StMU Research Scholars

The Fall of the Han Empire

“Empires wax and wane; states cleave asunder and coalesce. When the rule of Chou (Zhou) weakened seven contending principalities sprang up, warring one with another till they settled down as Ts’in (Qin) and when its destiny had been fulfilled arose Ch’u and Han to contend for the mastery. And Han was the victor. The rise of the fortunes of Han began with the slaughter of the White Serpent. In a short time, the whole Empire was theirs and their magnificent heritage was handed down in successive generations till the days of Kuang-Wu, whose name stands in the middle of the long line of Han. This was in the first century of the western era and the dynasty had then already passed its zenith. A century later came to the Throne the Emperor Hsien, doomed to see the beginning of the division into three parts, known to history as The Three Kingdoms.” 1

These are the opening words of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a legend as close to the Chinese culture as are the Arthurian legends in England. And like the stories of King Arthur and his knights, the events happened, but when the events leading to the Three Kingdoms were written down centuries later, they had become legends.

Han Dynasty: The Golden Age of Ancient China

The story of the Three Kingdoms begins with the Han Dynasty’s final years. This family had held power over China for four centuries. China’s first dynasty, the briefly unifying Qin Dynasty, lasted from 221-206 BCE, and ended with the death of China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi. A power vacuum was then left that many powerful families sought to fill. As these powers clashed, they did not notice a rather unexpected player enter the game, namely, a bandit named Liu Bang, who had been a former sheriff who had served the Qin. When a few prisoners escaped his custody while transporting them to the construction site of Qin Shi Huangdi’s Tomb, Liu Bang then faced either a sentence of death or the prospects of living the life of an outlaw. He freed his remaining prisoners, and out of gratitude, the newly-released men chose to serve him. Liu Bang became one of the few known Chinese emperors to rise from the peasantry to become the ruler of the country.

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms states that Liu Bang slayed a white serpent that happened to be a god, and so as a reward, he was granted the title of the Son of Heaven and, with that title, he received the Mandate of Heaven. Slowly, Liu Bang gained popularity among the Chinese people, and he gained power; he defeated his enemies, those of older families with wealth and power. He founded both the House of Han and the State of Han, named after the river that ran through his province. In 202 BCE, Liu Bang defeated his greatest rival, Xiang Yu, and the State of Chu in the Battle of Gaixia.2

Winning China, Liu Bang renamed himself Gaozu of Han and established the Han Dynasty. Gaozu of Han was known to be a merciful man, allowing those who fought against him to live. The emperor proved popular with the Chinese peasants and soldiers, believing he was one of them. He reduced taxes, made the punishments for breaking laws less severe than they had been under the Zhou, and he gave land to his supporters, similar to how the Zhou Dynasty rewarded their followers. However, he and his government continued to build upon the strong centralized government left by the Qin.3

The Han Empire at its height of power |100 BCE| Wiki Commons

Gaozu of Han started the dynasty; however, it was his son, Wen of Han, who started the four-hundred-year golden age of China, which was the Han Dynasty, one of the longest-ruling dynasties in Chinese History. Wen of Han reversed his father’s tax policy by heavily taxing farmers and peasants to fund public works projects and military conquests, thereby expanding the empire from 890,000 square miles to 2,300,000 sq mi by 50 BCE, more than doubling the size of the empire.4

The Han Empire experienced massive territorial growth, from the Korean peninsula in the east to the Talka Makan Desert in the west, and stretching to the Gobi Desert in the north and to northern Vietnam to the south. This was not just for protection but also for controlling the recently-opened Silk Roads, connecting the Middle Kingdom to the west, where, if rumors were true, another great empire held domain, an empire that could rival the power of the Hans. They called them the Daqin, or the Great Qin; however, to us, they were the Roman Empire.5

The Han Empire did not just enjoyed the wealth that comes with expansion and trade. It also saw a great leap in the arts, as seen in the new styles of brushes and ink used. Chinese artists started to produce portraits of wealthy individuals, able to portray a narrative sense of people and not just of landscapes. Using plant fibers pressed together, inventor Cai Lun developed a writing medium that was far less costly than bamboo strips, known as paper. The artisans of the Han Empire also worked with stone and metal, in both the mundane media of brick and bronze, as well as in the precious materials of silver, gold, and even jade. Confucianism, suppressed by the Qin, became the official state philosophy of China. Entire universities were built, and much of the government system was based on Confucius’s values and teachings.6

