Ancient China and the 'barbarians'

Jonathan Markley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Former Han Dynasty (210 BC-9 AD) emerged from a period of civil wars surrounding the collapse of the Qin Dynasty. Almost exactly contemporary to the emergence of Rome as the major power in the west, the Han established many of the patterns of Chinese government and society that would continue for the next 2,000 years. Even today, the Chinese still refer to themselves as Han ren or 'Han people', and spoken Chinese as Han yu or 'Han speech'. Initially, they inherited an empire that was considerably reduced in size from that which Qin had ruled, but in the course of the next 100 year's, they thrust China's borders forward in all directions. Just as the Romans swung between defence and offence, diplomacy and war, the Han Dynasty struggled to cope with the consequences of empire. Throughout this period, the principal enemy of the Han were the Xiongnu, a steppe dwelling nomadic people to the north, the counterparts of the Mongols in a later stage of history. This paper will initially discuss general concepts of 'us and them', and look at the contrast between Chinese and Roman conceptions of what identified a person as a 'barbarian', In the second part, a brief chronology of principal events and policy shifts will be provided.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-68
Number of pages13
JournalAncient history : resources for teachers
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


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