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China: Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220)

The Qin dynasty, victorious from the battles of the Warring States period, was responsible for the unification of China in 221 BC. However, the dynasty was short-lived, and was followed by one of the most notable dynasties in Chinese history, the Han dynasty, which ruled from 206 BC to AD 220, with a short break (AD 9-25) when a rebel leader, Wang Mang set up the alternative Xin dynasty.

The Xin dynasty separates the two parts of the Han dynasty, known as the Western (206 BC-AD 9) and Eastern (AD 25-220) periods, named according to the geography of their respective capitals: the former at present-day Xi'an, the latter in Luoyang.

The Han continued much of the administrative system introduced by the Qin dynasty. To serve this administration, they encouraged the development of a class of scholar-officials, trained in standard texts and codified laws. The élite group shared a similar ideology, but also a similar standard of material life. By this period, highly organized workshops were mass-producing weapons, bronze vessels, lacquers and textiles for use by the official class.

An important aspect of Han culture was the changing view of the Afterlife (see the article 'Burial practices in China'). Tombs were built to represent the universe in which the dead were expected to live. Several separate rooms were provided for different activities, decorated with scenes of daily life as well as the cosmic realm. The range of burial goods also changed at this time, with ceramic replicas taking the place of more precious items (such as bronzes and lacquers). Ceramic figures of servants and entertainers were included, as were models of buildings, farms and trees.

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