The Men Who Governed Han China: Companion to a Biographical Dictionary of the Qin, Former Han and Xin Periods

The Men Who Governed Han China: Companion to a Biographical Dictionary of the Qin, Former Han and Xin Periods

The Men Who Governed Han China: Companion to a Biographical Dictionary of the Qin, Former Han and Xin Periods

The Men Who Governed Han China: Companion to a Biographical Dictionary of the Qin, Former Han and Xin Periods

Synopsis

How were prominent figures in the formative stages of China's imperial government affected by changes in the theory and practice of government and its institutions? Calling on documentary evidence, some found only recently, Dr. Loewe examines local administration, the careers of officials, military organisation, the nobilities and kingdoms, the concepts of imperial sovereignty and the part played by the emperors. Special attention is paid to the anomalies in the historical records; tabulated lists of officials and other items summarise the evidence on which the chapters are based. Historical change and intellectual controversies are seen in the growth and decay of organs of administration, in the careers of individual men and women and the personal part that they played in shaping events.

Excerpt

As has long been recognised our primary histories of Han China are focussed on the major achievements of imperial government with scant reference to the activities, way of life and sufferings of the great majority of the population. We learn of the lives and careers of those who administered the land or led the armed forces to battle. We read of the different views that senior officials expressed in regard to major problems of the day with their arguments for or against the adoption of a policy. Emperors, their consorts and their consorts’ families stand out in bold print on the pages of the Shiji, Han shu and Hou Han shu somewhat disproportionately as against the scant account that is taken of the great majority of the population.

Registered to the number of nearly sixty million strong, these were the men and women who toiled in the fields and served as conscript labourers carrying loads of grain or building grandiose palaces and mausolea for their masters. At times they were sent as soldiers to guard defence lines in a bitter climate, to journey to the disease ridden territories of the far south. Day by day they stood by in their villages and farms; they might hope that the emperor’s government might extend them rewards by way of a bounty; they laid aside part of their harvest for delivery as tax that local officials would demand; they awaited the judgements that a magistrate would declare and the punishments to which he would sentence them for crime. We may read of the hardships that the inhabitants of the provinces suffered in times of famine, expressed often in rhetorical rather than personal terms. Remnants of the laws of the land reveal the severity of the treatment which was the lot of a criminal; fragments of military records show something of the working lives of servicemen and their families.

Severely limited as our knowledge of the lives of the men who lived in these centuries is, we understand far less about those of the women. The historians concentrated on the men and all too often a woman’s name appears on their pages only when she is accused of . . .

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