The Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) of ancient China was the second imperial dynasty of China, following the Qin Dynasty(221–206 BC). It was divided into the periods of Western Han (202 BC – 9 AD) and Eastern Han (25–220 AD), briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty (9–23 AD) of Wang Mang. The capital of Western Han was Chang’an (now Xian), and the capital of Eastern Han was Luoyang. The emperor headed the government, promulgating all written laws, serving as commander-in-chief of thearmed forces, and presiding as the chief executive official. He appointed all government officials who earned a salary of 600 bushels of grain or more (though these salaries were largely paid in coin cash) with the help of advisors who reviewed each nominee. The empress dowager could either be the emperor’s actual or symbolic mother, and was in practice more powerful than the emperor, as she could override his decisions. The emperor’s executive powers could also be practiced by any official upon whom he bestowed the Staff of Authority. These powers included the right to execute criminals without the imperial court’s permission.
Near the beginning of the dynasty, semi-autonomous regional kings rivaled the emperor’s authority. This autonomy was greatly diminished when the imperial court enacted reforms following the threats to central control like the Rebellion of the Seven States. The End of the Han Dynasty came about during a time of civil, military and religious upheaval, which resulted in the period of Three Kingdoms.
The highest officials in the central bureaucracy, who provided advisory, censorial, executive, and judicial roles in governing the empire, consisted of cabinet members known as the Excellencies, heads of large specialized ministries known as the Nine Ministers, and various metropolitan officials of the capital region. Distinguished salary-ranks were granted to officials in the bureaucracy, nobles of the imperial family, concubines of the harem, and military officers of the armed forces.
Local government divisions, in descending order by size, were the province, commandery, county, and district. Local fiefs ofthe nobility included the kingdom, which was modeled largely upon the regular commandery, as well as the marquessate, modelled largely upon the regular county. Although the central government’s monopolies on salt, iron, and liquor eventually failed and were relinquished back to private production, the government successfully nationalized the issuing of coin currency through its imperial mint, which lasted from 113 BC until the end of the dynasty. The conscription system for commoners as non-professional soldiers was reduced in size in favor of a volunteer army and a substitution tax by Eastern Han. A small professional standing army existed throughout Western and Eastern Han. During times of crisis, the volunteer army increased in size, but large militias were raised and certain officer titles were revived for temporary use.