The Eastern Han Period

Learning Objective

  • Describe the Eastern Han period

Key Points

  • The 400-year Han Dynasty was briefly interrupted by the rebellious Xin Dynasty. The first part of the Han Dynasty is known as the Western Han period; the Eastern Han period began when the Han overthrew the rebellion and reestablished the dynasty in 25 CE.
  • Emperor Guangwu, the first emperor of the Eastern Han period, regained lost land and pacified the people.
  • The Rule of Ming and Zhang was an era of prosperity; taxes were reduced, Confucian ideals were encouraged, the government was capable and strong, and the processes of creating paper and porcelain were perfected.
  • A series of rebellions led to powerful generals who attempted to control the young emperor. Eventually, three states gained control and the Han Dynasty was ended.



A rebel army that ended the Xin dynasty after unrest.


A relative in a royal family who looks after the throne for an underaged king until he is mature enough to receive power.


A Chinese innovation perfected during the Eastern Han Period; durable, high-quality, and attractive ceramic ware.

Interruption by the Xin Dynasty

When the Western Han period ended in 9 CE, the regent to the prior emperor, Wang Mang, proclaimed his own new dynasty, the Xin Dynasty. He attempted a number of radical reforms, such as new forms of currency, a ban on slavery, and a return to old models of land distribution. A series of major floods on the Yellow River, however, displaced thousands of peasants, and caused massive unrest. A rebel army called the Chimei (“Red Eyebrows”) developed out of the peasantry, and they defeated Wang Mang’s armies and stormed the capital of Chang’an. They killed Wang Mang and put their own puppet ruler on the throne.

The Eastern Han Period

A new Han emperor, Emperor Guangwu, took control and ruled from Luoyang, in eastern China; thus began the Eastern Han period, which lasted from 25-220 CE. He defeated the Chimei rebels, as well as rival warlords, to reunify China again under the Han Dynasty.

Under Emperor Guangwu, the empire was strengthened considerably. Areas that had fallen away from Chinese control, such as Korea and Vietnam, were reconquered. The Hun Confederation, which had grown strong during China’s period of instability, was pacified.


Emperor Guangwu. Emperor Guangwu ruled during the Eastern Han Dynasty.

Emperor Guangwu was succeeded by Emperor Ming, followed by Emperor Zhang. The Rule of Ming and Zhang, as it is called, is remembered for being an era of prosperity. Taxes were reduced, Confucian ideals were encouraged, and the emperors appointed able administrators. It was also in this period that paper, one of China’s most important inventions, emerged. Though early forms of paper had existed for centuries, the process was now perfected. With paper, Chinese texts could circulate on a durable and relatively inexpensive medium, instead of on clay, silk, or bamboo. This allowed Chinese texts to become more readily available and encouraged learning. Another important innovation of this time was porcelain. Porcelain existed in previous forms for centuries, but was perfected in the Eastern Han period. The improvement of porcelain allowed for durable, high-quality, and attractive ceramic ware.


Ceramic Candle Holder from the Eastern Han Dynasty. A ceramic candle holder from the Eastern Han Dynasty, with prancing animal figures.

The Fall of the Eastern Han

A series of rebellions, including the Yellow Turban and Five Pecks of Rice, began in 184 CE. Military generals appointed during these crises kept their militia forces intact even after defeating the rebels. General-in-Chief He Jin plotted to overthrow palace eunuchs. He was discovered and killed, however, in the end 2,000 eunuchs were also killed. A series of generals attempted to control the young emperor, culminating in three spheres of influence. Cao Cao ruled the north, Sun Quan ruled the south, and Liu Bei controlled the west. After Cao Cao’s death, his son Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to give up his throne to him. This ended the Han Dynasty, and started a period of conflict between these three states, called Cao Wei, Eastern Wu and Shu Han.