Along with trade and art, the people of the Han Empire saw a number of technological developments, such as iron plows, that allowed a greater production of food, and the wheel barrel, that helped increase the load that a single person could carry. The advent of the sundials and waterclocks were used around the country, and calendars were published at frequent intervals. But one of the greatest inventions was the first seismograph; it was not only able to detect an earthquake but also the direction of the epicenter.7 China prospered under the leadership of the Han Dynasty, thanks to the technological developments that allow an increase in food production and government control over the silk and salt trade; it enjoyed a surge in revenue, to where coins were left out of the coffers and rice could rot outside. Yet good times is like a forest in a flood; corruption and rot sets in and eventually kills the forest. For all of the greatness of the Hans, the progress they saw during their reign was comparable to the Romans in the west. The Han were not above the tradition of rising and falling of dynasties, regardless of their power and great deeds or the sins they committed to maintain power.

Court Corruption and the Eunuchs

In 168 CE, during the reign of Emperor Ling, many strange omens started to be seen in the court and in the countryside. The following is the passage from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms about the strange events that foretold the fall of the Han Dynasty.

“It fell upon the day of full moon of the fourth month, second year of Chien-Ning, that the Emperor went in state to the Wên-tê Hall (Hall of Virture). As he drew near the Throne a rushing whirlwind arose in the corner of the hall and lo! from the roof beams floated down a monstrous black serpent that coiled itself up on the very seat of majesty. The Emperor fell in a swoon. Those nearest him hastily raised and bore him to his palace while the courtiers scattered and fled. The serpent disappeared.

But there followed a terrific tempest, thunder, hail and torrents of rain, lasting till midnight and working havoc on all sides. Two years later the earth quaked in Loyang, while along the coast a huge tidal wave rushed in which, in its recoil, swept away all the dwellers by the sea. Another evil omen was recorded ten years later, when the reign-title was changed: certain hens suddenly developed male characteristics, a miracle which could only refer to the effeminate eunuchs bedding in affair of State. At the new moon of the sixth month a long wreath of black vapour wound its way into the audience chamber, while the following month a rainbow was seen in the Jade Chamber. Away from the capital a mountain fell in, leaving a nightly rift in its flank.” 8

Emperor Ling went to his advisors to ask what the meanings of the omens were, and they replied that it was because of the eunuchs and their hold on the imperial court.

So, who were these eunuchs that the people of the court disliked on the best of days and loathed on the worst? It was a practice from across the ancient world, to be made a eunuch as punishment for adultery and other similar crimes or, for some, as a means to gain social status and power. A eunuch is a castrated man, who would normally then serve as a political advisor to the ruler. It was a practice primarily used in the west, as in the Roman Empire. In the Middle East, in Persia, and in East Asia, eunuchs served not only at court but in the staff of the imperial household as guards to watch over the sovereign’s harem, while also acting as the sovereign’s chamberlain to manage the household.9

With their manhood cut off, the eunuchs were left with a high voice, and they grew not quite fat, but their flesh became soft, and they would be too weak to perform strenuous physical activities. A eunuch was prone to bouts of extreme emotional swings and they were unable to control their bladders, causing them to look weak and non-threatening to the sovereign, either to his power or to his harem. Eunuchs were often close to their sovereigns, both in public and in private. They held positions that would make any ambitious bureaucrat jealous. This practice dates back in Chinese history to the eighth century BCE and lasted up to 1924, to Emperor Puyi as he abdicated the imperial throne and the Forbidden City.10

As the good years passed, the Han Emperors grew lazy and became more interested in parties both in court and in the countryside, including great hunting expectations, which disturbed the normal day-to-day life of the average person to serve the imperial court while hunting, or in Shang-lin Park, which Emperor Wu established. He became aware of the trouble that the countryside parties were causing among the common people. There, in Shang-lin Park, exotic animals and plants were brought in from across the world, thanks to the silk road. Shang-lin Park and many other smaller imperial estates would also be fully staffed with servants, government officials, and women of the emperor’s harem.11

