Han dynasty

"Eastern Han" redirects here. For the Five Dynasties era kingdom, see Northern Han.

Han dynasty
206 BC – 220 AD
A map of the Western Han Dynasty in 2 AD: 1) the territory shaded in dark blue represents the principalities and centrally-administered commanderies of the Han Empire; 2) the light blue area shows the extent of the Tarim Basin protectorate of the Western Regions. [1]
Capital Chang'an
(206 BC – 9 AD, 190–195 AD)

(25–190 AD, 196 AD)

(196–220 AD)
Languages Old Chinese
Religion Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion
Government Monarchy
 •  202–195 BC Emperor Gaozu
 •  25–57 AD Emperor Guangwu
 •  206–193 BC Xiao He
 •  193–190 BC Cao Can
 •  189–192 AD Dong Zhuo
 •  208–220 AD Cao Cao
 •  220 AD Cao Pi
 •  Establishment 206 BC
 •  Battle of Gaixia; Han rule of China begins 202 BC
 •  Interruption of Han rule 9–23
 •  Abdication to Cao Wei 220 AD
 •  50 BC est. (Western Han peak) [2] 6,000,000 km² (2,316,613 sq mi)
 •  100 AD est. (Eastern Han peak) [2] 6,500,000 km² (2,509,664 sq mi)
 •  2 AD [3] est. 57,671,400 
Currency Ban liang coins and wu zhu coins
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Qin dynasty
Cao Wei
Shu Han
Eastern Wu
Han dynasty
Han dynasty (Chinese characters).svg
"Han dynasty" in Han-era clerical script (top), modern Traditional (middle), and Simplified (bottom) Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese 漢朝
Simplified Chinese 汉朝
History of China
History of China
Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BC
Xia dynasty c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC
Shang dynasty c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC
Zhou dynasty c. 1046 – 256 BC
  Western Zhou
  Eastern Zhou
    Spring and Autumn
    Warring States
Qin dynasty 221–206 BC
Han dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD
  Western Han
  Xin dynasty
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin dynasty 265–420
  Western Jin
  Eastern Jin Sixteen Kingdoms
Northern and Southern dynasties
Sui dynasty 581–618
Tang dynasty 618–907
  ( Second Zhou dynasty 690–705)
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms

Liao dynasty
Song dynasty
  Northern Song Western Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan dynasty 1271–1368
Ming dynasty 1368–1644
Qing dynasty 1644–1911
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic
of China

Republic of
China (Taiwan)


The Han dynasty ( Chinese: 漢朝; pinyin: Hàn cháo) was the second imperial dynasty of China (206 BC–220 AD), preceded by the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 AD). Spanning over four centuries, the Han period is considered a golden age in Chinese history. [4] To this day, China's majority ethnic group refers to itself as the "Han people" and the Chinese script is referred to as " Han characters". [5] It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han, and briefly interrupted by the Xin dynasty (9–23 AD) of the former regent Wang Mang. This interregnum separates the Han dynasty into two periods: the Western Han or Former Han (206 BC – 9 AD) and the Eastern Han or Later Han (25–220 AD).

The emperor was at the pinnacle of Han society. He presided over the Han government but shared power with both the nobility and appointed ministers who came largely from the scholarly gentry class. The Han Empire was divided into areas directly controlled by the central government using an innovation inherited from the Qin known as commanderies, and a number of semi-autonomous kingdoms. These kingdoms gradually lost all vestiges of their independence, particularly following the Rebellion of the Seven States. From the reign of Emperor Wu onward, the Chinese court officially sponsored Confucianism in education and court politics, synthesized with the cosmology of later scholars such as Dong Zhongshu. This policy endured until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 AD.

The Han dynasty was an age of economic prosperity and saw a significant growth of the money economy first established during the Zhou dynasty (c. 1050–256 BC). The coinage issued by the central government mint in 119 BC remained the standard coinage of China until the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD). The period saw a number of limited institutional innovations. To pay for its military campaigns and the settlement of newly conquered frontier territories, the government nationalized the private salt and iron industries in 117 BC, but these government monopolies were repealed during the Eastern Han period. Science and technology during the Han period saw significant advances, including papermaking, the nautical steering rudder, the use of negative numbers in mathematics, the raised-relief map, the hydraulic-powered armillary sphere for astronomy, and a seismometer employing an inverted pendulum.

The Xiongnu, a nomadic steppe confederation, [6] defeated the Han in 200 BC and forced the Han to submit as a de facto inferior partner, but continued their raids on the Han borders. Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141–87 BC) launched several military campaigns against them. The ultimate Han victory in these wars eventually forced the Xiongnu to accept vassal status as Han tributaries. These campaigns expanded Han sovereignty into the Tarim Basin of Central Asia, divided the Xiongnu into two separate confederations, and helped establish the vast trade network known as the Silk Road, which reached as far as the Mediterranean world. The territories north of Han's borders were quickly overrun by the nomadic Xianbei confederation. Emperor Wu also launched successful military expeditions in the south, annexing Nanyue in 111 BC and Dian in 109 BC, and in the Korean Peninsula where the Xuantu and Lelang Commanderies were established in 108 BC. After 92 AD, the palace eunuchs increasingly involved themselves in court politics, engaging in violent power struggles between the various consort clans of the empresses and empresses dowager, causing the Han's ultimate downfall. Imperial authority was also seriously challenged by large Daoist religious societies which instigated the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Five Pecks of Rice Rebellion. Following the death of Emperor Ling (r. 168–189 AD), the palace eunuchs suffered wholesale massacre by military officers, allowing members of the aristocracy and military governors to become warlords and divide the empire. When Cao Pi, King of Wei, usurped the throne from Emperor Xian, the Han dynasty ceased to exist.


According to the Records of the Grand Historian, after the collapse of the Qin dynasty the hegemon Xiang Yu appointed Liu Bang as prince of the small fief of Hanzhong, named after its location on the Han River (in modern southwest Shaanxi). Following Liu Bang's victory in the Chu–Han Contention, the resulting Han dynasty was named after the Hanzhong fief. [7]