Military of the Qing dynasty

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The Qing dynasty (1644–1912) was established by conquest and maintained by armed force. The founding emperors personally organized and led the armies, and the continued cultural and political legitimacy of the dynasty depended on the ability to defend the country from invasion and expand its territory. Therefore, military institutions, leadership, and finance were fundamental to the dynasty's initial success and ultimate decay. The early military system centered on the Eight Banners, a hybrid institution that also played social, economic, and political roles.[1] The Banner system was developed on an informal basis as early as 1601, and formally established in 1615 by Jurchen leader Nurhaci (1559–1626), the retrospectively recognized founder of the Qing. His son Hong Taiji (1592–1643), who renamed the Jurchens "Manchus," created eight Mongol banners to mirror the Manchu ones and eight "Han-martial" (Hanjun 漢軍) banners manned by Chinese who surrendered to the Qing before the full-fledged conquest of China began in 1644. After 1644, the Chinese troops that surrendered to the Qing were integrated into the Green Standard Army, a corps that eventually outnumbered the Banners by three to one.

Manchu imperial princes led the Banners in defeating the Ming armies, but after lasting peace was established starting in 1683, both the Banners and the Green Standard Armies started to lose their efficiency. Garrisoned in cities, soldiers had few occasions to drill. The Qing nonetheless used superior armament and logistics to expand deeply into Central Asia, defeat the Dzungar Mongols in 1759, and complete their conquest of Xinjiang. Despite the dynasty's pride in the Ten Great Campaigns of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735–1796), the Qing armies became largely ineffective by the end of the 18th century. It took almost ten years and huge financial waste to defeat the badly equipped White Lotus Rebellion (1795–1804), partly by legitimizing militias led by local Han Chinese elites. The Taiping Rebellion (1850–1864), a large-scale uprising that started in southern China, marched within miles of Beijing in 1853. The Qing court was forced to let its Han Chinese governors-general, first led by Zeng Guofan, raise regional armies. This new type of army and leadership defeated the rebels but signaled the end of Manchu dominance of the military establishment.

The military technology of the European Industrial Revolution made China's armament and military training obsolete almost overnight. In 1860 British and French forces in the Second Opium War captured Beijing and sacked the Summer Palace. The shaken court attempted to modernize its military and industrial institutions by buying European technology. This Self-Strengthening Movement established shipyards (notably the Jiangnan Arsenal and the Foochow Arsenal) and bought modern guns and battleships in Europe. The Qing navy became the largest in East Asia. But organization and logistics were inadequate, officer training was deficient, and corruption widespread. The Beiyang Fleet was virtually destroyed and the modernized ground forces defeated in the 1895 First Sino-Japanese War. The Qing created a New Army, but could not prevent the Eight Nation Alliance from invading China to put down the Boxer Uprising in 1900. The revolt of a New Army corps in 1911 led to the fall of the dynasty.

The Eight Banners system

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The Qianlong Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Twelve: Return to the Palace (detail), 1764—1770, by Xu Yang.

One of the keys to Nurhaci's successful unification of Jurchen tribes and his challenge to the Ming dynasty in the early seventeenth century was the formation of the Eight Banners, a uniquely Manchu institution that was militarily efficient, but also played economic, social, and political roles.[2] As early as 1601 and possibly a few years earlier, Nurhaci made his soldiers and their families register into permanent companies known as niru, the same name as the smaller hunting parties in which Jurchen men traditionally joined to practice military operations and wage war.[3] Sometime before 1607, these companies were themselves grouped into larger units called gūsa, or "banners," differentiated by colors: yellow, white, red, and blue.[4] In 1615 a red border was added to each flag (except for the red banner, to which a white border was added) to form a total of eight banners that Jurchen troops carried into battles.[4] The banner system allowed Nurhaci's new state to absorb defeated Jurchen tribes simply by adding companies; this integration in turn helped to reorganize Jurchen society beyond petty clan affiliations.[5]

