Why do you think the Silk Road is sometimes called the Road of Civilization?
Han rulers left their stamp on all areas of Chinese life. Han China made such tremendous advances in so many fields that the Chinese later called themselves “the people of Han.” Han China lasted for over 400 years. Its rulers presided over a golden age in government, technology, and the arts.
Han scientists wrote texts on chemistry, zoology, botany, and other subjects. Han astronomers improved earlier calendars and invented better timekeeping devices. A Chinese scientist invented a simple seismograph to detect and measure earthquakes.
The scientist Wang Chong disagreed with the widely held belief that comets and eclipses showed heaven's anger. “On the average, there is one moon eclipse about every 180 days,” he wrote, “and a solar eclipse about every 41 or 42 months. Eclipses … are not caused by political action.” Wang Chong argued that theories should only be accepted if they could be proved by scientific evidence.
Zhang Heng developed the earliest known seismograph to detect and measure earthquakes. Tremors move a pendulum that opens the jaw of the dragon. The event is recorded when the ball drops from the dragon's mouth into the mouth of the toad below.
Chinese physicians diagnosed diseases, developed anesthetics, and experimented with herbal remedies and other drugs. Many promoted the use of acupuncture. In this medical treatment, developed thousands of years ago, the doctor inserts needles into the skin at specific points to relieve pain or treat various illnesses.
At the time, Han China was the most technologically advanced civilization in the world. Cai Lun (ky loon), an official in the Han court, invented a method for making paper out of wood pulp. His basic method is still used to manufacture paper today. The Chinese made advances in methods of shipbuilding and invented the rudder to steer.
Other practical inventions included fishing reels, wheelbarrows, and suspension bridges. The Chinese invented the water-powered trip-hammer, a huge, heavy device used to pound ores and grains. Some of these ideas moved westward slowly, reaching Europe hundreds of years later.
The walled cities of Han China boasted splendid temples and palaces set in elegant parks. Although these wooden buildings have not survived, Han poets and historians have described their grandeur. Artisans produced delicate jade and ivory carvings and fine ceramic figures. Bronze-workers and silk makers improved on earlier techniques and set high standards for future generations.
Much of our knowledge about Han China comes from a massive history, Records of the Grand Historian, written about 100 B.C. Its author, Sima Qian, is sometimes called the father of Chinese history. Sima Qian's work covers more than 2,000 years, from China's legendary origins through the reign of emperor Wudi.
Around A.D. 100, Ban Zhao (bahn jow) wrote Lessons for Women, an influential handbook of behavior. In it, she carefully spells out the proper behavior for women and men. While Ban Zhao did argue in favor of equal education for boys and girls, she stressed that women should be obedient, respectful, and submissive. “Let a woman modestly yield to others,” she advised. “Let her respect others.”
What are some examples of Han inventions or technologies still used today?