In order to indulge in such frivolities, the emperors delegated their responsibilities to ministers, believing that they were capable men, because they had passed the Imperial Examinations. These exams were instituted by Emperor Wen of Han, yet the court become a place of corruption and favoritism, where eunuchs and nobles acted in their self-interest rather than in the interests of the people. They turned a system based on merit into one of nepotism and connections, for they started to hand out government offices to either friends or nobles who bought their positions.12

As the Han started to fade into their twilight, the Emperors started to inherit their thrones at a young age; not as young men, but as children, meaning that they could not rule without a regent, or rather by this point in Han politics, a puppet master. Factions and clans within the court fought over control over the child emperor. Such intrigue came from the emperor’s own family, from either his father’s or mother’s side, or from the eunuchs who helped raise the child before he ascended the throne. The Inner Court of the Hans government—those in permanent positions in the court—became a political battlefield riddled with factions, infighting, and those wishing to increase their wealth and power.13

By the time of the reign of Emporer Ling, the eunuchs had won the battle for the court. And the most powerful of them called themselves the Ten Regular Attendants. Hence, the omens were seen around the imperial court and across the empire. Despite the displeasure of other government bureaucrats and even of Heaven, Emperor Ling kept the eunuchs and even punished those who attempted to remove any of the Ten Regular Attendants from power. The path they now walked upon led to dark times, one that broke the empire and caused the setting of the glory of the Han Dynasty.

In 170 CE, the Yellow River flood was caused by torrential rains, which washed away not only fields and lives, but also the backbone of the Chinese economy. Many left their homes in the north for work in the south, looking for food and honest work for honest pay. However, this was not the case, for they were forced to work for wealthy landowners, taking most of the earnings for themselves and giving the straps to the refugees. What little they earned was taken by the tax collectors for the imperial government. Those who could not pay were forced to become outlaws. With no money, loved ones starving and dying, and now being branded as criminals, the Chinese people became desperate and were at a breaking point. This is the point when rebellions are born.14

Yellow Turban Rebellion

“They talked wildly of the death of the blue heaven and the setting up of the yellow; they said a new cycle was beginning and would bring universal good fortune, and they persuaded people to chalk the symbol for the first year of a cycle on the main door of their dwellings.

With the growth of the number of his supporters grew also the ambition of the ‘Wise and Good.’ He dreamed of empire. One of his partisans, Ma Yüan-i, was sent bearing gifts to gain the support of the eunuchs whereby to have allies within the palace. To his brothers Chang Chio said, ‘For schemes like ours always the most difficult part is to gain the popular favour. But that is already ours. Such an opportunity must not pass.’ And they began to prepare. Many yellow flags were made and a day was chosen to strike the first blow.”15

As the country grew hungry and angry, one man saw that the cause of the pain and suffering of the people was that the Han Dynasty had lost the Mandate of Heaven. One such person was Zhang Jue, a Daoist priest who practiced medicine and was a former government official but was not able to further his positions in Julu county, located in Ji province in the northern region of China. As the story goes, one day, Zhang Jue and his two brothers, Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang, were collecting herbs for medicine in the mountains. They stumble upon a wise old man with a young face and bright emerald eyes, who walked with a staff made of hardened goosefoot plant. The old man led Zhang Jue to a cave, where there were three volumes of The Book of Heaven; the old man claimed that the volumes were the essential arts of peace that could covert the world and rescue humankind, but if misused, would make the wicked suffer. The old man announced himself as the Immortal Hermit of the Southern Lands, a local spirit, great and powerful in traditional Toaist stories, and then he disappeared in front of them.16

The brothers traveled from village to village, healing the sick and performing miracles with the magic they learned from the book to prove that Heaven had blessed Zhang Jue with the new Mandate of Heaven, justifying his crusade against the corrupt Han government. Soon the Zhang brothers started to gain a vast following of people and disciplines from all walks of life in the empire: farmers, soldiers, miners, and all who suffered in poverty and empty stomachs. They claimed that the empire could be saved and harmony restored, but the people had to remove the Han Dynasty from power, like a weed in the garden, by root and stem, burning the empire to the ground, in order to raise it again from the ashes like the phoenix. Soon the disciplines of Zhang Jue spread the word of the Daoist priest across China, turning sparks filled with anger to embers of rebellion, even seeping into the government itself.17

