Qing reconquest of East Turkestan

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Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. The Qing reconquest of East Turkestan was the event when the Qing dynasty in China reconquered East Turkestan (Xinjiang) after the Dungan Revolt in the late 19th century. After a century of Qing rule, the Tajik adventurer Yakub Beg occupied almost all of East Turkestan during the revolt, but it was eventually defeated by the Qing General Zuo Zongtang (also known as General Tso). Furthermore, Qing China recovered the Gulja region through diplomatic negotiations with the Russian Empire and the Treaty of Saint Petersburg in 1881. Xinjiang was converted into a province in 1884.


The Qing dynasty under the Qianlong Emperor conquered Xinjiang from the Dzungar Khanate in the late 1750s. However, Qing China declined in the late 19th century following the Opium War. A major revolt known as the Dungan Revolt occurred in the 1860s and 1870s in Northwest China, and Qing rule almost collapsed in all of Xinjiang except for places such as Tacheng. Taking advantage of this revolt, Yakub Beg, commander-in-chief of the army of Kokand occupied most of Xinjiang and declared himself the Amir of Kashgaria. Yakub Beg ruled at the height of The Great Game era when the British, Russian, and Qing empires were all vying for Central Asia. In the late 1870s, the Qing decided to reconquer Xinjiang with General Zuo Zongtang as its commander. As Zuo Zongtang moved into Xinjiang to crush the Muslim rebels under Yaqub Beg, he was joined by Dungan Khufiyya Sufi (Hui) General Ma Anliang and his forces, which were composed entirely out of Muslim Dungan people. Ma Anliang and his Dungan troops fought alongside Zuo Zongtang to attack the Muslim rebel forces.[1] In addition, General Dong Fuxiang had an army of both Hans and Dungan people, and his army took Kashgaria and Khotan area during the reconquest.[2][3] Also, the Shaanxi Gedimu Hui Muslim (Dungan) Generals Cui Wei and Hua Decai, who had defected back to the Qing, joined Zuo Zongtang and led the attack on Yaqub Beg's forces in Xinjiang.[4]

The Qing military governor of Hami in 1875.
Ruins of a mosque in Hami destroyed by rebels in 1872.

General Zuo implemented a conciliatory policy toward the Muslim rebels, pardoning those who did not rebel and those who surrendered if they had joined in only for religious reasons. If rebels assisted the government against the rebel Muslims they received rewards.[5] In contrast to General Zuo, the Manchu leader Dorongga sought to massacre all the Muslims and saw them all as the enemy.[1] Zuo also instructed General Zhang Yao that "The Andijanis are tyrannical to their people; government troops should comfort them with benevolence. The Andijanis are greedy in extorting from the people; the government troops should rectify this by being generous", telling him to not mistreat the Turkic Muslim natives of Xinjiang.[6] Zuo wrote that the main targets were only the "die-hard partisans" and their leaders, Yaqub Beg and Bai Yanhu.[7] The natives were not blamed or mistreated by the Qing troops, a Russian wrote that soldiers under General Liu "acted very judiciously with regard to the prisoners whom he took . . . . His treatment of these men was calculated to have a good influence in favour of the Chinese."[8]

Zuo Zongtang, previously a general in the Xiang Army, was the commander in chief of all Qing troops participating in this counterinsurgency. His subordinates were the Han Chinese General Liu Jintang and Manchu Jin Shun.[9] Liu Jintang's army had modern German artillery, which Jin Shun's forces lacked and neither was Jin's advance as rapid as Liu's. After Liu bombarded Ku-mu-ti, Muslim rebel casualties numbered 6,000 dead while Bai Yanhu was forced to flee for his life. Thereafter Qing forces entered Ürümqi unopposed. Zuo Zongtang wrote that Yaqub Beg's soldiers had modern western weapons but were cowardly: "The Andijani chieftain Yaqub Beg has fairly good firearms. He has foreign rifles and foreign guns, including cannon using explosive shells [Kai Hua Pao]; but his are not as good nor as effective as those in the possession of our government forces. His men are not good marksmen, and when repulsed they simply ran away."[10]

Dabancheng was destroyed by Liu's forces in April. Yaqub's subordinates defected to the Qing or fled as his forces started to fall apart.[11] The oasis fell easily to the Qing troops. Toksun fell to Liu's army on April 26.[12] Liu's cavalry inflicted 600 deaths on Bai Yanhu's Muslim rebel forces before reaching Gucheng (now Qitai County).[13]

Chinese Soldiers in uniform of wool jackets, velveteen trousers covered with a wrapped skirt, hair wrapped in turbans in Hami, 1875.

