National Geographic : 2004 Feb
Another hallmark of the Han: durability. Among the longest of China's major dynasties, it survived, with minor interruption, for more than four centuries. From its founding in 206 B.C. the Han state was as powerful and prestigious in East Asia as the Roman Empire, its approx imate contemporary, was in the West. Like Rome, it expanded into "barbarian" territory on its flanks, particularly to the northwest, where its armies cleared the way for trade along the Silk Road. And, like Rome, the dynasty spawned its share of weak rulers and sloughed into turmoil before collapsing, in A.D. 220. Still, it bequeathed a template of ideal rule 8 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * FEBRUARY 2004 a united China and a self-perpetuating gov ernment-that became the goal of all sub sequent dynasties, just as it is for the dynasty (officially communist, but with capitalism bust ing out all over) that holds power in China today. In the Han legacy, too, are spiritual and ethical dynamics that guide millions of Asians. One is Confucianism, based on the moral values of Confucius, which became official ideology of the Han court (not that the Han rulers were always moral). Even the name Han, which the first emperor adopted from a river, endures. It's what ethnic Chinese call themselves: Han ren, Han people.