The message spread across the empire, and people started arming themselves and training, hidden from the eyes of the imperial government. And the blue sky will yield to the yellow dawn with the new year’s coming. However, even with all the secrecy, the words of the rebellion reached the ears of the Han Government, and a disciple reported the plot to overthrow the government to the Han Court. With this news, Emperor Ling ordered a purge of all those who sympathized with the rebels from the government. Even a member of the Ten Regular Attendants, Feng Xu, was found corresponding with Zhang Jue. This forced the hand of the Zhang brothers to release the yellow tide. Zhang Jue then said to his brothers, “The heart of the people is the most difficult thing to obtain. But the people are with us now, and we must not miss this opportunity to seize the empire.”18

Yellow Turban Militiamen attacking a city |184 CE| Wiki Commons

In the year 184 CE, yellow banners erupted all across the empire like a pox, and the people took strips of yellow cloth and wrapped their heads with them, giving the rebellion its name, which became one of the deadliest rebellions in human history, both in terms of battles fought and in the famines to follow: an estimate of seven-million deaths. The leaders of the Yellow Turban Rebellion assumed grandiose titles: Zhang Bao became the General of Earth, Zhang Liang was the General of Mankind, and Zhang Jue was the General of Heaven. They put forth a manifesto that said: “The fortune of the Han is exhausted, and the Great Sage has appeared. Discern the will of Heaven, people, and walk in the way of righteousness, whereby alone you may attain peace.”19

In less than a fortnight, the provinces of Zhi, Jing, Yu, and Ye fell to the flood of the Yellow Turban Rebels acting like the Yellow River, cutting the empire in half. Government officials were put to the sword, while anything tied to the government was razed to the ground within those provinces. Emperor Ling, not tolerating this rebellion any longer, dispatched the Imperial armies and ordered them to pull down the rebels by any means. However, like a mighty oak, the roots of rebellion ran deep and could not be uprooted easily.20

The Heroes and Villains

As the Imperial Armies and the  Yellow Turbans clashed and raged in the country, many men started their paths to become legends in Chinese history. Some of the men were heroes, others were villains, and many more lived somewhere in the middle, for they may have started in the Yellow Turban Rebellion, but their greatest deeds and atrocities were in the years to come after the rebellion. They were found from all walks of life, such as the three brothers at arms Zhang Fei, Guan Yu, and Lui Bei, who were from a minor cadet branch of the House of Han, living in Zhou county, located in southwestern Heilongjiang province making a living off weaving grass mats and sandals with his widowed mother. Guan Yu, an angry-looking man but a defender of the common people five years before the rebellion, killed a wealthy man in his home county for abusing the common people. And Zhang Fei had been a local farmer and butcher. These three men decide to join forces, and the next day in a blooming peach orchard they swore an Oath of Fraternity.

Lui Bei (left), Zhang Fei (middle) Gaun Yu (right), swearing The Oath of Fraternity in the Peach Garden | 180 CE | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“We three—Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei—though of different families, swear brotherhood, and promise to work together to one end. We will rescue each other in difficulty; we will aid each other in danger. We swear to serve the state and save the people. We ask not to be born on the same day, but to die on the same day. May Heaven, the all-ruling, and Earth, the all-producing, read our hearts. If we turn aside from righteousness or forget kindliness, may Heaven and Mankind smite us!”21

The three brothers managed to raise a militia of 500 men while armed and supplied. They joined a larger imperial army in You Province, led by Liu Yan, who called Liu Bei his nephew after hearing about his ancestry. While the three brothers were beloved by the common people, another man grew very popular with the nobility of China.

His name was Cao Cao, and he was a young prodigy, resourceful and full of guile; when he was younger, his uncle saw an unstable side to Cao Cao and tried to discipline him and reported his misdeeds to his father. So Cao Cao devised a scheme to free himself from his uncle. One day, as he saw his uncle, Cao Cao started to act like he was having a seizure but went back to normal as his uncle brought his father to him. Cao Cao’s father never trusted his brother again and allowed Cao Cao to act as he pleased. As a young man, Cao Cao made a reputation for piety and integrity, punishing any who breached the law, regardless of the rank and office of the offender. One day, he beat an uncle to a powerful eunuch for carrying a sword within the capital, Luoyang. And when the rebellion broke out, he held the rank of general and led a force of five-thousand cavalry and foot soldier.22

