What was the yellow turban rebellion

If one is generous with historical time intervals, one recognizes the shine of special highlights in the five hundred years before the turn of the clock. In the most diverse cultures around the world, people raised the same questions almost at the same time. This concerned the relationship between man and nature and the relationship between the individual and the human collective. The people on earth looked for norms for action that should be oriented towards justice and happiness. In ancient Hellas, Thales von Miletus formulated answers to this without the involvement of supernatural forces. In Judea, a certain prophet Ezekiel was found to be just such with the help of a single God. The Asians assigned Buddha the knowledge that only a complete turning away from the earthly would bring happiness, and in China a Confucius set exactly the opposite rules of life. All of this has been handed down to us from those distant centuries, but almost nothing about how the farmers were constantly deprived of the fruits of their hard labor. The first peasant uprising, of which we have some news from twenty-three centuries ago, probably took place in 209 B.C.E. instead of. Because history began very early in ancient China, it was sometimes used to report on social struggles. But there is to be suspected an endless number of peasant revolts and peasant wars, which for various reasons have not been passed on to us.

This is why the conflict-ridden history is to be told here, which we are able to know reasonably credibly. For millennia, the main actors in human history have remained the farmers, those people who had learned from the beginning of society to get productions going, based on persistent observation of nature, on purposeful hard work, on almost endless patience and, finally, on the sustained commitment of Resources are based. On the other hand, there were those drones that always and constantly only knew how to enrich themselves with the products of the working men. Their chief activity consisted almost exclusively of holding down and depressing the very class in several senses which produced the means for them to live comfortably.

I. The Xin Interregnum (9-24 C.E.) and the "Red Eyebrows" uprising in 18 C.E.
As in the previous Qin dynasty, the farmers in the Han state were also exposed to the most severe strains. The Huns invasions from the north forced the highest expenditures to secure the borders and to raise the border guards. The construction of roads, canals, palaces and tombs also deprived the rural residents of many workers. The labor service extended from a month to a quarter of a year. The civil servants showed ingenuity for their tax system. They are familiar to today's reader: property tax, income tax, trade tax, vehicle tax, boat tax, etc. all tax information 2000 years ago. [1] Merchants had to disclose their assets to determine the tax. The state monopoly lay on alcohol, salt and iron. "Money" is said to have been minted in large quantities in copper coins and ultimately devalued. The state sold its offices, hoarded cheap grain for sale at high prices in times of need and forced the wealthy to make "donations". The emperor had acquired an enormous bureaucratic apparatus that squeezed out a population of 60 million. And yet everything turned into a disastrous situation.

This had its most effective causes in the agricultural situation. Most of the half a million square kilometers of arable land belonged to large landowners. They leased land to the farmers. Although they were exempt from taxes themselves, they kept increasing the pressure on their tenants. The long-lasting consequence was the emigration of the peasants. Many rural refugees lost their own land due to growing debts. The gap between poor producers and hyper-rich landowners [2] continued to widen. Thousands of people without possessions increasingly populated the cities and at the same time handicrafts and small industries went into ruin because these new townspeople hardly had any coins. Iron factories, weaving mills and textile factories closed. The misery spread endlessly and visibly.

