In the history of China, there is a total of 83 dynasties and kingdoms and 559 emperors and kings. The first imperial emperor took control of China in 221 BC (prior to this emperor, there were only confederation emperors). His name was Qín Shǐ Huángdì (秦始皇帝). He established the first unified “Chinese” dynasty, named after himself, the Qin Dynasty. This dynasty saw many the creation of imperial traditions and was the result of a hard-earned victory in a major, long-lasting war (over 200 years) by the Qin family. On the contrary, the Qin clan only saw 15 years of leadership due to their inability to seize the moment.
The Rise of the Han
207 BC marked the year that Liú Bāng (刘邦), a former peasant, started an uprising, conquered the Qin clan, and defeated the other rebel groups fighting for the emperorship. He declared the Han Dynasty as the new rule of the land (named after the the territory he originally was recognized as king over). His lineage would continue on for over 400 years, encompassing 26 emperors and was recognized as one of the greatest in all of Chinese history. China greatly advanced in culture, literature, economics, etc. during this time period. This dynasty became so revered that ever since the Han Dynasty, “Hàn” (汉) has become the ethnic group that an overwhelming majority of Chinese consider themselves to be. (The Han territory in orange illustrated above is oddly shaped in the west due to geographical challenges, i.e. mountainous Tibetan region and desert Xinjiang region.)
Enter Hàn Wǔ dì
Hàn Wǔ dì was the the seventh emperor of the Han Dynasty and held the role for 54 years, the longest anybody would hold the throne until 1800 years later. His rule was from 141 BC – 87 BC. Among his greatest accomplishments was the promotion of Confucianism and his military campaigning which expanded the Han Dynasty to its farthest borders. Generally speaking, he is known as being a solid leader in Chinese history, so among the 500+ Chinese leaders, Hàn Wǔ dì is worth mentioning. It is also interesting that Hàn Wǔ dì believed in immortality and befriended individuals that claimed to be able to perform this miracle. (Source: “Book of Han” – 《漢書 – hàn shū 》)
Therefore, it was the Qin clan that paved the way for a unified China, but it was the Han family that truly capitalized on the idea that so many kingdoms could be united to form one great dynasty. The Han Dynasty made such an impact that Chinese people consider themselves to be from the Han ethnic group (descendants of the Han, if you will). They were what the Roman Empire was to the West, except to a greater extent. It was especially because of Hàn Wǔ dì’s ability to keep the dynasty in a stable condition and to continue military campaigning that made the time period in Chinese history successful.