As Qing power expanded north of the Great Wall, the Banner system kept expanding too. Soon after defeating the Chahar Mongols with the help of other Mongol tribes in 1635, Nurhachi's son and successor Hong Taiji incorporated his new Mongol subjects and allies into the Mongol Eight Banners, which ran parallel to the original Manchu banners.[6] Hong Taiji was more prudent in integrating Chinese troops.[7] In 1629, he first created a "Chinese army" (Manchu: nikan cooha; Chinese: Hanjun 漢軍) of about 3000 men.[8] In 1631 these Chinese troops absorbed men that could build and operate European-style cannon, and were therefore renamed "Heavy Troops" (M.: ujen cooha; Ch.: zhongjun 重軍).[9] By 1633 they counted about 20 companies and 4,500 men fighting under black standards.[9] These Chinese companies were grouped into two banners in 1637, four in 1639, and finally eight banners in 1642.[6] These "Hanjun" banners are known as the "Chinese" or "Chinese-martial" banners.[10]

The banners in their order of precedence were as follows: yellow, bordered yellow, white, red, bordered white, bordered red, blue, and bordered blue. The yellow, bordered yellow, and white banners were collectively known as the "Upper Three Banners" (Chinese: 上三旗; pinyin: shàng sān qí) and were under the direct command of the emperor. Only Manchus belonging to the Upper Three Banners, and selected Han Chinese who had passed the highest level of martial exams were qualified to serve as the emperor's personal bodyguards. The remaining Banners were known as the "Lower Five Banners" (Chinese: 下五旗; pinyin: xià wǔ qí) and were commanded by hereditary Manchu princes descended from Nurhachi's immediate family, known informally as the "Iron Cap Princes." In Nurhaci's era and the early Hong Taiij era, these princes formed the ruling council of the Manchu nation as well as high command of the army.[citation needed]

The Green Standard Army

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After capturing Beijing in 1644 and as the Qing rapidly gained control of large tracts of former Ming territory, the relatively small Banner armies were further augmented by remnants of Ming forces that surrendered to the Qing. Some of these troops were first accepted into the Chinese-martial banners, but after 1645 they were integrated a new military unit called the Green Standard Army, named after the color of their battle pennants.[11] The Qing created Chinese armies in the regions it conquered. Green Standard armies were created in Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, and Jiangnan in 1645, in Fujian in 1650, in Lianguang (Guangdong and Guangxi) in 1651, in Guizhou in 1658, and in Yunnan in 1659.[12] They maintained their Ming-era ranks and were led by a mix of Banner and Green Standard officers.[13] These Chinese troops eventually outnumbered Banner troops three to one (about 600,000 Green Standard troops to 200,000 bannermen).[14]

Even though the Manchu banners were the most effective fighting force during the Qing conquest of China, most of the fighting was done by Chinese banners and Green Standard troops, especially in southern China where Manchu cavalry could play less of a role.[15] The banners also performed badly during the revolt of the Three Feudatories that erupted in southern China in 1673.[16] It was regular Chinese troops, albeit led by Manchu and Chinese officers, who helped the Qing to defeat their enemies in 1681 and thus consolidate their control over all of China.[16] Green Standard troops also formed the main personnel of the naval forces that defeated the Zheng family kingdom on Taiwan island in 1683.[17]

The Banners and Green Standard troops were standing armies, paid for by the central government. In addition, regional governors from provincial down to village level maintained their own irregular local militias for police duties and disaster relief. These militias were usually granted small annual stipends from regional coffers for part-time service obligations.

Garrisons in peace time

Banner Armies were broadly divided along ethnic lines, namely Manchu and Mongol. Although it must be pointed out that the ethnic composition of Manchu Banners was far from homogeneous as they included non-Manchu bondservants registered under the household of their Manchu masters. As the war with Ming dynasty progressed and the Han Chinese population under Manchu rule increased, Hong Taiji created a separate branch of Han Banners to draw on this new source of manpower. However these Han bannermen were never regarded by the government as equal to the other two branches due to their relatively late addition to the Manchu cause as well as their Han Chinese ancestry. The nature of their service—mainly as infantry, artillery and sappers, was also alien to the Manchu tradition of fighting almost exclusively as mounted archers. Furthermore, after the conquest the military roles played by Han bannermen were quickly subsumed by the Green Standard Army. The Han Banners ceased to exist altogether after the Yongzheng Emperor's banner registration reforms aimed at cutting down imperial expenditures.[citation needed]

The socio-military origins of the Banner system meant that population within each branch and their sub-divisions were hereditary and rigid. Only under special circumstances sanctioned by imperial edict were social movements between banners permitted. In contrast, the Green Standard Army was originally intended to be a professional force.

