Zach – Welcome back to Season 2 of Minimum Wage Historian. We had a two month vacation due to an unfortunate accident with Olga, gasoline and my computer. The computer I ordered was very late and when it finally showed up, broke after six days. The replacement took another two weeks getting here and then I’ve been doing illustrations for Larry Corriea’s book “Warbound” and a short story for the “Crimson Pact. vol 5” for Paul Genesse. But we’re back.
Anna – I spent the time on an island in the Aegean. Very relaxing.
Zach – Well some of us have to work.
Anna – What a shame. Well, today we have a fascinating topic, the ancient Han dynasty from China.
Mulan – Ancient Chinese history isn’t something that is taught all that much in your American schools.
Zach – Not really.
Mulan – Your loss.
Anna – Also with us are Countess Matilda of Tuscany, Napoleon Bonaparte, Olga of Kiev and…of course…Gaspar Correia.
Gaspar – I sensed some hesitation at my name.
Anna – You’re imagining things.
Mulan – He’s good at that.
Zach – Let’s get started then.
Mulan – I’ll take point on this one seeing as how I lived in the Han Dynasty. (Unsheathes sword.)
Zach – Be my guest.
Mulan – Seeing as how America doesn’t teach any history in their classrooms that doesn’t involve WWII, I’m going to start with a general overview of Chinese history so we can fit this all into perspective.
Gaspar – So, where’s China?
Mulan – Chinese History is a long story of royal dynasties that are constantly rising and falling. One will rise up to power and stability. The economy will prosper and culture will boom. Then things will fall apart, there’ll be a bunch of warlords and smaller kingdoms until another dynasty rises and unites China again.
Olga – Where is famous General Tso. I like General Tso’ s chicken.
Mulan – (Face Palms) Today we’re mainly talking about the Han Dynasty. But first I have to back track to the first emperor of China. Emperor Quin united a bunch of warring states into one, massive, centralized government. It was at this time that the Chinese began thinking of themselves as Chinese and not separate, scattered kingdoms. Under the Quin Dynasty, China’s culture began to grow and become more refined than they ever imagined. The organization became more sophisticated than anything Europe would see until the eighteenth century.
Napoleon – Ha! I read about this so called emperor. He was a madman!
Mulan – Yes, that was a problem. He was a maniacal lunatic that enacted such harsh laws that people quickly began rebelling against them. For example, one army unit was struggeling to march to where they were to report to but the monsoon rains delayed them. Under the Quin, they would be harshly punished for any infraction, regardless of circumstances. So, instead of reporting in and promptly becoming prisoners, they went off on their own and became rebel/bandits.
Matilda – Like Robin Hood, yes?
Mulan – Not so nice as that. In fact, they were very surprised when other disgruntled people began flocking to join them and soon they had a full scale rebellion on their hands. The generals that were sent out to quell the rebellions fought and lost and when they lost they joined their forces with the rebels instead of returning to the Empire for harsh punishment. As a result, the rebellion grew and grew until China was a chaotic jumble or warlords fighting for power.
Anna – So, the Quin (or Chin) Dynasty leaders were so pointlessly harsh that they caused just about everyone to rebel? That’s not what I’d call good governing.
Mulan – No, it wasn’t very pleasant. The Quin Dynasty fell in 207B.C. However, in about 202BC, the Han dynasty emerged. This was the equivalent to the Roman Empire of the West. About the same time period, set an example for every following empire and eventually fell to barbarians and anarchy while a foreign religion became popular.
Anna – Like the Romans? I like these Han already.
Mulan – The man that united China under the Han was born a commoner. He was a career soldier who showed kindness to his conquered enemies, mercy, charity and a general desire to help his people. He was everything Emperor Quin wasn’t. Under his rule, all the harsh policies of the Quin were erased, he lowered taxes and took a very “hands off” approach to government. The people were free to live as they would and the merchants were free to make as much money as they wanted. This man was Han Kao.
Mulan – However, he died young and had a very short but amazing reign. When he died, his wife, Empress Lu, took over.
Mulan – Lu proved to be every bit the leader her husband was. Having grown up a commoner, she understood the problems the commoners had and ruled with frugality and benevolence. Her children who succeeded her also ruled with the same generous wisdom. The population soared, the people grew richer than they had under the Quin and China expanded its borders. A later Han emperor named Wu Ti gained power over the nobles and invaded Korea and Vietnam.
