The Former Han Empire

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In this chapter, I would like to give a survey of the political history of the Former Han from a different perspective. In fact, I would like to approach this from a diametrically opposite per¬spective, one that purposefully forgets about the great legacy of the Former Han. This is justified by the simple fact that the legacy of the Former Han had nothing to do with the making of the Former Han. Its legacy is true but irrelevant to those who actually lived through it. Those who lived through the Former Han had no idea that their era would become the historical origin of the imperial China in the future. They could not have known that what they had created would come to have such an eventful afterlife in the next two millennia. If anything, from their own vantage point, the Former Han was hardly a grand beginning but more obviously the tail end of a long series of failed political experiments. The end of the Western Zhou (1046—771 BCF.) half a millennium ago ushered in a long period of interstate warfare, and the one state that managed to put a definitive end to this era of violence and bloodshed, namely the Qin empire, collapsed in just about a decade and a half. This defunct political inheritance, rather than the fantasy of a grand beginning, must have been what weighed most heavily on the minds of those who toiled so arduously for the success of the Former Han. It was through their anxious reflection on this troubling political inheritance and the many institutional innovations that came from it that they ultimately created something that would come to have such a lasting legacy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Early Chinese History
EditorsPaul R. GOLDIN
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781317681915
ISBN (Print)9781138775916
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


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