A late-Qing woodblock print representing the Yangzhou massacre of May 1645. By the late 19th century, the massacre was used by anti-Qing revolutionaries to arouse anti-Manchu sentiment among the population.

After defeating the remnants of the Ming forces, the Manchu Banner Army of approximately 200,000 strong at the time was evenly divided; half was designated the Forbidden Eight Banner Army (Chinese: 禁旅八旗; pinyin: jìnlǚ bāqí) and was stationed in Beijing. It served both as the capital's garrison and the Qing government's main strike force. The remainder of the Banner troops was distributed to guard key cities in China. These were known as the Territorial Eight Banner Army (simplified Chinese: 驻防八旗; traditional Chinese: 駐防八旗; pinyin: zhùfáng bāqí). The Manchu court, keenly aware its own minority status, reinforced a strict policy of racial segregation between the Manchus and Mongols from Han Chinese for fear of being sinicized by the latter. This policy applied directly to the Banner garrisons, most of which occupied a separate walled zone within the cities they were stationed in. In cities where there were limitation of space such as in Qingzhou, a new fortified town would be purposely erected to house the Banner garrison and their families. Beijing being the imperial seat, the regent Dorgon had the entire Chinese population forcibly relocated to the southern suburbs which became known as the "Outer Citadel" (Chinese: 外城; pinyin: wàichéng). The northern walled city called "Inner Citadel" (Chinese: 內城; pinyin: nèichéng) was portioned out to the remaining Manchu Eight Banners, each responsible for guarding a section of the Inner Citadel surrounding the Forbidden City palace complex.[lower-alpha 1][citation needed]

The eighteenth century

The policy of posting Banner troops as territorial garrison was not to protect but to inspire awe in the subjugated populace at the expense of their expertise as cavalry. As a result, after a century of peace and lack of field training the Manchu Banner troops had deteriorated greatly in their combat worthiness. Secondly, before the conquest, the Manchu banner was a "citizen" army, and its members were Manchu farmers and herders obligated to provide military service to the state at times of war. The Qing government's decision to turn the banner troops into a professional force whose every welfare and need was met by state coffers brought wealth, and with it corruption, to the rank and file of the Manchu Banners and hastened its decline as a fighting force. Bannermen frequently went into debt as a result of drinking, gambling, and spending time at theaters and brothels, leading to a general ban on theater-going within the Eight Banners.[18]

At the same time, a similar decline was occurring in the Green Standard Army. During peace time, soldiering became merely a source of supplementary income. Soldiers and commanders alike neglected training in pursuit of their own economic gains. Corruption was rampant as regional unit commanders submitted pay and supply requisitions based on exaggerated head counts to the quartermaster department and pocketed the difference. When Green Standard troops proved unable to fire their guns accurately while suppressing a rebellion of White Lotus followers under Wang Lun in 1774, the governor-general blamed the failure on enemy magic, prompting a furious reply from the Qianlong Emperor in which he described incompetence with firearms as a "common and pervasive disease" of the Green Standard Army, whose gunners were full of excuses.[19]

Qing emperors attempted to reverse the decline of the military through a variety of means. Although it was under the Qianlong Emperor that the empire expanded to its greatest extent, the emperor and his officers frequently made note of the decline of martial discipline among the troops.[20][21] Qianlong reinstituted the annual hunt at Mulan as a form of military training. Thousands of troops participated in these massive exercises, selected from among Eight Banners troops of both the capital and the garrisons.[22] Qianlong also promoted military culture, directing his court painters to produce a large number of works on military themes, including victories in battle, the grand inspections of the army, and the imperial hunt at Mulan.[23]