Napoleon – Ha! Someone needs to invade North Korea now and shut that fat child up.
Gaspar – At this time during the Han Dynasty, the magic of controlling the elements was first explored. There were people that could bend fire to their will and air and…
Olga – Control fire? Olga must learn this magic.
Matilda – It’s not real, Olga. Gaspar’s just been watching too much Avatar the Last Airbender.
Olga – I like that movie!
Gaspar – Not the horrible movie! The cartoon!
Mulan – Silence or I’ll drop and make you push until I get tired. (Everyone falls silent.) Better. As we see, the Han Dynasty is a stable, peaceful place where a person is free to prosper as she pleases. The military victories brought large areas of land under the control and pushed the proto-Mongol barbarians westward. Those barbarians would eventually show up in the Roman Empire as the Huns of Attila.
Anna – So! Attila was your fault!
Matilda – But… This prosperity can’t last long.
Mulan – Correct. After Wu Ti, there were a bunch of unremarkable leaders that couldn’t maintain this level of progress. Eventually the lack of leadership got so bad that they brought in a non-Han official to take over. His name was Wang Mang. (Gaspar chuckles) Wang Mang was an idealist. He controlled the empire to his strict version of Confucianism. He centralized the power of the government, micro managed everything, made laws that were so strict they were practically unenforceable. He took land from the nobles, business from the merchants and made mountains, rivers, forests and streams government property. In short, he angered every social class in China. Food prices rose like a Chinese rocket, mass starvation created thousands of refugees that were dependent on the government and the border kingdoms that owed China their allegiance succeeded from the Empire. Things got so bad that the government started falling apart.
Mulan – Eventually a group of rebels stormed the palace ( I don’t think the palace guard put up much of a fight. ) and killed Wang Mang. The next ruler was another Han and things got back to normal. Things became prosperous and they even launched an exploratory mission all the way to the Black Sea.
Matilda – I read our assigned reading about this.
Olga – Assigned reading?
Matilda – At this time, the farmers were very different from what we knew in Europe, right? In Europe during this time, a farmer was largely self sufficient. They had different crops, raised livestock and did a bunch of other things. What excess they had they’d trade off with their neighbors. Not so in China. There the farmers worked like a modern economy. Each farmer grew a great deal of one crop and they wouldn’t eat their own crops. They’d take their one crop to town and sell it to merchants who ran the trade routes. Then the farmer would use that money to buy his food and whatever else they needed. It was all very organized and handled in an surprisingly efficient way.
Mulan – That is correct. The bureaucracy was also enormously complicated and grew more prestigious and educated with each passing dynasty. Even minor bureaucrats were expected to know the classics and understand the latest philosophies.
Mulan – But the “hands off” style of the Han had one drawback. It let the land owning nobles gain too much power. They started to control their farmers like Medieval peasants and worse and took over their farms. They gathered large private armies until their estates were practically small and separate countries. They slowly eroded the power of the Han. The culture of the nobility, as the power of the Empire shrank, began to care less and less for the world around them and like the French aristocracy before the French Revolution, they withdrew into their own private worlds of pleasure and vice.
Napoleon – Ha! They can only live off the suffering of the common man for so long! I will show what we do to uncaring Monarchists!
Mulan – As the nobles drifted off into apathy, the eunuchs of the court gradually took power until they controlled the government. They began to abuse their power and impoverished the Empire for their villas and extravagant tombs. Generals began rising up in rebellion and making their own little kingdoms. The eunuchs were killed and thrown out, but it was too late. The Empire was too weak to recover. It fell apart into anarchy of many warring states.
Mulan – A general named Tsao Tsao tried to reunite the Empire but only succeeded in unifying the northern half. In his wars to try to bring unity, he fought the famous battle of Red Cliff. (Maybe I’ll do a post on that battle later.) But with the failure of Tsao Tsao (or Cao Cao) the two southern kingdoms continued and we get the famous “Three Kingdoms” era of Chinese History. This was a time of daring deeds and romance. Many stories, books and legends came from this time, almost like how you Westerners view the time of King Aurthur.
Zach – Very awesome, Mulan. Thank you for that.
Anna – I always wondered what the lands that silk came from were like.
Mulan – I hope to teach more of my land’s history.
Zach – If you buy lunch.
Mulan – Deal.
Olga – But what about this General Tso and his remarkable chicken?
Mulan – Shut up.