Ancient China for Kids
Many new things happened during Han times.
One of the most important was the trade that had begun with ancient Rome via the "silk road". There was a demand in the Roman Empire for Chinese silk. That brought new wealth into China, along with gold, silver, and precious gems.
Another was the invention of paper. Paper changed everything! Scroll painting began. Things began to be written down again. So much was lost during the book burnings ordered by Emperor Qin. When the Han took over, people tried to remember and write down the literature and the teachings of Confucius.
Art was encouraged. Craftsman made gold ornaments and jade jewelry. A gorgeous glaze in vivid colors was invented for pottery. Pottery was brightly painted with dragons and trees and scenes and charming glimpses of life during Han times. Chinese paper lanterns first became popular during the Han Dynasty.
There was a massive public works project to build canals for better movement of goods. When the canals were put to use, some merchants became rich. They bought a title from the emperor, built mansions, and planted beautiful gardens. This made the nobles furious.
In the sciences, great strides were made in medicine.
Education was important in Han times. Public school was started. It was only for boys, but it was free. Schools were started in every province. The Grand School was the big one in the capital city. At one point, the Grand School had an enrollment of 30,000 students! People wanted to learn new skills because jobs were given to people who qualified for them, not just given to the nobles. And people were paid for their work.
The rich did not send their kids to public school. Most were tutored at home, or in small groups. The rich imitated the behavior and clothing worn in the imperial palace. The wore silk robes with belts. They built beautiful homes and wore furs. They had cashmere carpets and richly colored drapes. They ate wonderful foods. They furnished their tombs with golden items and gorgeous fabrics. Many of the rich ordered stone lions to be placed inside their tomb to guard it.
Most people in Han times were peasant farmers. But some people lived in the city. Cities were laid out with main streets and little alleyways. Each city was surrounded by a wall made of earth and stone for protection from bandits and other invaders.
In the cities, the poor lived in crowded tenements. They had little food. Gangs roamed the streets in the cities. They were often at war, which made walking in the city rather dangerous.
In the countryside, the poor were much better off. They did not own the land they farmed, but they each had their own home, and ample food. They had drapes on the windows. Their clothes were simple, woven from a rather scratchy plant fiber. They worked very hard.