Qing armies in the eighteenth century may not have been as well-armed as their European counterparts, but under pressure from the imperial throne they proved capable of innovation and efficiency, sometimes in difficult circumstances. In the Second Jinchuan War, for instance, the Qianlong emperor despatched the Jesuit Felix da Rocha, the director of the Bureau of Astronomy, to the front to cast heavy field cannon that could not be transported to the deep mountains in which the Jinchuan tribes lived.[24]

When the Taiping Rebellion broke out in the 1850s, the Qing court found out belatedly that the Banner and Green Standards troops could neither put down internal rebellions nor keep foreign invaders at bay.[citation needed]

Transition and modernization

General Zeng Guofan

Early during the Taiping Rebellion, Qing forces suffered a series of disastrous defeats culminating in the loss of the regional capital city of Nanjing in 1853. The rebels massacred the entire Manchu garrison and their families in the city and made it their capital.[25] Shortly thereafter, a Taiping expeditionary force penetrated as far north as the suburbs of Tianjin in what was considered the imperial heartlands. In desperation the Qing court ordered a Chinese mandarin, Zeng Guofan, to organize regional (simplified Chinese: 团勇; traditional Chinese: 團勇; pinyin: tuányǒng) and village (simplified Chinese: 乡勇; traditional Chinese: 鄉勇; pinyin: xiāngyǒng) militias into a standing army called tuanlian to contain the rebellion. Zeng Guofan's strategy was to rely on local gentries to raise a new type of military organization from those provinces that the Taiping rebels directly threatened. This new force became known as the Xiang Army, named after the Hunan region where it was raised. The Xiang Army was a hybrid of local militia and a standing army. It was given professional training, but was paid for out of regional coffers and funds its commanders — mostly members of the Chinese gentry — could muster. The Xiang Army and its successor, the Huai Army, created by Zeng Guofan's colleague and student Li Hongzhang, were collectively called the "Yong Ying" (Brave Camp).[26]

Before forming and commanding the Xiang Army, Zeng Guofan had no military experience. Being a classically educated Mandarin, his blueprint for the Xiang Army was taken from a historical source — the Ming general Qi Jiguang, who, because of the weakness of regular Ming troops, had decided to form his own "private" army to repel raiding Japanese pirates in the mid-16th century. Qi Jiguang's doctrine was based on Neo-Confucian ideas of binding troops' loyalty to their immediate superiors and also to the regions in which they were raised. This initially gave the troops an excellent esprit de corps. Qi Jiguang's army was an ad hoc solution to the specific problem of combating pirates, as was Zeng Guofan's original intention for the Xiang Army, which was raise to eradicate the Taiping rebels. However, circumstances led to the Yongying system becoming a permanent institution within the Qing military, which in the long run created problems of its own for the beleaguered central government.

In 1894–1895, fighting over influence in Korea, Japanese troops defeated Qing forces.

First, the Yongying system signaled the end of Manchu dominance in Qing military establishment. Although the Banners and Green Standard armies lingered on as parasites depleting resources, henceforth the Yongying corps became the Qing government's de facto first-line troops. Secondly the Yongying corps were financed through provincial coffers and were led by regional commanders. This devolution of power weakened the central government's grip on the whole country, a weakness further aggravated by foreign powers vying to carve up autonomous colonial territories in different parts of the Qing Empire in the later half of the 19th century. Despite these serious negative effects, the measure was deemed necessary as tax revenue from provinces occupied and threatened by rebels had ceased to reach the cash-strapped central government. Finally, the nature of Yongying command structure fostered nepotism and cronyism amongst its commanders, whom, as they ascended the bureaucratic ranks laid the seeds to Qing's eventual demise and the outbreak of regional warlordism in China during the first half of the 20th century.[26]

By the late 19th century, China was fast descending into a semi-colonial state. Even the most conservative elements within the Qing court could no longer ignore China's military weakness in contrast to the foreign "barbarians" literally beating down its gates. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the capital Beijing was captured and the Summer Palace sacked by a relatively small Anglo-French coalition force numbering 25,000.

