The Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC) and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms (220–280 AD). It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty (9–23 AD) of the former regent Wang Mang. This interregnum separates the Han into two periods: the Western Han (206 BC – 9 AD) and Eastern Han (25–220 AD). Spanning over four centuries, Han Dynasty period is considered a golden age in Chinese history. To this day, China's majority ethnic group refers to itself as the "Han people" and Chinese characters are referred to as "Han characters".
The early Western Han court simultaneously accepted the philosophical teachings of Legalism, Huang-Lao Daoism, and Confucianism in making state decisions and shaping government policy. However, the Han court under Emperor Wu gave Confucianism exclusive patronage. In 136 BCE, he abolished all academic chairs or erudites (boshi 博) not dealing with the Confucian Five Classics, and encouraged nominees for office to receive a Confucian-based education at the Imperial University that he established in 124 BCE. Unlike the original ideology espoused by Confucius, or Kongzi (551–479 BCE), Han Confucianism in Emperor Wu's reign was the creation of Dong Zhongshu (179–104 BCE). Dong was a scholar and minor official who aggregated the ethical Confucian ideas of ritual, filial piety, and harmonious relationships with five phases and yin-yang cosmologies. Much to the interest of the ruler, Dong's synthesis justified the imperial system of government within the natural order of the universe.
The Imperial University grew in importance as the student body grew to over 30,000 by the 2nd century CE. A Confucian-based education was also made available at commandery-level schools and private schools opened in small towns, where teachers earned respectable incomes from tuition payments.
Some important texts were created and studied by scholars. Philosophical works written by Yang Xiong (53 BCE – 18 CE), Huan Tan (43 BCE – 28 CE), Wang Chong (27–100 CE), and Wang Fu (78–163 CE) questioned whether human nature was innately good or evil and posed challenges to Dong's universal order. The Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Tan (d. 110 BCE) and his son Sima Qian (145–86 BCE) established the standard model for all of imperial China's Standard Histories, such as the Book of Han written by Ban Biao (3–54 CE), his son Ban Gu (32–92 CE), and his daughter Ban Zhao (45–116 CE). There were dictionaries such as the Shuowen Jiezi by Xu Shen (c. 58 – c. 147 CE) and the Fangyan by Yang Xiong. Biographies on important figures were written by various gentrymen. Han dynasty poetry was dominated by the fu genre, which achieved its greatest prominence during the reign of Emperor Wu.
During the Western Han period, grave goods were usually wares and pieces of art that were used by the tomb occupant when he or she was alive. During the Eastern Han period, however, new stylistic goods, wares, and artwork found in tombs were usually made exclusively for burial, and were not produced for previous use by the deceased when they were alive. These include miniature ceramic towers—usually watchtowers and urban residential towers — which provide historians clues about lost wooden architecture. In addition to towers, there are also miniature models of querns, water wells, pigsties, pestling shops, and farm fields with pottery pigs, dogs, sheep, chickens, ducks. Although many items placed in tombs were commonly used wares and utensils, it was considered taboo to bring objects specified for burial into living quarters or the imperial palace. They could only be brought into living quarters once they were properly announced at funerary ceremonies, and were known as mingqi (明/冥, "fearsome artifacts," "objects for the dead," or "brilliant artifacts").
The Han Dynasty was known for jade burial suits . One of the earliest known depictions of a landscape in Chinese art comes from a pair of hollow-tile door panels from a Western Han Dynasty tomb near Zhengzhou, dated 60 BCE. A scene of continuous depth recession is conveyed by the zigzag of lines representing roads and garden walls, giving the impression that one is looking down from the top of a hill. This artistic landscape scene was made by the repeated impression of standard stamps on the clay while it was still soft and not yet fired. However, the oldest known landscape art scene tradition in the classical sense of painting is a work by Zhan Ziqian of the Sui Dynasty (581–618).