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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 7 - Strong Rulers Unite China

 What will we be learning in this unit?
  • How did Shi Huangdi unite China?
  • How did Han rulers strengthen the economy and government of China?
  • Why is the Han period considered a golden age for China?

Shi Huangdi
  • In 221 b.c., Zheng proclaimed himself Shi Huangdi, or "First Emperor.
  • Shi Huangdi was determined to end the divisions that had splintered Zhou China. He spent 20 years conquering most of the warring states. Then, he centralized power with the help of Legalist advisers. Using rewards for merit and punishments for failure, he built the strong, authoritarian government of the Qin dynasty.

Shi Huangdi
  • Emperor Shi Huangdi abolished feudalism in China, whereby many local rulers had owed little allegiance to any central government. He replaced the feudal states with 36 military districts and appointed loyal officials to administer them. He then sent inspectors to spy on the local officials and report back to him. Shi Huangdi forced noble families to live in his capital at Xianyang, where he could monitor them. He distributed the lands of the displaced nobles to peasants. Still, peasants had to pay high taxes to support Shi Huangdi's armies and building projects.
  • To promote unity, the First Emperor standardized weights and measures and replaced the diverse coins of the Zhou states with Qin coins. He also had scholars create uniformity in Chinese writing. Workers repaired and extended roads and canals to strengthen the transportation system. A new law even required cart axles to be the same width so that wheels could run in the same ruts on all Chinese roads
  • Shi Huangdi moved harshly against critics. He jailed, tortured, and killed many who opposed his rule. Hardest hit were the feudal nobles and Confucian scholars who despised his laws. To end dissent, Shi Huangdi approved a ruthless campaign of book burning, ordering the destruction of all works of literature and philosophy. Only books on medicine and agriculture were spared.

Shi Huangdi
  • Shi Huangdi's most remarkable and costly achievement was the Great Wall. In the past, individual feudal states had built walls to defend their lands against raiders. Shi Huangdi ordered the walls to be joined. Hundreds of thousands of laborers worked for years through bitter cold and burning heat. They pounded earth and stone into a mountainous wall almost 25 feet high topped with a wide brick road. Many workers died in the harsh conditions. 
  • Over the centuries, the wall was extended and rebuilt many times. Eventually, it snaked for thousands of miles across northern China. 
  • While the wall did not keep invaders out of China, it did demonstrate the emperor's ability to mobilize the vast resources of China. In the long run, the Great Wall became an important symbol to the Chinese people, dividing and protecting their civilized world from the nomadic, or wandering, bands north of the wall.

Collapse of Shi Huangdi
  • Shi Huangdi thought his empire would last forever. But when he died in 210 b.c., anger over heavy taxes, forced labor, and cruel policies exploded into revolts. As Qin power collapsed, Liu Bang (lee oo bahng), an illiterate peasant leader, defeated rival armies and founded the new Han dynasty. Like earlier Chinese rulers, Liu Bang claimed that his power was based on the Mandate of Heaven.

 Han Dynasty
  • The most famous Han emperor, Wudi, took China to new heights. During his long reign from 141 b.c. to 87 b.c., he strengthened the government and economy. Like Gao Zu, he chose officials from Confucian "men of wisdom and virtue." To train scholars, he set up an imperial university at Xian. 
  • Wudi furthered economic growth by improving canals and roads. He had granaries set up across the empire so the government could buy grain when it was abundant and sell it at stable prices when it was scarce. He reorganized finances and imposed a government monopoly on iron and salt. A monopoly is the complete control of a product or business by one person or group. The sale of iron and salt gave the government a source of income other than taxes on peasants. 
  • Wudi followed a policy of expansionism by increasing the amount of territory under Chinese rule. He fought many battles to expand China's borders and to drive nomadic peoples beyond the Great Wall. Chinese armies added outposts in Manchuria, Korea, northern Vietnam, Tibet, and Central Asia. Soldiers, traders, and settlers slowly spread Chinese influence across these areas.