Self-Strengthening and military modernization

Although the Chinese invented gunpowder, and firearms had been in continual use in Chinese warfare since as far back as the Song dynasty, the advent of modern weaponry resulting from the European Industrial Revolution had rendered China's traditionally trained and equipped army and navy obsolete.

After the humiliating capture of Beijing and the sack of the Summer Palace in 1860, officials like Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang, and the Manchu Wenxiang made efforts to acquire advanced western weapons and copy western military organization.[27] Special brigades of Chinese soldiers equipped with modern rifles and commanded by foreign officers (one example is the Ever Victorious Army commanded by Frederick Townsend Ward and later Charles George Gordon) helped Zeng and Li to defeat the Taiping rebels.[27] Li Hongzhang's Huai Army also acquired western rifles and incorporated some western drills.[27] Meanwhile, in Beijing, Prince Gong and Wenxiang created an elite army, the "Peking Field Force", which was armed with Russian rifles and French cannon and drilled by British officers.[28] When this force of 2,500 bannermen defeated a bandit army more than ten times more numerous, they seemed to prove Wenxiang's point that a small but well-trained and well-equipped banner army would be sufficient to defend the capital in the future.[29]

One major emphasis of the reforms was to improve the weaponry of Chinese armies. In order to produce modern rifles, artillery, and ammunition, Zeng Guofan created an arsenal in Suzhou, which was moved to Shanghai and expanded into the Jiangnan Arsenal.[30] In 1866 the sophisticated Fuzhou Shipyard was created under the leadership of Zuo Zongtang, its focus being the building of modern warships for coastal defense.[30] From 1867 to 1874 it built fifteen new ships.[31] Other arsenals were created in Nanjing, Tianjin (it served as a major source of ammunition for northern Chinese armies in the 1870s and 1880s), Lanzhou (to support Zuo Zongtang's quelling of a large Muslim uprising in the northwest), Sichuan, and Shandong.[30] Prosper Giquel, a French naval officer who served as adviser at the Fuzhou Shipyard, wrote in 1872 that China was quickly becoming a formidable rival to western powers.[32]

Thanks to these reforms and improvements, the Qing government gained a major advantage over domestic rebels.[33] After vanquishing the Taiping in 1864, the newly equipped armies defeated the Nian Rebellion in 1868, the Guizhou Miao in 1873, the Panthay Rebellion in Yunnan in 1873, and in 1877 the massive Muslim uprising that had engulfed Xinjiang since 1862.[33] In addition to quelling domestic revolts, the Qing also fought foreign powers with relative success. Qing armies managed to solve the 1874 crisis with Japan over Taiwan diplomatically, forced the Russians out of the Ili River valley in 1881, and fought the French to a standstill in the Sino-French War of 1884–1885 despite many failures in naval warfare.[34]

Footage of a naval battle during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894).

The military improvements that resulted from modernizing reforms were substantial, but they still proved insufficient, as the Qing was soundly defeated by Meiji Japan in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895.[35] Even China's best troops — the Huai Army and the Beiyang Fleet, both commanded by Li Hongzhang — were no match for Japan's better-trained, better led, and faster army and navy.[36]

The surprising defeat and the humiliating settlement that followed made the previous reforms seem like utter failures.[37] For a long time, western and Chinese scholars attributed the failure of military modernization to Chinese or Manchu ethnocentrism and to the incompatibility of the Confucian world-order with the demands of modernity. More concrete reasons were lack of funding (especially after 1875, when funds gained from new taxes and tariffs had been diverted to other uses), a general reluctance to adopt western training techniques, and over-reliance on individual leaders like Wenxiang or Li Hongzhang.

