One disadvantage of writing a macrohistory is that the narrator is compelled to confront violence as his first item of business. If the subject covered is Europe in the present millennium, the historian might pick up the Crusades immediately after the Battle of Hastings and carry on, in a breathless fashion, with the Hundred Years' War followed by the War of the Roses, and wars of the rising national states after the religious wars. The nature of human history being such that the vital turning points are marked with rousing battle cries, it leaves the writer little choice. Chinese history is no exception. Yet, instead of dwelling on the extent of the bloodshed, I suggest a look at the brighter side: For China, while the upheavals may have been more torturous, the relative stability that affected the mass of the population also endured longer. The two halves of the Han dynasty, for instance, lasted some 200 years each, virtually the entire history of the American republic.
Cultural and materialistic achievements during this period of peace were remarkable. For one thing, education advanced. The national effort to promote scholarship started with the Han. An imperial university was established by Wu-di, and toward the end of the pre-Christian era, the enrollment had already reached 3,000. When Wang Mang was regent, he reportedly constructed a dormitory that had 10,000 compartments to house an equal number of students, a figure that is more than