Yet, the most powerful of these men was a general on the northwestern frontier; young and as big as his ambition, he was Doug Zhuo, an impressive warrior and a great commander, greatly respected by his men and by the people in the Imperial court. At the time of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, Doug Zhuo was granted the title of Imperial Protector of Liang Province, the gate to the Silk Road and buffered zone for the steppe tribes, meaning that he, the officers, and the men were the most experienced fighters in the empire. In a letter that Doug Zhuo wrote to the court expressing his wishes to remain with the men of Liang Province:

Portrait of Dong Zhuo from Qing Dynasty |1908| Wiki common

“My soldiers both great and small have grown familiar with me over a long time and cherishing my sustaining bounty, they will lay down their lives for me.”23

These were only a handful of men who lived and fought during one of the bloodiest rebellions in human history. Men whose names are remembered and the faceless are the backbones of history. These souls were fighting for what they thought was best for the empire. Men like Liu Bei and Cao Cao fought for the Han Dynasty to return peace and order to the country, while men like Zhang Jue believed that a new dynasty must rise. People such as Doug Zhou would take power for themselves by coming as puppet masters to the emperor and other powerful positions, all of them believing that Heaven chose them to lead the empire into an age of peace.

However, peace would not come to the realm so easily, for as the imperial army fought the rebellion, something was wrong; the rebels seemed to always evade total defeat while also striking the weak points of the three fronts that the Imperial army made to contain the main rebel force. The problem was not the sorcery that the Zhang brother claimed to wield and use in battle, but rats or rather eunuchs in the imperial court, relaying military orders to the rebels. And when the emperor confronted the traitorous eunuchs, they kowtowed and apologized; the emperor only scolded them for their actions and then allowed them to return to their positions.24

The Mandate of Heaven and the Jade Seal

Throughout the history of China, individuals and organizations justified their claim to rule the country based on the Mandate of Heaven. In the west, a similar idea developed in the seventeenth century, the Divine Right of Kings. However, the Mandate of Heaven is far older, dating back to the forming of the Zhou Dynasty in the tenth century BCE. It was used to justify their overthrowing of the Shang Dynasty. The Mandate of Heaven is, in many ways, similar to the Divine Right of Kings, which was claimed by many kings in Europe, where God supposedly granted a sovereign the right to rule the kingdom, making him responsible solely to God. However, unlike the Divine Rights of Kings, where multiple kings can claim the right over their kingdoms, there was only one Heaven and one empire, and Heaven could only choose one Son of Heaven at a time, which means only one emperor could rule the empire at a time.25

However, unlike the Divine Right of Kings, where a king can claim to rule absolutely, rulers in China rule only so long as they rule well. When an emperor abuses his powers, Heaven will show its displeasure by sending droughts, famines, plagues, or natural disasters that the imperial court can not handle. Such a series of omens had preceded the Yellow Turban Rebellion. That would mean to the Chinese people that the emperor and even the dynasty was losing its divine mandate to rule, and Heaven would find a new Son of Heaven. Under such circumstances, the people were morally obligated to rise up and rebel, and place the new Son of Heaven as emperor, thus pleasing Heaven and returning the land back to peace and harmony. This cycle was thought to be characteristic of Chinese history, and hence the reason why some dynasties would last for centuries and others might only last for decades or less.26

During these times of unrest, and when many were fighting to claim the dragon throne, how would one prove that he held the Mandate of Heaven? It would be by having an ancient relic in their possession, known as the Heirloom Seal of the Realm. The seal was made from a single piece of flawless jade that dated back to before the Warring States period of China. The legend of the Jade Seal started with a man named Bian He, who lived in the Kingdom of Chu. Bian He was traveling one day on Mount Jing when he saw a phoenix land upon a stone. Bian He believed that the stone was of great importance, so he took it to the king. But the king believed it was only a rock. For his punishment, Bian He lost his left foot, and then later his right foot when he offered the stone to the king’s son when he subsequently took the throne. He clutched the stone and wept until he started to cry blood. When the new king learned of this, he sent someone to Bian He and asked why he cried. Bian He told the messenger, “I [Bian He] am not crying about having my feet cut off. I am crying because this precious jade has been mistaken for a mere rock, while a loyal man has been deemed a liar.”27