Map 1: Riot areas and the "Army of the Red Eyebrows" march

The looming uprising could obviously no longer be prevented by well-intentioned policy changes. This epoch actually describes an exemplary chapter in human history of how late social reforms turned out to be ineffective and social chaos inevitably ensued.
In view of the general emergency, a certain one succeeded Wang Mang in 9 C.E. to usurp the imperial throne. Together with the Cofucian scholar Liu Xin This nephew from the imperial family tried to master the crisis. He wanted to distribute the land of the big landowners to tax-paying peasants and had private slavery forbidden. But the reform approaches were no longer implemented. Wang Mang had, rather unintentionally, made the hyper-rich landowners, who owned much more land than the landlords par excellence, into enemies and underestimated their influence. During his takeover of power, he demoted many officials and members of the imperial family and thus raised another strong opposition force against him. In addition to the general social explosiveness, there was the spark of a natural disaster: the Yellow River overflowed its banks and the resulting poor harvests acted like catalysts for the revolting peasants. The disastrous conditions were additionally burdened by an uncontrollable mass migration that suddenly began from the east to the south. Unrest and revolts in various parts of the country proved the discontent of the population. The first uprising broke out in 15 C.E. in a north-western border garrison. Then the peasants in Anhuee and Djangsu rose. Further unrest simmered in Honan and Hubee. Finally, in 18 C.E. the uprising started in Shandong. The initiators were the members of a Taoist secret society, who from then on marked themselves openly with red painted foreheads and Red eyebrows called. Other sections of the revolters had names such as Brazen horses or Big spears. Their respective orders of magnitude often exceeded tens of thousands of fighters. The miserable permanent hunger, the unlimited greed of the hyper-rich and the uprooting through debt bondage and natural disasters had welded them all together: indebted farmers, deserted soldiers, poor shepherds and fishermen, ruined traders and displaced townspeople.
As was to be seen in later centuries and on other continents, here too allies from the upper class were drawn to the side of the peasantry. Landlords who had not made the leap to hyper-wealth and under the arbitrariness of the new usurper Wang Mang suffered, as did the members of the disempowered clique of emperors and overthrown officials intervened in the fighting. The historian Ban Gu reported that they "incited the reckless people to rebellion ...". (L5) So closed Liu Xiu and Liu Yan, Landowners and members of the Imperial Han House of Army of the Green Forests at. These rebels had been fighting under since the year 17 Wang Kuang and Wang Feng against the usurper. He sent his generals with 100,000 men against the rebels. They used particular cruelty against the peasants and sometimes tens of thousands were executed. The Chinese imperial history therefore always named the rebels against the government as "robbers", but could not hide their increasing resistance. The rebellions spread to Hobee, Sstschwan, Schenssi and Gansau.

When states show an internal conflict visibly to the outside world, neighboring states naturally see the possibility of exerting influence. If the neighbors are aggressive, they take their chance. So did the Huns who invaded the Xin areas. Meanwhile, the insurgents took the capital Chang'an a. The ruler Wang Mang died in internal turmoil and with that the Xin interregnum came to an end.
The capital, looted and burned down, could no longer perform any function for the country. The new ruler Liu Xiu, changed his name to Guang-wu-die (= brilliant warlike emperor) and relocated the center of power to the more eastern Luoyang (hence eastern Han dynasty). First he brutally crushed the peasant uprising that he had previously accompanied. Then he had the land surveyed and a new tax system set up. All private slaves were given freedom. The dilapidated irrigation systems offered sufficient work opportunities. But the causes of the social tensions were not eliminated, despite the slow recovery of the economy. The positions of the hyper-rich landowners were once again consolidated. These were not infrequently those clans who had already enriched themselves in land during the early Han dynasty. Again they leased land to the newly indebted farmers. Completely unaffected by the harsh living conditions of the majority of the population, they continued to lead a securely delimited luxury life. Nepotism and corruption spread repeatedly.


[1] An actually collected horse feed tax appears almost comparable to today's mineral oil tax.

[2] As hyper-rich landowners a class of landlords that emerged during the Han period is referred to here. The land ownership was not subject to a hereditary feudal system. When land could be traded, merchants who had become rich primarily bought the land and leased it to the farmers. As city dwellers, the new masters were very different from the old landowners, who themselves still lived in the country. They also provided the layer of Educated (Shiren or Shensi or Gentry) and from them the new civil servants were recruited. In addition to the multiple income, they also enjoyed tax breaks. So their wealth took on unimagined proportions by leaps and bounds. At the same time, their hyper-ability allowed them to have a tremendous influence on the politics of the empire. (L6)

II. The uprising of the "Yellow Turbans" 184 C.E.
Two centuries later, but still during the Han Dynasty, the population rose sharply, reaching around 60 million by the end of the period. The uprising of Yellow turbans, named for the color of the headscarves the rebels used to identify themselves, began in 184 C.E. and the resulting struggles are said to have dragged on for three decades.

