Interpreting the Past

East Asia Unit: Daily Life in the Han Dynasty

Assignments to hand in: Daily Life in the Han Dynasty Note-Taking Graphic Organizer [Word Version] | Historical Han Obituaries (See below) | Analyzing Primary v. Secondary Sources (See below)

Essential Questions, shared learning target & introduction:

Essential Question 2: Why do people live the way they do?

What will I be able to do?: You will be able to describe the characteristics of daily life among various social groups/classes in ancient Han China.
What idea, topic, or subject is important for you to learn and understand so that I can do this?: You will learn about how people of various social groups/classes lived in ancient Han China.
What I will do to show that you know this?: You will show what you know by completing Daily Life in the Han Dynasty Note-Taking Graphic Organizer and writing imaginary obituaries on five different social groups/classes of your choosing.


Map of Han Dynasty

The Han dynasty, which lasted from approximately 206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E., was founded by Liu Bang (pronounced LEO-BONG), a man born to a peasant family. Liu, the king of the state of Han, rose to power after the Qin dynasty collapsed in 206 B.C.E. After defeating the various groups that were vying for power after Qin Shi Huang Di's death, Liu became emperor and made his capital at Chang An (pronounced CHAHNG-AHN), in north central China. One of only two commoners ever to found a Chinese dynasty, Liu proved to be a talented and skillful ruler. Posthumously, he became known as Han Gaozu (pronounced HAHN-GOW-TZOO), which means the "Great Ancestral Father of Han." The achievements of the Han dynasty so influenced Chinese culture that the Chinese word for "Chinese person" is "a person of Han."

During the Han dynasty, China experienced a period of peace, stability, and prosperity. Han emperors established a strong military, which allowed them to conquer new territories, expanding the reach of the empire as far as modern-day Korea and North Vietnam. In addition, they extended their power through diplomatic alliances with neighboring peoples. These alliances were often forged through strategic marriages or the exchange of lavish presents. Under the Han, the Chinese also engaged in international trade. Trading such goods as silk, spices, and jade, the Chinese acquired new products and ideas - including Buddhism - from ancient cultures such as India, Central Asia, and Rome. Much of the trade occurred locally in small trade centers throughout Asia that became known collectively as the Silk Road.

During the Han dynasty, great achievements were made in the areas of education, culture, and science. Shifting away from the Legalist philosophy of the Qin dynasty, Han rulers instituted a Confucian system of government under which government officials were selected based on merit, rather than by birth. Scholars who proved their knowledge of Confucian classics and literary talent were appointed officials, who enforced Han laws and collected taxes. This encouraged the development of Confucian education, which became more widespread among the general populace. In addition, the Han government promoted the development of the arts: paper was invented, painting and calligraphy flourished, and fine porcelain was created. The Han period also saw some remarkable advances in science and technology, such as the invention of water clocks, star maps, and compasses. Perhaps most importantly, Han rulers increased trade and communication by building new roads and waterways. While Han rulers struggled at times to maintain control over their large empire, Han society remained basically intact for over 400 years.

Step 1: Researching Social Roles/Groups in the Han Dynasty - Look at the pictures below and read the corresponding Information Handouts to complete the Daily Life in the Han Dynasty Graphic Organizer (Word Version). Make sure you direct your note-taking on how and why they lived the way they did during the Han Dynasty.


Artisans in the Han Dynasty
(Painting of various artisans working with wood, stone, and lacquer paint. This scene is painted in ink and colors on the Yuan dynasty handscroll made of paper.)

Information Handout on Artisans

Imperial Family

Han Imperial Family
(A 12th century painting of soldiers carrying banners in a procession as they escort the first Han emperor, Liu Bang, to the capital city of Chang An)

Information Handout About the Imperial Family


Merchants in the Han dynasty
(14th century painting of a merchant selling medicinal remedies such as bones, plants, and powders. This scene is painted in ink and colors on a Yuan dynasty handscroll made of paper)

Information Handout About Merchants


Han dynasty nobles
(Painting of five Han nobles conversing and wearing elegant clothing. The second figure from the left carries a stylized umbrella. The figures are painted in ink and colors on whitewashed earthenware tiles. The painting was found on the lintel of a Han tomb that dates between 50 B.C.E. and 50 C.E.)

Information Handout About Nobles


Han officials
(An 11th century painting of a northern Qi scholar official dressed in red and sitting on a folding stool. As he writes, he is assisted by servants who hold the paper, prepare a new brush, carry bundles of finished texts, and review the writing. This scene is painted in ink and colors on a northern Song dynasty handscroll made of silk)

Information Handout About Officials


Han peasants
(Painting of peasants working in a rice field. The figures on the path are carrying rice sprouts, which the figures in the foreground are planting in the field)

Information Handout About Peasants


Han dynasty slaves
(A 14th century painting of a slave pouring a drink for someone, while another slave helps someone stand up. This scene is painted in ink and colors on a Yuan dynasty handscroll made of paper)

Information Handout About Slaves


Han dynasty soldiers
(A Qing dynasty painting of third-century soldiers engaged in battle. This painting appears on the Long Promenade, a covered walkway that is part of the Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing)

Information Handout About Soldiers

Step 2: Writing Historical Obituaries Celebrating the Life of Han People - Choose 3 of the social classes/groups and write an obituary celebrating their life. Read the handout: How to Write an Obituary, Sentence by Sentence (includes Chinese example). You will need to fill in imaginary details, like their name, age at the time of death, town they lived in, etc. in order to complete this task.

Historical Obituary Rubric

Step 3: Analyzing Primary v. Secondary Sources Task (SLO Assignment)

Directions: Complete the Artifact Reflection Worksheet using both SOURCE handouts:
Source #1
Source #2

Scoring Rubric