Replica of the Heirloom Seal of the Realm | 2022 | Wikimedia Commons

Seeing little harm, the King decided to cut open the rock, and inside was a piece of unrivaled quality and beauty. The jade was first carved into a disc called the He Shi Bi, or the Jade Disc of He, and it was a highly prized relic of beauty. In 283 BCE, during the Warring States Period, the King of Qin, Zhouxiang, great-grandfather of Qin Shi Huang, once hearing that Kingdom of Zhao had in its possession this legendary piece of jade, the Qin Kingdom offered a total of fifteen cities as payment for the jade, yet the King of Zhou did not accept the offer. Later, in 221, after Qin Shi Huang unified China and became its first emperor, and the He Shi Bi finally in his possession, he ordered the piece of jade to be cut into a great seal, with the charters that announced: “Having received the Mandate from Heaven may (the emperor) lead a long and prosperous life.” And when the Qin fell to the Han Dynasty, the seal became the symbol of the power of the Mandate of Heaven. And sometime between the tenth and thirteenth centuries CE, the seal was lost to history and still waits to be recovered and grant its discoverer a new Mandate of Heaven.28

The Empire Falls and Three Kingdoms Rise

For five years, the empire tore itself apart because of the rebels, and the central authority of the Imperial court was relinquished to the warlords, allowing them to act with almost complete autonomy in order to crush the Yellow Turbans uprising. While the factions within the government continued to fight each other in the shadows, Emperor Ling’s health started to decline. And during this time, the factions within the government started to look for a successor in one of Emperor Ling’s two sons. One was Liu Bian, son of Empress He, who his mother and her family supported. But Empress Dowager Dong and the eunuchs supported Liu Xie, the son of Consort Wang.29

At the Emperor’s death in 189CE, the empress and her faction moved swiftly and placed Liu Bian on the throne, and placed as the young emperor’s regent, her brother, He Jin, commander of the Imperial Army, who received the title Chair of the Secretariat, along with many of their allies, who were given powerful government positions. One of the first acts of He Jin was to purge the eunuchs from the court. However, they were able to persuade the now Empress Dowager He to spare them. But both the Empress Dowager Dong and the eunuchs plotted against the He faction. Two days later, Liu Xie was given the title of Lord of Chenliu, giving them a militarily powerful province under their control, and named Dong Zhong, brother to Empress Dowager Dong, General of the Flying Cavalry, one of the best units in the army.

In an attempt to de-escalate what seemed to be the making of a civil war, the empress dowagers agreed that both Liu Bian and Liu Xie share the throne while they, the dowagers, ruled from behind the scenes. Yet, the truce did not last long, for He Jin removed Empress Dowager Dong from her position and the imperial palace, and six months later, He Jin ordered her death by poison. The He faction was divided in their actions toward the remaining eunuchs; some wished them to be purged of the government, while others wished to keep them in service. Many who wished for the removal of the eunuchs, including Cao Cao and He Jin, summoned Dong Zhuo and his army to the capital, despite them knowing the man’s ambition, and viewed him like a wolf.

The word of Dong Zhuo’s summons to the capital to convince the eunuchs to resign from their positions was announced with a rider that Dong Zhou sent ahead of his army with this message:

“Your servant has heard that the continuing rebellions in the empire owe their origin to Zhang Rang and the Regular Attendants of the Inner Bureau, who act counter to all that is proper. The best way to stop a pot from boiling over is not to keep scooping water out of it, but to put out the fire. Removing an abscess may be painful, but it’s better than leaving it and nourishing the disease. Therefore, I have been so bold as to lead an army toward the capital. With your permission, I will remove Zhang Rang and company from power. May heaven bless the empire.”30

The eunuchs panicked and lashed out as they attempted to hold power; they forged a summons for He Jin from Empress Dowager He. Many of the regent’s ministers and officers urged him not to go or at least travel with armed guards.  Yet, he would not listen, and he went to the empress’s palace alone, and he was ambushed by the eunuchs and was killed as he tried to escape from the trap. The eunuchs then threw He Jin’s severed head off the palace’s outer walls in front of many of his own officers, proclaiming that He Jin was conspiring with rebels, but they brought him to justice. However, they spared his followers. In response, the Imperial Army stormed the palace for vengeance for their commander, setting fire to the building and killing any eunuchs they came across.