Map 2: The uprising of the »Yellow Turnane«

A preacher stood at the beginning of events. Chang Chiao, the founder of a Dauist secret sect, preached the doctrine of "Taipingdau" [Tai-ping tao = path to great equality], which heralded a time of happy life. The injustice should end that Blue sky as an incarnation of violence had dem Radiant (yellow) sky as Age of happiness to give way. Chang Chiao was from Julu, Hebei Province. A well-known traveling physician, he found many grateful followers who willingly spread his teachings. So the rebels worked patiently in secret for ten years, self-sacrificing and courageous, they preached in the villages and in the cities. They propagated Taiping Daoism in the catchment areas of the Yellow River and became active on the Yagtse. Their connections eventually reached as far as the capital and directly into the imperial palace. There were tens of thousands of them in the country and they were organized into departments.
In its calendar calculations, China was at a kind of turnaround that roughly resembles our turn of the century. [a] Rumors spread about the arrival of the new era, the symbols of the uprising appeared on the walls of the houses. The revolters had thought of the approaching change of time as the start of the uprising, but in the capital alone the followers, including the sect leader's closest confidante, got a certain Ma Yuan-yi into the hands of the imperial. Their assassination led to the premature beginning of the Yellow Turban Revolt in 184 CE. Around 360,000 people immediately took up arms. Within ten days, huge areas had been hit by the uprising, the centers of which were in the provinces of Hobee, Honan, Shame and Hubee. The departments raided the cities, killed the officials, burned down the government buildings, and freed the prisoners and slaves. The granaries were emptied and the property of the rich distributed among the rebels. The imperial and aristocrats could only save themselves by fleeing. When even the capital Luoyang was included, the clashes between the government factions there intensified. State power had fallen into the hands of stupid eunuchs and the wreaths of the empresses, who were criticized by learned Confucians for their cruelty. There was a dispute about the causes of the uprising and ways to combat it. Since the government troops were permanently defeated by the rebel units, the hyper-rich from the so-called strong houses activated their own military apparatus. With more capable generals at their head, these private armies proceeded with incredible brutality that amounted to a war of annihilation. Even women and children of defectors were killed. One of the gentlemen named Huang-fu Sung According to legends, more than two million people were slaughtered. It turned out that the rebels in their desperation fought particularly self-sacrificingly. A general standing opposite them is said to have said: '' If 10,000 people who want to sell their lives dearly are invincible, 100,000 are even less to be defeated. '' According to this motto, the unification marches of the peasant troops were prevented and their divisions forced into defenses of cities that were unfavorable for them. However, these peasant groups in the cities did not withstand protracted sieges by professional military units. And so also fell from Chang Chiao and his brother Chang Biao defended the city from the general's elite troops Huang-fu Sung to the victim. 30,000 rebels are said to have died in the battle and 50,000 were killed while fleeing in the surrounding swamps. Chang Biao was caught and executed, Chang Chiao died earlier during the fighting. While the main division of the rebels had been destroyed, the fighting raged on for a long time elsewhere. 192 C.E. 300,000 farmers in the Shandong area resisted. It wasn't until 205 C.E. succeeded a notorious member of the so-called strong houses, the last division of the Yellow turbans to deliver. general Tsao tsao smashed the leader's division Yuan Tan. Splinters continued to operate up to the year 208.
It must be added that regardless of the at that time Yellow turbans at the same time many other uprisings raged. The largest division of these rebels was called Black Mountain and is said to have united about a million peasants and city arms. (L5)
As a result of this turmoil, large areas were devastated and the empire was divided into three parts. General ruled in the north and in the great basin of the Yellow River Cao Cao. Another military named Sun Quan certain in central China and at the middle and lower end of the Yangzi. General took over the southwest with the Sichuan Basin Liu Bei. The existence of the three states did not last. (L1)

III. Use of Coins
There are many pros and cons to ascribing a goods-money economy to the Han period. [b] Historians sometimes express opposing opinions. Some suspect that a commodity-money economy did not actually develop until the Song era, around a thousand years later. This assumption is perhaps more likely to be true because between 900 and 1200 C.E. the mathematics showed much more developed and literary evidence can be found about it in China. Images from the Han Dynasty show us mining, farmers' tools, looms, ships, etc. but no money changers or coin makers. There are probably no depictions of coin production and no pictures of people counting money in the markets of that time.Given the multitude of principalities, there must have been a multitude of coinage. However, there are no conversion tables, etc., on the other hand, the contemporary knife coins and the pecker coins have strange shapes.

