The Astonishing Achievements and Accomplishments of the Han Dynasty

Fact about Han dynasty
The Han dynasty rein spanned four centuries, in a period referred to as the golden age of Chinese history. We'll take a look at the greatest achievements and accomplishments of the Han dynasty.
What distinguished Eastern Han from Western Han?
Scholars refer to the period between 206 BCE and 25 CE as Western Han, when the capital was in the western city of Chang'an (now Xian). The Eastern Han period between 25 and 220 CE was when the capital was moved eastward to Luoyang.
The Han dynasty with its 400-year rein left an indelible impression on Chinese culture and the region's history. In fact, their descendants―known as the Han Chinese―comprise the largest ethnic group in China today.

The dynasty's founder was Liu Bang, who belied his humble beginnings and successfully led a revolt against the oppressive Qin dynasty. Liu Bang and his successors looked towards Confucianism for inspiration, building a culture that was moderate, progressive, and encouraged creativity. Thus, it isn't surprising when we learn about the progressive leaps made by Chinese society during this time, encompassing all aspects of human endeavors―science, astronomy, literature, arts, business and trade, along with social and cultural expansion.
Han Dynasty Achievements and Accomplishments in Ancient China
It was during the Han period that the initial idea of establishing a trade route with the West was conceptualized. Sections of the Silk Route in Central Asia were built on the behest of the Hans, leading to the expansion of trade across the continents, passing through India, Persia, Arabia, culminating in Europe.
Yumen Pass on the Silk Route
The Yumen Pass or Jade Gate was built during the early Han period on the road connecting Central Asia and China.
The Han capital of Chang'an was a walled, impenetrable citadel built on a strategically important site in the vicinity of modern-day Xian. All major roads and highways converged in Chang'an, and it was also the eastern end of the Silk Route. The city center had two enormous marketplaces, ornate royal residences, and residential areas for the citizens. At its peak, Chang'an was only second to Rome in terms of size and might.

This era also saw what is the biggest expansion of Chinese territories, with Han Empire boundaries stretching as far as Vietnam in the west. North Korea in the east, Inner Mongolia in the north, and the province of Manchuria in the south, making it the largest empire with respect to area.
One of the most revolutionary inventions of the era was the introduction of various papermaking techniques. The concept is credited to a eunuch named Cai Lun who, around 105 CE, developed a technique using rice straw and the inner bark of the mulberry tree. Later on, different materials were used in the process, including bamboo, hemp, and clay. The initial use for paper was simply as wrapping material, but with technical advancements, it began to be used as a primary medium of writing by the 3rd century.
Chinese calligraphy on a tablet
Tablets, like the one seen here, depicting exemplary calligraphy were often commissioned.
Following the rapid development in the papermaking industry, the Hans began to heavily promote calligraphy. Confucianism was adopted as the official ideology of the state, and the government took efforts to permeate it across all classes of society. Emperor Wu endorsed Confucian education, establishing the Imperial University in 124 BCE.

Even though silk making techniques existed long before the rise of the Hans, it was during this era that full-fledged looms were built, which greatly facilitated the manufacture of silk yarns and cloths. The silk weaving industry also provided the necessary impetus for the development of the Silk Route.
Han dynasty coin molds
Coin molds belonging to the Han period.
The Chinese refined the process of designing tools, by perfecting the skill of casting iron. Using blast furnaces to shape and wield tools, the craftsmen greatly contributed to the progress of the military as well as improved agricultural yield. Wheelbarrows, ploughs, and chain pumps made their first appearance in the era, handcrafted by skilled Han craftsmen.
Astronomy was of great interest to the Hans. They were of the opinion that celestial bodies and unusual events concerning them, like comets and eclipses could foretell the future, making detailed drawings mapping the movements of planets and stars. Sunspots and supernova were also discovered during the era. Their calendar was based on the documented celestial maps which depicted the movements of the Sun and the Moon.
The Han society had a dedicated class of artisans who crafted earthenware, jewelry, bronzeware, created lavishly decorated murals and paintings for the homes of the elite. The art of lacquering was especially studied and practiced and patronized by the royals.
Han dynasty jade disk
Jade disk belonging to the Han period.
Han dynasty pottery sample
Clay jar created by Han craftsmen.
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The ceramics industry received patronage from the authorities, as a wide range of wares were sculpted for domestic and decorative use. The Han craftsmen were credited with creating durable ceramic ware made in larger kiln chambers, longer firing tunnels, and improved chimney designs.
Han dynasty terracotta figurine
Detailed carvings on terracotta warrior figurine of the Han era.
For the royals, artwork was an essential part of funerary procedures as well, with artisans and craftsmen being employed to decorate tombs with elaborate paintings and murals. Various sculptures depicting dancers and musicians were also placed in tombs, with the view of keeping the deceased entertained during the afterlife.
A seismometer was developed in 132 CE by Zhang Heng, which aided the authorities in detecting earthquakes. The device was meant to measure seasonal winds and the movements of the Earth, as Heng assumed that the primary cause of earthquakes was the enormous compression of trapped air.
The Hans mined salt from underground sources rather than seawater, which was a necessity for the large populace living inwards from the ocean. These people also pioneered food preservation techniques by making use of salt.
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