The Han Dynasty which followed had no choice but to adopt the institutions created by the Qin, but the Han rulers chose to take a less provocative stance and retained the existing social system. From an economic point of view great strides were made during the 400 years of Han rule, particularly in agriculture with the construction of hydraulic installations and the spread of iron tools. Socially the Han years led to the emergence of a land-owning class. Industry underwent a substantial qualitative improvement.
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Large state-run bronze foundries and salt refineries, textile and pottery workshops were established in both the north and the south. Industrial development resulted in a strengthening of trade relations. Assisted in part by military conquest commercial interests expanded mainly westwards into India, Persia and the Eastern Roman Empire and gave a boost to Chinese craftsmen. But the period of economic growth, coinciding with the defeat of the Huns, was followed by decline caused largely by the incompetence of the imperial court and a tough taxation policy. A series of peasant rebellions were triggered, but even after the Eastern Han Dynasty was re-established there was no improvement in the people's fortunes. A group known as the Yellow Turbans – supporters of Taoism and strongly opposed to the orthodox application of Confucianism by the imperial government – finally brought the Han Dynasty to an end.
A 300 year transitional phase followed the Han Dynasty and was accompanied by a fragmentation of power and the division of imperial territory. The period is known as the “Three Kingdoms” and the “Southern and Northern Dynasties”.
The land was split into three economic and political regions: the central region along the Huanghe, Southeast asia travel guide map the Changjiang lowland plain where five dynasties followed on from each other, and the province of Sichuan. A new source of manpower appeared in the form of northerners fleeing from foreign raiders and in the south agriculture, the manual crafts and trade received a tremendous boost. A further influx of settlers from the west and the political divisions within China gave a new impetus not just to Buddhism which had suffered setbacks on the western borders during the Han years but also to Taoism which was able to consolidate its position.
The credit for the re-unification of the country towards the end of the 6th c. Went to a military aristocrat who defeated the northern tribes, reconquered the south and founded the Sui Dynasty. But the repressive methods which were used to revive the flagging economy and to distribute the abandoned estates once again enraged the armed peasants who succeeded in deposing the Sui.
The attempts by the Sui to retain a unified China were continued by the Tang, who sought to extend imperial territory in all directions. In the north-east Korea was occupied, they raided Yunnan in the south and in the west the Tarim Basin and the Takla Makan Desert were conquered.
Territorial gains gave trade a boost. The movement of goods and people along the Silk Road continued to grow and sea routes across the South China Sea gave access to the countries of the Indian Ocean. At the same time the demand for valuable products such as silk, tea, pottery and lacquer increased in both Eastern and Western markets, thereby boosting the confidence of the growers and manufacturers of these products. The continuing growth of the coal, copper and tin industries secured China's economic prosperity.