Fig.2: Knife coins and pick coins

The ancient Greeks are known to create arithmetic, but lovingly preferred the problems of geometry. In contrast, the Chinese liked to do numerical arithmetic at the same time. Perhaps it was because a particular practice of using coins directed her thoughts in this direction. The fact that counting and arithmetic must have been much easier in ancient China than with the Hellenes of the same time in Europe speaks for an early use of coins. One calculated with "chopsticks" and interpreted them assigned to the powers of ten. A chessboard-shaped field drawn in the sand or a prefabricated board served as a base. [C] In contrast, it was much more difficult to fix the arithmetic methods in writing, especially since from point 4 onwards additional extra characters were required. But with the simple "chopsticks" method, trading in markets was quite practical. Exactly like the "chopsticks" one could e.g. use the knife coins, whereby each coin shape also gave an indication of the respective dealer. Particularly advantageous if several partners were involved in the same trading process. This meant that any complicated conversions were not necessary. Until the 2nd century B.C.E. Evidence of this is still missing, except for those strangely shaped coins. They could be worn like bonus tokens on a leather cord and thus gave open information about the real trading potential of the business partner in question.

The Chiu-chang suan-shu (also: Jiu Zhang Suanshu = new books in arithmetic technique) is the first known mathematics textbook with nine sample sections. The Chinese tradition assigns the work to the Chou Kung zu (12th century B.C.E.) or the legendary Yellow Emperor (3rd millennium BC). Its oldest known text is over a thousand years younger and was written by Liu Hui in 263 C.E. written and commented. His report assumes that the book was published in the early Han period by Chang Tsang (162-142 B.C.E.) based on old models and written by Keng Shou-chang (75-49 B.C.E.) has been revised. Liu Hui So it dealt with, strictly speaking, three hundred year old texts that had been changed for the last time a hundred years earlier. In fact, it wasn't first printed until 1084 C.E. so again around 700 years later Liu Hui. (L3)
Of the nine chapters, many deal with area measurements, one with volume ratios of solid and loose soil, and five with specific volume calculations. There are rules of three for exchange ratios of units of different fruits and grains, workforce assignments and proportional tasks. A single task compares sheaves of good, medium and bad harvests and assigns amounts to them Tou too, which could be interpreted as money. [d]
An old illustration showing a Chinese arithmetic master during a lesson was published in 1593 in a print that explains the ball arithmetic board (⇒ suan pan). (L4) The Chinese monetary arithmetic is represented in the European reception exactly at the time when the so-called price revolution was taking place.
The timing of monetary determinations will certainly remain an issue for historians. The technical problem of coin production becomes clearer because the emperors in China would have had to provide coins for around 60 million people at the turn of the times, if one wanted to achieve consistent goods-money relationships in society. However, another connection seems to be of greater importance for further investigations. The emergence of money or the historical achievement of new qualities in the money economy are evidently always accompanied by major social shifts, which build up to such crude tensions in society that they, to a certain extent, discharge themselves in severe distribution struggles. The bitterest social misery as a mass phenomenon is a constant companion of such developments, as can also be seen in the historical struggles of the (at all times hardworking) peasants.


[a] In Europe, for example, comparable to the doom and gloom around 1500.

[b] On the basis of coin finds, the view has prevailed that a simple money economy as early as the 6th century B.C.E. started. This is said to be proven by the Chinese coin finds from the Qin period, but also by the silver find discovered in Egypt in 1904 (dated to the 6th century B.C.E.). It is believed that metal money appeared almost simultaneously in the 6th century B.C.E. in Asia (China) and with Mediterranean residents, especially in Greece.
A large coin treasure of approx. 10,000 silver coins come from the Islamic year 204 (= 819 C.E.). The bracteate discovery made in Brandenburg in 1899 of 600 tin coins, including pieces cut in half, presumably comprised the fortune of an arable citizen in the middle of the 13th century.

[c] A system of ten was used without a zero but with a space. A checkerboard pattern was used for this. If a power of ten (e.g. at 602) failed, the second field remained empty. In the single field there were 2 sticks and in the hundreds there were 6 etc. A simple counting of the chopsticks allowed all four basic arithmetic operations. A representation of the arithmetic area comes from a time many centuries later.

[d] Kung Tou is a grain measure in China: 1 Kung Tou = 10 liters