As chaos flooded into the palace, four of the Ten Regular Attendance escaped into the countryside, taking with them the young Emperor Liu Bian, his half-brother Liu Xie, and the Empress Dowager He, losing both the Mandate of Heaven and the Heirloom Seal of the Realm.31

Map of the Warlord at the Fall of the Han Dynasty| 2020| wiki commons

As the day ended, so did the rule of the Han Dynasty, one of the greatest empires in history. And in the power vacuum, the Hans left when they fled the capital, which was engulfed in fire and bloodshed, causing the warlords to turn on each other, fighting to gain control over the crumbling empire. This mark the beginning of a new age for China, one of division and war that had not been seen for four hundred years, not since the founding of the Han Dynasty. Now the Empire of the Hans had fallen into a civil war that would last for sixty years. It would be fought between twelve powerful warlords and many more minor ones. Slowly, their powers fell to the Kingdoms of Shu, Wu, and Wei, giving the period the name The Three Kingdoms.

  1. Kuan-Chung Lo, Romance of The Kingdoms, translated by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor, Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan (Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1990) 1.
  2. Joshua J. Mark, “Battle of Gaixia,” World History Encyclopedia, January 23, 2019,  https://www.worldhistory.org/Battle_of_Gaixia/.
  3. Mista Hill’s History, Achievements of the Han Dynasty, video, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-Ck4XQr8lg.
  4. Joshua J. Mark, “Han Dynasty,” World History Encyclopedia, July 3, 2022, https://www.worldhistory.org/Han_Dynasty/.
  5. Paul M.M. Cooper, 10. The Han Dynasty – The First Empire in Flames, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwEkp4I75OA.
  6. Mark Cartwright, “The Art of the Han Dynasty,” World History Encyclopedia, October 2, 2017, https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1128/the-art-of-the-han-dynasty/.
  7. Mark Cartwright, “Achievements of the Han Dynasty,” World History Encyclopedia, September 14, 2017, https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1119/achievements-of-the-han-dynasty/.
  8. Lo Kuan-Chung, Romance of The Kingdoms, translated by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor, Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan (Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1990), 1-2.
  9. Emily Rodriguez, “Eunuch,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, April 11. 2022,  https://www.britannica.com/topic/eunuch.
  10. Pablo Robles, “Knife, Spigot, Chilli Sauce: The Making of a Forbidden City Eunuch,” South China Morning Post, July 23, 2018, https://multimedia.scmp.com/culture/article/2155959/forbidden-city/life/chapter_02.html.
  11. A. J. S. Spawforth, The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies (Cambridge University Press,  New York, 2007), 251.
  12. Benjamin A. Elman, “Civil Service Examinations,” 2009, https://www.princeton.edu/~elman/documents/Civil%20Service%20Examinations.pdf/.
  13. OverSimplified, Three Kingdoms – OverSimplified, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26EivpCPHnQ.
  14. Havoc,  The Yellow Turban Rebellion | DOCUMENTARY, Jan 6, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-VEwiqSzSs.
  15. Lo Kuan-Chung, Romance of The Kingdoms, translated by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor, Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan (Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1990), 3.
  16. John Zhu, “Episode 001: Bromance of the Three Warriors,” Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast, April 11, 2014, http://www.3kingdomspodcast.com/2014/04/11/episode-1-bromance-three-warriors/.
  17. John Zhu, “Episode 001: Bromance of the Three Warriors,” Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast, April 11, 2014, http://www.3kingdomspodcast.com/2014/04/11/episode-1-bromance-three-warriors/.
  18. John Zhu, “Episode 001: Bromance of the Three Warriors,” Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast, April 11, 2014, http://www.3kingdomspodcast.com/2014/04/11/episode-1-bromance-three-warriors/.
  19. Lo Kuan-Chung, Romance of The Kingdoms, translated by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor, Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan (Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1990), 3.
  20. Ryann Cervantes, “The ‘Success’ of the Yellow Turban Rebellion,” StMU Research Scholars, November 8, 2017, https://stmuscholars.org/the-success-of-the-yellow-turban-rebellion/.
  21. John Zhu, “Episode 001: Bromance of the Three Warriors,” Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast, April 11, 2014, http://www.3kingdomspodcast.com/2014/04/11/episode-1-bromance-three-warriors/.
  22. Mark Cartwright, Mark Cartwright, “Cao Cao,” World History Encyclopedia, 08 September 2017, https://www.worldhistory.org/Cao_Cao/.
  23. Invicta, Warlords of the Three Kingdoms – Dong Zhuo, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqTecNn6Cl0.
  24. Havoc,  The Yellow Turban Rebellion | DOCUMENTARY, Jan 6, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-VEwiqSzSs.
  25. Isabella Heinemann, Ece Yücer, Noah Sutter and Lewin Könemann, “The Three Kingdoms,” Zurich Model United Nation, May 2017, https://zumun.ch/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/JCC-StudyGuide1.pdf/. 7.
  26. Isabella Heinemann, Ece Yücer, Noah Sutter and Lewin Könemann, “The Three Kingdoms,” Zurich Model United Nation,  May 2017, https://zumun.ch/wp-contents/uploads/2017/04/JCC-StudyGuide1.pdf/. 7.
  27. John Zhu, “Supplemental Episode 003: The Deal with the Seal,” Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast, March 10, 2015, http://www.3kingdomspodcast.com/2015/03/09/supplemental-episode-003-deal-with-seal/.
  28. Cool History Bros, Most Valuable Lost Artifact in the World – Heirloom Seal of the Realm, Youtube, May 9, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajbAs6brNcU.
  29. John Zhu, “Episode 003: Oh C’mon! Kill Them Already!,” Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast, May 5, 2014, http://www.3kingdomspodcast.com/2014/05/05/episode-003-oh-cmon-kill-them-already/.
  30. John Zhu, “Episode 003: Oh C’mon! Kill Them Already!,” Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast, May 5, 2014, http://www.3kingdomspodcast.com/2014/05/05/episode-003-oh-cmon-kill-them-already/.
  31. Lo Kuan-Chung, Romance of The Kingdoms, translated by C. H. Brewitt-Taylor, Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan (Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1990), 26.

