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Empires of China and India
Section 2
Chinese Society and Culture
• Main Idea / Reading Focus
• Han Society
• Trade and Buddhism
• Map: The Silk Roads
• Han Achievements
Empires of China and India
Section 2
Chinese Society and Culture
Main Idea
The Han dynasty was a time of social change, the growth of
trade, and great achievements in the arts and sciences.
Reading Focus
• What features characterized Chinese society in the Han
• How did trade and the spread of Buddhism affect Han society?
• What were some achievements in art, science, and technology
during the Han period?
Section 2
Empires of China and India
Han Society
China’s Han period was a time of great prosperity, growth and
achievement, defining imperial Chinese civilization for years.
Family Life
• Confucianism shaped Chinese
• Confucius taught that family
was central to well-being of the
• Officials promoted strong
family ties
– Fathers head of family
– Filial piety stressed
– Obedience, devotion to
parents, grandparents
Dutiful Children
• Children served parents as
they aged, honored dead at
household shrines
• Han officials believed dutiful
children made respectful
• Some men even received
government jobs because of
respect shown parents
Empires of China and India
Section 2
Family Life
Women in China
• Had fewer privileges, less status than men
• Rarely received education, owned property
• Sons valued more than daughters
• Sons carried on family line
• Remained part of parents’ household after marriage
• Daughters married and joined husband’s household
Power and Status
• Older women achieved power because of Confucian respect for elders
• Ban Zhao, female scholar, writer; helped write history of Han dynasty
• Called for mutual respect between husbands, wives, education for women
Empires of China and India
Section 2
Social Structure
• Han society highly structured, clearly defined social classes
• Emperor at top, ruled with mandate from heaven
• Upper class of palace court, nobles, government officials, scholars
• Second, largest class consisted of peasants, who grew empire’s food
Other Classes
• Third class composed of artisans, made useful items, luxury goods
• Merchants occupied fourth class, trade not valued by Confucianism
• Slaves at bottom of society
• Military not an official class, but part of government and offered way
to rise in status
Section 2
Empires of China and India
Han Society
Rich and Poor
Peasant Class
• Social class determined status,
but not wealth or power
• 90 percent of nearly 60 million
in China at time were peasants
• Merchants usually wealthier
than peasants, but were lower
in status
• Lived in small villages in simple
houses, labored long hours in
fields, worked on government
projects in winter
• Wealthy in Han China lived well
• Spacious homes, large estates
• Hired numerous laborers
• High taxes, bad weather could
force them into debt
• Many had to sell lands, become
laborers for wealthy
Empires of China and India
Section 2
What was life like for Chinese peasants
during the Han dynasty?
Answer(s): worked hard in fields, farmed, raised
animals, often sold land to feed families, forced to
work on building projects, easily forced into debt,
worked for wealthy landowners
Section 2
Empires of China and India
Trade and Buddhism
Trade grew in Han period
• Agriculture basis of economy
• Growth of trade increased
• Led to contact between China,
other civilizations
Production of silk
• Most prized Chinese product
• Secret method for making silk
• Revealing secret punishable by
Han products
• Ironworkers made iron armor,
• Artisans made pottery, jade and
bronze objects, lacquerware
Major industry
• Raised silkworms, unwound
threads of cocoons
• Dyed threads, wove into fabric
• Fabric beautiful, soft, strong
• Clothing costly, in high demand
Empires of China and India
Section 2
Growth of Trade
As they conquered areas of Central Asia, the Han learned
people farther west wanted Chinese goods
• Zhang Qian returned from Central Asia mission, 126 BC
– Told of region’s riches, demand for Chinese goods
– Events led to increased trade with west
• Blood-sweating horses seen by Qian
– Parasites caused boils that bled
– The Han thought they were blessed by heaven
– To obtain them, Emperor Wudi conquered more land
– Trade with Central Asia increased even more
Section 2
Empires of China and India
The Silk Roads
Merchants traveling between China, Central Asia used overland routes.
The most famous were called the Silk Roads. This network of routes
eventually stretched from China over 4,000 miles to Mediterranean
Sea, and linked China to India, the Middle East, and the Roman
• Travelers on Silk Roads crossed
rugged, barren terrain
• Most merchants traveled only part
of way
• Faced attacks by bandits
• Traded goods with merchants from
distant lands
• For protection, traveled in huge
camel caravans
• Stopped at stations along way
• Most goods traded were luxury
• Small, valuable, highly profitable
Empires of China and India
Section 2
Empires of China and India
Section 2
Trade and Buddhism
Traders carried ideas as well as goods over the Silk Roads
• Buddhism spread from to China from India
– Reached China in first century AD
– Han government became less stable, violence
– Buddhism’s message of rebirth offered hope
• Buddhism gained popularity by AD 200
– Example of cultural diffusion
– Spread of ideas from one culture to another
Empires of China and India
Section 2
Draw Conclusions
How did trade over the Silk Roads affect
China’s culture?
Answer(s): profitable trade in luxury items,
connections to Central Asia, introduction of
Empires of China and India
Section 2
Han Achievements
Classical Age
• During Han period, arts flourished, sciences and technology improved life
• Han China boasted magnificent palaces, multistoried towers
• None survived, but ceramic models from tombs show architecture of period
Artisans and Artists
• Artisans produced ceramic, bronze figurines, jade carvings, silk cloth
• Artists painted portraits and nature scenes on walls, scrolls, room screens
• During Later Han, Buddhist art flourished, including temple wall paintings
• Han literature known for poetry, new styles of verse
• Fu style, combined prose and poetry to create long works of literature
• Shi featured short lines of verse, could be sung
Empires of China and India
Section 2
Han Achievements
Han writers produced important works of history
Sima Qian
– Wrote Records of the Grand Historian or Shiji
– This early history became model for Chinese
historical writing
Empires of China and India
Section 2
Han Achievements
• One of most important Han inventions - paper
• Made by grinding plant fibers into paste, paste dried in sheets
• Created “books” by connecting several sheets of paper into long scroll
• Inventions included iron plow, wheelbarrow
• With iron plow, farmer could till more land
• With wheelbarrow, farmer could haul more
• Created seismograph to measure earthquake tremors
• Made advances in acupuncture, use of needles to cure disease, relieve pain
• Invented compass, sundial, water mill, ship’s rudder
Empires of China and India
Section 2
What were some technological advances of
the Han dynasty?
Answer(s): paper, iron plow, wheelbarrow,
acupuncture, compass, sundial, water mill, rudder
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