The government attempts to modernize during the Self-Strengthening Movement were, in the view of most historians with hindsight, piecemeal and yielded few lasting results. The various reasons for the apparent failure of late-Qing modernization attempts that have been advanced including the lack of funds, lack of political will, and unwillingness to depart from tradition. These reasons remain disputed.[38]

The New Armies

The Beiyang Army in training

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Losing the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 was a watershed for the Qing government. Japan, a country long regarded by the Chinese as little more than an upstart nation of pirates, had convincingly beaten its larger neighbour and in the process annihilated the Qing government's pride and joy — its modernized Beiyang Fleet, then deemed to be the strongest naval force in Asia. In doing so, Japan became the first Asian country to join the previously exclusively western ranks of colonial powers. The defeat was a rude awakening to the Qing court especially when set in the context that it occurred a mere three decades after the Meiji Restoration set a feudal Japan on course to emulate the Western nations in their economic and technological achievements. Finally, in December 1894, the Qing government took concrete steps to reform military institutions and to re-train selected units in westernized drills, tactics and weaponry. These units were collectively called the New Army. The most successful of these was the Beiyang Army under the overall supervision and control of a former Huai Army commander, General Yuan Shikai, who used his position to eventually become President of the Republic of China and finally emperor of China.[39]

The military leaders and the armies formed in the late 19th century continued to dominate politics well into the 20th century. During what was called the Warlord Era (1916–1928) the late-Qing armies became rivals and fought among themselves and with new militarists.[40]

See also

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  1. Chinese: 紫禁城; pinyin: zǐjìnchéng; Ma: Dabkūri dorgi hoton.png Dabkūri dorgi hoton


  1. Elliott 2001, p. 40.
  2. Elliott 2001, pp. 40 (uniquely Manchu) and 57 (role on Nurhaci's success).
  3. Elliott 2001, p. 58.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Elliott 2001, p. 59.
  5. Roth Li 2002, p. 34.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Roth Li 2002, p. 58.
  7. Elliott 2001, p. 75.
  8. Roth Li 2002, p. 57.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Roth Li 2002, pp. 57–58.
  10. Roth Li 2002, p. 58 ("Han-chün [Hanjun] banners"); Elliott 2001, p. 74 ("Chinese Eight Banners"); Crossley 1997, p. 204 ("Chinese-martial banners").
  11. Elliott 2001, p. 480 (integration of surrendered Ming troops into Green Standards); Crossley 1999, pp. 118–19 (Chinese troops integrated into the Chinese banners in 1644; access restricted starting in 1645).
  12. Wakeman 1985, p. 480, note 165.
  13. Elliott 2001, p. 128.
  14. Elliott 2001, p. 310.
  15. Lococo Jr. 2002, p. 118.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Lococo Jr. 2002, p. 120.
  17. Dreyer 2002, p. 35.
  18. Elliott 2001, pp. 284-290.
  19. Waley-Cohen 2006, pp. 63-65.
  20. Elliott 2001, pp. 283-284.
  21. Elliott 2001, pp. 299-300.
  22. Elliott 2001, pp. 184-186.
  23. Waley-Cohen 2006, pp. 84-87.
  24. Waley-Cohen 2006, p. 58.
  25. Crossley 1990, pp. 126–27.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Liu & Smith 1980, pp. 202–10.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Horowitz 2002, p. 156.
  28. Horowitz 2002, pp. 156–57.
  29. Crossley 1990, p. 145.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Horowitz 2002, p. 157.
  31. Wright 1957, p. 212.
  32. Wright 1957, p. 220.
  33. 33.0 33.1 Horowitz 2002, p. 158.
  34. Horowitz 2002, pp. 158–59.
  35. Horowitz 2002, p. 159.
  36. Elman 2005, pp. 379–83.
  37. Elman 2005, p. xxii.
  38. Wakeman 1977?[full citation needed]
  39. Liu & Smith 1980, pp. 251–273.
  40. For an overview, see Edward L. Dreyer. China at War, 1901–1949. (London; New York: Longman, Modern Wars in Perspective, 1995). ISBN 0582051258.

Works cited

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Further reading

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  • Graff, David A. and Robin D. S. Higham. A Military History of China. (Boulder, Colo. Oxford: Westview, 2002). ISBN 0813339901.
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  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. (hardcover), ISBN 0813339901 (paperback).