Chinese Dynasties: Eastern Han dynasty

Chinese Dynasties: Eastern Han dynasty

The eastern Han dynasty received its name because of the capital city’s move to the east, from Chang’an to Luoyang. The restored dynasty was never able to match the glitter and polish of the earlier Han dynasty; from the beginning, the emperors always had to fight with landowners.

These people had assisted Liu Xiu, the first emperor of the later Han dynasty, to come to power, and succeeding emperors also had to build on their support while simultaneously holding their power in check. Liu Xiu came from a landowning family, himself owning enormous estates and having lessees, landless workers, and slaves under him. His property was protected by a private army.

The problems that had lead to the descent of the earlier Han dynasty had not been eliminated. The power of the landholders, who enjoyed taxation privileges, grew; and the number of taxpaying peasants dwindled, for they lost more and more property through indebtedness to the large landholders and had to work the land as lessees or even serfs. Then they needed perform no compulsory labor for the State. The land was laid waste in civil war, and the population shrank by half. A further risk to the emperor’s rule was the families of the empresses at the court, whose influence the Han emperors wanted to curb. The emperors had to rely more and more on eunuchs, who served at the court and used their exclusive knowledge to further their own influence.

Liu Xiu died in 57 C.E. His heir was his son Ming Di (58 – 76 C.E.). He returned to a warlike policy against the Huns and undertook field maneuvers against the west. Under Ming Di, Buddhism allegedly had its start in China. Under his successor, Emperor Zhang, the aggressive foreign policy continued, even though it never achieved the sheen and dimension of the earlier Han dynasty under Wu Di.

Decline of the Han dynasty

The majority of Han rulers were underage and fell under the influence of the eunuchs, who could then increase their power relative to the civil servantry. Landowners and civil servants exploited the land more and more; the pressing question of agriculture could not be solved; the number of impoverished peasants climbed. In 184 C.E., the Resistance of the Yellow Turbans was quashed by government troops.

The generals Cao Cao and Dong Zhou, having gained in defeating the unrest, rivaled over the crown. The youthful emperor was just a marionette. Dong Zhou was murdered by eunuchs in 193 C.E.

Afterward, Cao Cao was able to make himself the strong man of China, but he lost control over wide swaths of south China and the west. He appointed a weak emperor in 196 but maintained actual power himself. Yet he never declared himself emperor.

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