Han Dynasty
  • The emperor Wudi opened up a trade route, later called the Silk Road, that would link China and the west for centuries. During the Han period, new foods such as grapes, figs, cucumbers, and walnuts flowed to China from western Asia. Lucky traders might return to China bearing furs from Central Asia, muslin from India, or glass from Rome. At the same time, the Chinese sent tons of silk westward to fill a growing demand for the prized fabric.
  • Eventually, the Silk Road stretched for 4,000 miles, linking China to the Fertile Crescent in southwestern Asia. Still, few traders covered the entire distance; instead, goods were relayed in stages from one set of traders to another. At the western end, trade was controlled by various people, including the Persians.
  • Han emperors made Confucianism the official belief system of the state. They relied on well-educated scholars to run the bureaucratic government. A scholar-official was expected to match the Confucian ideal of a gentleman. He would be courteous and dignified and possess a thorough knowledge of history, music, poetry, and Confucian teachings.

Han Dynasty
  • Han emperors adopted the idea that government officials should win positions by merit rather than through family background. To find the most qualified officials, they set up a system of exams. In time, these civil service exams were given at the local, provincial, and national levels. To pass, candidates studied the Confucian classics, a collection of histories, poems, and handbooks on customs that Confucius was said to have compiled.
  • In theory, any man could take the exams. In practice, only those who could afford years of study, such as the sons of wealthy landowners or officials, could hope to succeed. Occasionally, a village or wealthy family might pay for the education of a brilliant peasant boy. If he passed the exams and obtained a government job, he, his family, and his clan all enjoyed immense prestige and moved up in society.
  • Confucian teachings about filial piety and the superiority of men kept women from taking the civil service exam. As a result, women were closed out of government jobs. 
  • The civil service system had an enormous impact on China for almost 2,000 years. It put men trained in Confucian thought at every level of government and created an enduring system of values. Dynasties rose and fell, but Confucian influence survived.

Collapse of Han Dynasty
  • As the Han dynasty aged, signs of decay appeared. Court intrigues undermined emperors who could no longer control powerful warlords, or local military rulers. Weak emperors let canals and roads fall into disrepair. Burdened by heavy taxes and crushing debt, many peasants revolted. Thousands of rebellious peasants abandoned their villages and fled to the mountains. There they joined secret groups of bandits known by colorful names such as the "Red Eyebrows" and the "Green Woodsmen." 
  • In a.d. 220, ambitious warlords overthrew the last Han emperor. After 400 years of unity, China broke up into several kingdoms. Adding to the disorder, invaders poured over the Great Wall and set up their own states. In time, many of these newcomers were absorbed into Chinese civilization.

Achievements of the Hans

  • Han scientists wrote texts on chemistry, zoology, botany, and other subjects. Han astronomers carefully observed and measured movements of the stars and planets, which enabled them to improve earlier calendars and invent better timekeeping devices. One scientist invented a simple seismograph to detect and measure earthquakes. 
  • The scientist Wang Chong disagreed with the widely held belief that comets and eclipses showed Heaven's anger. "On the average, there is one moon eclipse about every 180 days,"  he wrote, "and a solar eclipse about every 41 or 42 months. Eclipses - are not caused by political action." Wang Chong argued that no scientific theories should be accepted unless they were supported by proof.
  • Chinese physicians diagnosed diseases, experimented with herbal remedies and other drugs, and developed anesthetics. Some doctors explored the uses of acupuncture. In this medical treatment, the doctor inserts needles under the skin at specific points to relieve pain or treat various illnesses.


Achievements of the Hans
  • In its time, Han China was the most technologically advanced civilization in the world. Cai Lun, an official of the Han court, invented a method for making durable paper out of wood pulp. His basic method is still used to manufacture paper today. The Chinese also pioneered advanced methods of shipbuilding and invented the rudder to steer. Other practical inventions included bronze and iron stirrups, fishing reels, wheelbarrows, suspension bridges, and chain pumps. Some of these ideas moved west slowly, reaching Europe hundreds of years later.
  • The walled cities of Han China boasted splendid temples and palaces amid elegant parks. Although these wooden buildings have not survived, Han poets and historians have described their grandeur. Artisans produced delicate jade and ivory carvings and fine ceramic figures. Bronzeworkers and silkmakers improved on earlier techniques and set high standards for future generations.
  • In Lessons for a Woman, a handbook of behavior written by Ban Zhao (bahn jow) around a.d. 100, the proper behavior for women and men was carefully spelled out. Ban Zhao favored equal education for boys and girls. However, she stressed that women should be obedient, respectful, and submissive. "Let a woman modestly yield to others," she advised. "Let her respect others"