– Gameness til the End
By Cultural China
It is recorded in History of the Han Dynasty that the Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty was a fan of the Cuju sport, the ancient football game. In his palace, he constantly held the Cockfight and Cuju Party featuring cockfighting and Cuju matches. The emperor’s minion Dong Xian also kept some good Cuju players (similar to today’s football stars) in his house. We can know that the ancient football activity in China was already popular in the Western Han Dynasty.
The Han dynasty (Chinese: 漢朝; pinyin: Hàn cháo) was the second imperial dynasty of China (206 BC–220 AD), preceded by the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 AD). Spanning over four centuries, the Han period is considered a golden age in Chinese history. To this day, China’s majority ethnic group refers to itself as the “Han people” and the Chinese script is referred to as “Han characters”. It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han, and briefly interrupted by the Xin dynasty (9–23 AD) of the former regent Wang Mang. This interregnum separates the Han dynasty into two periods: the Western Han or Former Han (206 BC – 9 AD) and the Eastern Han or Later Han (25–220 AD).
The emperor was at the pinnacle of Han society. He presided over the Han government but shared power with both the nobility and appointed ministers who came largely from the scholarly gentry class. The Han Empire was divided into areas directly controlled by the central government using an innovation inherited from the Qin known as commanderies, and a number of semi-autonomous kingdoms. These kingdoms gradually lost all vestiges of their independence, particularly following the Rebellion of the Seven States. From the reign of Emperor Wu onward, the Chinese court officially sponsored Confucianism in education and court politics, synthesized with the cosmology of later scholars such as Dong Zhongshu. This policy endured until the fall of the Qing dynasty in AD 1911.
The Han dynasty was an age of economic prosperity and saw a significant growth of the money economy first established during the Zhou dynasty (c. 1050–256 BC). The coinage issued by the central government mint in 119 BC remained the standard coinage of China until the Tang dynasty (618–907 AD). The period saw a number of limited institutional innovations. To pay for its military campaigns and the settlement of newly conquered frontier territories, the government nationalized the private salt and iron industries in 117 BC, but these government monopolies were repealed during the Eastern Han period. Science and technology during the Han period saw significant advances, including papermaking, the nautical steering rudder, the use of negative numbers in mathematics, the raised-relief map, the hydraulic-powered armillary sphere for astronomy, and a seismometer employing an inverted pendulum.
The Xiongnu, a nomadic steppe confederation, defeated the Han in 200 BC and forced the Han to submit as a de facto inferior partner, but continued their raids on the Han borders. Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141–87 BC) launched several military campaigns against them. The ultimate Han victory in these wars eventually forced the Xiongnu to accept vassal status as Han tributaries. These campaigns expanded Han sovereignty into the Tarim Basin of Central Asia, divided the Xiongnu into two separate confederations, and helped establish the vast trade network known as the Silk Road, which reached as far as the Mediterranean world. The territories north of Han’s borders were quickly overrun by the nomadic Xianbei confederation. Emperor Wu also launched successful military expeditions in the south, annexing Nanyue in 111 BC and Dian in 109 BC, and in the Korean Peninsula where the Xuantu and Lelang Commanderies were established in 108 BC.
After 92 AD, the palace eunuchs increasingly involved themselves in court politics, engaging in violent power struggles between the various consort clans of the empresses and empress dowagers, causing the Han’s ultimate downfall. Imperial authority was also seriously challenged by large Daoist religious societies which instigated the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Five Pecks of Rice Rebellion. Following the death of Emperor Ling (r. 168–189 AD), the palace eunuchs suffered wholesale massacre by military officers, allowing members of the aristocracy and military governors to become warlords and divide the empire. When Cao Pi, King of Wei, usurped the throne from Emperor Xian, the Han dynasty ceased to exist.
Emperor Wu of Han (30 June 156 BC – 29 March 87 BC), born Liu Che, courtesy name Tong, was the seventh emperor of the Han dynasty of China, ruling from 141–87 BC.
Emperor Wu’s reign lasted 54 years — a record that was not broken until the reign of the Kangxi Emperor more than 1,800 years later. His reign resulted in vast territorial expansion, development of a strong and centralized state resulting from his governmental re-organization, including his promotion of Confucian doctrines. In the field of historical social and cultural studies, Emperor Wu is known for his religious innovations and patronage of the poetic and musical arts, including development of the imperial Music Bureau into a prestigious entity. It was also during his reign that cultural contact with western Eurasia was greatly increased, directly or indirectly. Many new crops and other items were introduced to China during his reign.
As a military campaigner, Emperor Wu led Han China through its greatest expansion — at its height, the Empire’s borders spanned from modern Kyrgyzstan in the west, to Korea in the east, and to northern Vietnam in the south. Emperor Wu successfully repelled the nomadic Xiongnu from systematically raiding northern China, and dispatched his envoy Zhang Qian in 139 BC to seek an alliance with the Yuezhi of modern Uzbekistan. This resulted in further missions to Central Asia. Although historical records do not describe him to be aware of Buddhism, emphasizing rather his interest in shamanism, the cultural exchanges that occurred as a consequence of these embassies suggest that he received Buddhist statues from Central Asia, as depicted in the murals found in the Mogao Caves.
While establishing an autocratic and centralized state, Emperor Wu adopted the principles of Confucianism as the state philosophy and code of ethics for his empire and started a school to teach future administrators the Confucian classics. These reforms had an enduring effect throughout the existence of imperial China and an enormous influence on neighboring civilizations. Emperor Wu was also known for his employment of shaman advisers, and for various religious and cultural changes with historical significance of a less directly obvious nature.