The Rise and Fall of the Han Dynasty

The Rise and Fall of the Han Dynasty

By Patrick Lynch
The Rise and Fall of the Han Dynasty

Although the brief Qin dynasty managed to unite the Warring States of China, the Han dynasty is considered to be the second great Chinese imperial dynasty after almost 800 years of Zhou control. The Han had such a profound impact on its nation’s culture that the word ‘Han’ ultimately referred to a person who was ethnically Chinese.


The short-lived Qin dynasty (221-206 BC) began with the unification of six warring states. Led by a man who proclaimed himself the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the empire unified China for a brief period before Qin died in 210 BC. The result was a vicious civil war which was won by Liu Bang who defeated Xiang Yu. Liu led the Han since 206 BC and after four years of fighting, finally got the better of Xiang after surrounding him at the Yangzi River where his rival committed suicide. From 202 BC until his death seven years later, Liu was known as Emperor Gaozu of Han, the first leader of the dynasty.

He decided to pick Chang’an as the empire’s new capital as all major roads converged there; it was also the eastern end of the legendary Silk Road. Within 200 years, the population of the city grew to approximately 250,000 as it was the economic, cultural and military center of the nation.

When the emperor died in 195 BC, his wife Lu Zhi tried to take the empire for her family. She murdered all of her husband’s sons born to concubines and mutilated his favorite mistress. The Empress embraced nepotism by installing relatives in positions of power, replacing those who had been loyal to the emperor. Emperor Gaozu’s heir apparent was his teenage son, Liu Yang who became Emperor Hui of Han. Once he found out what his mother was doing, the frightened emperor took great care not to disobey her.

Map of Asia at 1 AD. Ancient History Encyclopedia

Rise & Fall of the Lu Clan

Emperor Hui did not have any children so when he died in 188 BC; his mother showed that she was the real powerbroker in the Han dynasty by placing one ruler on the throne before removing him for someone else. During the reigns of her handpicked emperors, Lu Zhi issued imperial edicts and picked family members as kings, military officers and officials.

Once Lu Zhi died in 180 BC, the King of Qi (grandson of the first emperor) raised an army to fight the Lus but before they could engage, the Lu Clan was destroyed by a coup. The King of Qi did not become the new ruler; instead, the King of Dai, Liu Heng, became Emperor Wen and ruled until 157 BC.