19 Responses

  1. Congratulations on the nomination! This article was very descriptive and depicted the fall of the Han Dynasty in great detail. I find it fascinating how an Empire can come to power and lose that power in the same way they gained it.

  2. This is quite the impressive article. Congratulations on your nomination; it’s no wonder you were nominated because this is a very detailed article. Even though it has a lot of information and is relatively long, you did well to explain the topic thouroughly. I was especially impressed on how well organized it was with the different sections. Well done!

  3. Congratulations on your nomination! I think everyone learned a little bit about the Han Empire in high school but this article was a nice refresher on what I knew about it . I have noticed throughout articles I’ve read that school definitely doesn’t give as much information about history. Overall what a great article good job !

  4. First of all I want to say congratulations on your article being nominated for an award. I really enjoyed the first paragraph‘s quote. It was very interesting and I think that adding that really is what interested me the most. I’ve never heard of the fall of the Han Empire before. It was very informative and well written. I also enjoyed the pictures you used for the article. I also think my favorite part of the article would be The Heroes and Villains. Again congratulations on your nomination!

  5. My favorite article ! Love it !!!! Congratulations on your nomination ! I can see the dedication and hard work you put behind you researching ! The article was super organized i loved the pictures you were able to use for your article! Overall you did an awesome job ! I look forward to sharing this with article with my classmates. Again congratulations! Best of luck 🙂

  6. Great job on getting nominated. This article has so much descriptive detail and the story flows; overall it was an amazing article. It’s apparent on how much dedication and time you put into this article, props to you. It is very true we can learn from past failures and successes, as it is something you can compare to how far you have gotten.

  7. I am truly amazed on how well-structured and informative this article. I would like to congratulate the author for their nomination and publication of this article since I knew it must have taken a lot of time and dedication to achieve such an amazing article. I astonished on how entertaining it was to read hundreds of years of chinses history without Lossing focus.

  8. Amazing article definitely worth the nomination. You can see how much hard work and research went into this article and I really enjoyed reading it. It is always so interesting to hear about events in history that you do not always get as many details about in school. This article was so detailed with this story and was easy to understand as well.

  9. First off, congratulations on your nomination! I remember learning about the Han Empire way back in high school, so this was a nice refresher from world history. This was such an informative piece that anyone can easily follow. I feel like this is something that is very important to history because it shows how far societies have grown. We can learn so much from past successes and even failures. Awesome job!

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