Wu Di, the Chinese emperor responsible for the development of the Silk Road, hailed from the Han Dynasty, which rose to power in 206 BC and lasted until 220 AD. According to Richard Hooker, the Han Dynasty "defines Chinese culture the Chinese refer to themselves as the "'the people of the Han'" (Hooker "Former Han", par. 1).
This particular dynasty can be divided into two parts: the Former and the Later Han. Liu Pang, a commoner, rose to power and created the Former Han Dynasty. He called himself Han Kao Tsu, or Exalted Emperor of the Han, and placed his capital city at Chang'an (Hooker "Former Han", par. 2).
In its infancy, before it was split by wars and civil strife, the Former Han dynasty strove to create a strong, humane central government. They restored the Classical literature of China, established the first public school system, and invented such things as paper, porcelain, the wheelbarrow, the compass and a primitive seismograph (Rause, par. 8).
The Han chose to rule by merit; people could only work within the government if they passed an examination composed of moral questions, Classics, and questions related to Confucius. In fact, Confucianism was adopted as the state philosophy (Hooker "Former Han", par. 4).
In order to fund the dynasty and remain in control, the Han dynasty placed heavy taxes on the people, with the poor facing the brunt of the taxation. This in turn led to revolts, especially by the commoners, and in 23 AD, Emperor Wang Mang was executed by a rebel peasant group known as the Red Eyebrows (Hooker "Former Han", pars. 9-10). The following two years saw China embroiled in civil warfare. Finally, the Later Han took control and began to establish reforms across its territory. The Later Han was marked by military expansion, and in 50 AD, the Han army attacked Hsiung Nu and pushed the nomads who inhabited this territory all the way to Europe (Hooker "Later Han", par. 3). Thus they were successful in gaining more land for China.
The downfall of the Later Han dynasty would be the same as that of the Former Han: taxation. Wealthy landowners evaded paying their taxes, and the poor had to take on this burden. The even that marked the end of the Later Han in 220 AD was the revolt by the Taoist Secret Society known as the Yellow Turbans (Hooker "Later Han", par. 4). With the fall of the Later Han, the entire Han Dynasty died out and faded into history.
Though both the Former and Later Han Dynasties were marked by civil strife and war in their later years, they both contributed greatly to the Chinese civilization whether in politics, science, art or philosophy, and thus are quite important in the history of China.
For more information about the Han Dynasty, as well as other dynasties between 30 BC and 1453 AD, please visit: http://www.san.beck.org/AB3-China.html
Hooker, Richard. "The Chinese Empire: The Former Han". Retrieved 11 November 2001. http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/CHEMPIRE/FORMHAN.htm
Hooker, Richard. "The Chinese Empire: The Later Han". Retrieved 11 November 2001. http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/CHEMPIRE/LATERHAN.htm.
Rause, Vince. "The Han Dynasty: The World Comes to China". Secrets of the Great Wall. Retrieved 11 November 2001. http://www.discovery.com/stories/history/greatwall/han.html.