(206 BC–9 AD, 190–195 AD)
(23–190 AD, 196 AD)
Chinese folk religion
| • ||202–195 BC (first)||Emperor Gaozu|
| • ||141-87 BC||Emperor Wu|
| • ||25–57 AD||Emperor Guangwu|
| • ||189-220 AD (last)||Emperor Xian|
| • ||206–193 BC||Xiao He|
| • ||193–190 BC||Cao Can|
| • ||189–192 AD||Dong Zhuo|
| • ||208–220 AD||Cao Cao|
| • ||220 AD||Cao Pi|
| • ||Xiang Yu appointed Liu Bang as King of Han||206 BC|
| • ||Battle of Gaixia; Han rule of China began||202 BC|
| • ||Xin dynasty||9 AD–23 AD|
| • ||Abdication to Cao Wei||220 AD|
| • ||50 BC est. (Western Han peak)||6,000,000 km2 (2,300,000 sq mi)|
| • ||100 AD est. (Eastern Han peak)||6,500,000 km2 (2,500,000 sq mi)|
| • ||2 AD est.||57,671,400 |
|Currency||Ban Liang coins and Wu Zhu coins|
|Today part of|| China|
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. To this day, China's majority ethnic group refers to themselves as the "Han Chinese" and the Chinese script is referred to as "Han characters". 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 (r. 141–87 BC) 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 saw an age of economic prosperity and witnessed 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 finance its military campaigns and the settlement of newly conquered frontier territories, the Han government nationalized the private salt and iron industries in 117 BC, but these government monopolies were repealed during the Eastern Han dynasty. Science and technology during the Han period saw significant advances, including the process of papermaking, the nautical steering ship rudder, the use of negative numbers in mathematics, the raised-relief map, the hydraulic-powered armillary sphere for astronomy, and a seismometer for measuring earthquakes employing an inverted pendulum.
The Xiongnu, a nomadic steppe confederation, 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 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 would eventually collapse and ceased to exist.