H

Han, Cavalry of (206 BC–220 AD)

The Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) became the first great dynasty in Chinese history, and the Chinese people began to call themselves the “Han people” (Hanzu, Han nationals, the majority, 90% of the current population). Successful military expeditions and territorial expansion convinced the Han emperors and the people that they were superior in civilization and institution. The Han emperors began to conquer the territory outside the Great Wall.

In 111 BC, Han Wudi (Wu-ti) (the Martial Emperor, reigned 141–87 BC) destroyed and annexed the semisinicized state of Nan-yueh (Vietnam), and started a thousand years of Chinese rule over northern Vietnam. He conquered Korea in 108 BC, and a Chinese command remained at Pyongyang until 313 AD. The Chinese soldiers began to wear armor made of lamellar in which overlapping leather or metal plates were sown onto a cloth. Light and flexible, the armor provided better protection during the frequent offensive campaigns.

Emperor Wudi also moved away from traditional chariot warfare in favor of faster, more maneuverable mounted cavalry after a failed military campaign using chariots in 133 BC. The Han Empire was under threat from the Xiongnu, a tribal state in the north of China. The Xiongnu was a nomadic people skilled in cavalry warfare that the charioteers of the Han were unable to subdue. Wudi initiated a series of campaigns to defeat the Xiongnu in 129 BC that lasted until 90 BC.

After a long period of peace and stability, Wudi reorganized the economy of the Han dynasty by raising taxes, selling imperial offices, and confiscating noble lands. With his treasury expanded, Wudi launched his campaign on the nomadic peoples of the north. Chinese governments struggled for centuries to protect themselves from agile horseback raiders. Wudi’s campaign was only temporarily successful in forcing the Xiongnu to accept Han suzerainty. The nomadic nature of the Xiongnu ensured long-term conflict with future Han rulers. It justified Han Wudi’s military invasions that incorporated the “barbarian” people into the Chinese civilizations through a continuous process of acculturation. Han’s success forced many later rulers to look back and compare themselves with the glorious age of antiquity in terms of territory and geopolitics.

Chinese historian Chang Chun-shu eloquently argued that the cavalry Wudi created was one of the main elements in the Han dynasty’s success in subduing the north of China and fueling the great expansionist period. Documentary evidence of the period claims that at the height of the Xiongnu campaign, 110 BC, the Han cavalry numbered over 300,000. Modern scholars warn students today to be wary of the authenticity of these contemporary numbers; however, it is clear that the Han cavalry was large by the standards of the period and played a crucial role in the history of China.

Justin E. Burch

See also: Great Wall; Han Dynasty; Han Wudi, Emperor; Xiongnu.

-155-

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China at War: An Encyclopedia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Note on Transliteration xiii
  • Preface xv
  • Introduction xix
  • A 1
  • B 17
  • C 27
  • D 99
  • E 109
  • F 119
  • G 131
  • H 155
  • I 181
  • J 183
  • K 201
  • L 219
  • M 255
  • N 295
  • O 333
  • P 341
  • Q 355
  • R 369
  • S 383
  • T 439
  • U 465
  • V 473
  • W 475
  • X 495
  • Y 509
  • Z 525
  • Appendix- Chinese Dynasties and Governments 547
  • Chronology 553
  • Glossary 567
  • Selected Bibliography 571
  • Editor and Contributors 583
  • Index 587
  • About the Editor 605
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