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Han dynasty

A portrait of Emperor GaozuA portrait of Emperor Gaozu The Han dynasty ruled the Chinese empire for more than 400 years, from 206 BC to AD 220. The first emperor of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang (256 or 247–195 BC), who ruled as Emperor Gaozu, was born a peasant. He led a rebellion against the unpopular Qin dynasty. Han rule was a time of great prosperity for China. The country was governed efficiently and there were great advances in science and technology. There were long periods of peace and the Chinese army added vast tracts of new land to the already powerful empire.

Han expansion

A map of China in Han timesA map of China in Han timesEmperor Wu of Han (ruled 141–87 BC) launched several military campaigns against the Xiongnu, a nomadic tribe from the west of China (and probably the ancestors of the Huns). Victory for the Han forced the Xiongnu to accept Han overlordship, and Han rule expanded into Central Asia. From here, the Silk Road, a vast trade network, would link China the Mediterranean world, along which merchants travelled to take silks to sell in Europe and the Middle East.

Han society was a strict hierarchy, with the emperor at the top followed by kings of the various lands in the Chinese empire. There then followed 20 ranks, with each job given its place. Ordinary commoners (workers) fell below these ranks.

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