandery of Hanzhong (汉中), where Liu bang (刘邦), the founder of Han (汉) dynasty, first established his capital after the overthrown of Qin (秦), being enthroned as a king by his hegemonic overlord, the king of the newly revived kingdom of Chu. The commandery itself was named after the Han River (汉江). The name Hanzhong (汉中) literally means 'The Middle of Han (River)'.

  34. This is probably the most well produced scripted podcast I listen to. Excellent work don't stop.

  35. -"Han empire was usurped by one man."
    -"Who was that?"
    -"Wang Mang."
    -"Yes I know, one man. But what was his name?"
    -"Wang Mang."
    -"Uhhh, whatever."

  36. Next episode….

    The United States of America: Torn Asunder by Toilet Paper

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