The story of the Han regime began in 206 BCE, when the valley of Wei in China witnessed the fall of the Qin army and the rise of the Han prince, Liu Bang. He defeated his rival Xiang Yu, and laid the foundations of the Han empire. The Han era is divided into two periods: the Western Dynasty, which reigned from 206 BCE to 9 CE, and the Eastern Dynasty, which lasted from 25 CE to 220 CE. There was a brief interruption in the rule by the usurping of power by a revolting Xin ruler, only to be won back by the Han. The 24 emperors who ruled during this period led the Chinese society into a new era of prosperity. They were connoisseurs and seekers of art, literature, and technology. The Han rule was largely peaceful, and had a significant impact on the Chinese culture. A major ethnic group of China still refers to itself as the 'Han population'.
The new ruler established his capital in Chang'an, in the present day Shaanxi province of China. The empire was very systematically administered by local rulers, under the direct authority of the central government. The famed 'Silk Route' across difficult terrains and a cruel desert, was created under this regime. Trade with the Roman empire flourished mainly due to this passage, which was extremely influential in introducing the contrasting European and Oriental cultures to each other. The careful administration led to a greater bonding and cooperation amongst the people of China.
Emperor Wu, who reigned from 141 BCE to 87 BCE, is considered one of the greatest Han rulers. He successfully defended the empire from frequent invasions by Central Asian tribes, and provided generous backing to technological advances and economic reforms. The empire was at its largest and greatest during his reign. It extended to the Tarim basin in the west, ensuring a safe trading route to important trade centers such as Baghdad, Antioch, and Alexandria. Parts of present day Vietnam and Korea, in the south and east respectively, were also invaded and annexed by the Han army. The Han rulers respected local powers, and established cordial relations with small Chinese powers in exchange of their acceptance of the Han suzerainty. Responsible people were selected for administration through civil services examinations.
The exquisite collection of clay furniture, lamps, ancient tombs, and various other articles unearthed during archaeological excavations are a testimony to the rich heritage of the Han period. Confucianism was advocated and gained popularity in the society, especially after its suppression for a long period by the Qin dynasty. Craftsmen, artisans, and skilled labor reaped huge benefits in those days. The medical advances, the invention of paper, and the various porcelain articles are indeed a gift to the future generations by this prosperous civilization. There were even rudimentary earthquake detectors in place, so that the king could dispatch troops or emergency assistance to the affected area. The cultural ties with neighboring India and the Middle East, along with the spread of Buddhism, can also be credited to this rule. The Han dynasty marked the beginning of an organized public schooling in China, though only boys were allowed, in accordance with the principles of Confucius.
Factionalism and the great say of palace concubines in administration, coupled with the jealous attitude of senior officials, caused a brief fall of the empire. It was reinstated by the next Han king, Guang Wudi, who shifted the capital to Loyang, a city in the present day Henan province. The new fortified and lavish capital also liberalized trade, boosting frequent caravans traveling back and forth from the West, right into the new capital. The latter period of the Han rule established diplomatic relations with Japanese and Central Asian powers, the flourishing kingdom in northern India, and even as far as Rome.
The centralization of power had augmented an enormous growth, which brought along rivalries and many financial problems. The increasing population and growth of corruption in the expanding political institutions finally led to the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 CE.