Zuo Zongtang employed divide and conquer tactics in Xinjiang, sending messages to the people of Kashgaria that they had been fooled by the Central Asian troops under Yaqub Beg, the man who had persuaded them to rebel in the first place. Yaqub Beg became nervous when the tactic worked, and he executed several natives in Kashgaria. His forces disintegrated after fighting.[14]

After all official and private residences had been destroyed, the Muslim population was compelled by Bai Yenhu to follow him in his retreat. He appears to have been the commander of a portion of the rebel army left round Korla. Not only was Kashgaria deserted by its inhabitants, but so was the whole area controlled by Yakub Beg's forces thereabouts. Some, indeed, had fled to the mountains, but were afraid to return when they saw the Qing army established in their homes. The Qing army followed their usual plan of settling fresh Han Chinese, Manchu and Mongol people in the town. The Mongol noble, Cha-hi-telkh, was directed to move up some hundreds of the members of his tribe to occupy this important post, to restore the homes and restock the fields. While this work proceeded across the territory conquered by Qing troops, that through which they passed in hostile guise was subjected to far worse treatment. On 9 October, the Qing army marched against Korla from two sides, and on that day a cavalry skirmish took place in which fifteen of Bai Yanhu's horsemen were slain and two taken prisoner. Some volunteers in Bai's army told Qing troops that Bai Yanhu had withdrawn with all his forces to Kucha. Once the Qing army had exhausted their stock of information they beheaded the prisoners. The same day they entered Korla, which they found to be completely deserted, although not flooded. The walls remained, but many of the houses had been demolished. Here, the general's plight bordered on desperate because provisions transported by cart and camel had not arrived. The prospect of starvation almost compelled the victorious army to retreat before an idea struck the competent general. He guessed that there might still be supplies concealed in the city, which the rebels had been unable to carry away with them. Accordingly, the whole army set to work to search the houses, and to dig into the ground in all likely places. Their toil was soon rewarded, and "several tens of thousand catties' weight of food" were discovered. However, this was a meagre supply for an army of men which was probably under 10,000 strong.

The mass retreat of the rebel army shrank their sphere of control smaller and smaller. The next Qing army advance, which they could not expect to be as unopposed as their previous one, would bring them onto the plain of Kashgaria. No sooner had Karashar and Korla fallen into their possession than an edict was issued inviting the Mohammedan descendants to return to their homes. Many of them accepted the invitation. "In this quarter the arms of China were not disgraced by any excesses, and moderation towards the unarmed population extenuated their severity towards armed forces."[15]

Yaqub Beg lost more than 20,000 men either though desertion or at the hands of the enemy. He consequently considered it prudent to withdraw still further into his territory, and left Karashar after a few days' residence in Korla. Some weeks before the occurrence of these events, Yaqub Beg had sent an envoy to Tashkent to solicit the aid of the Russians against the advancing Qing army. But the Russians only gave his messenger fair words, and did not interfere with Mr. Kamensky's commercial transactions with the Qing army. At the moment, too, Russia was so busily occupied in Europe that "she had no leisure to devote to the Xinjiang issue".[16]

General Zhang Yao captured the small towns of Chightam and Pidjamin in the middle of April without encountering serious opposition. From the latter, some fifty miles east of Turfan, he commenced a concerted movement with his superior, Zuo Zongtang, which overcame all Kashgarian resistance. At Turfan, Yakub Beg was trapped between two armies advancing from Urumqi and Pidjam, and if defeated his line of retreat would be greatly exposed to an enterprising enemy. Once the Qing army saw the success of their preliminary movements a general advance was ordered in all directions. It is evident that the Qing army at first met strenuous resistance at Devanchi. The forcing of the Tian Shan defiles had not been accomplished when news reached the garrison that their ruler had been expelled from Turfan by a fresh Qing army. Confusion then quickly spread through all ranks of Yakub Beg's followers. In doubt and unreasoning panic, the majority of his soldiers either went over to the enemy or fled headlong to Kashgaria. At this moment of desperation "the Athalik Ghazi still bore himself like a good soldier. Outside Turfan he gave battle to the Qing army, and though driven from the field by overwhelming odds he yet once more made a stand at Toksun, forty miles west of Turfan. When defeated a second time he withdrew to Kashgaria to make fresh efforts to withstand the invading army. Yakub Beg probably lost in these engagements."[17]

During a halt of a few days at Korla, Jin Shun learned that Bai Yanhu had coerced the people east of Kucha at Tsedayar and other places to withdraw to Kucha and to destroy their crops. He at once resolved to frustrate the plan, and set out in person at the head of 1,500 light infantry and 1,000 cavalry to protect the inhabitants. By forced marches, sometimes carried on through the better part of the night, he reached Tsedayar on the 17 October, where he learnt that Bai Yanhu had driven off the whole of the population, and was already at Luntai on the road to Kucha. "At the next village to Tsedayar, a fortified post known as Tangy Shahr, he found that Bai Yanhu was still ahead of him, and that he was setting fire to the villages on his line of march. Jin Shun left a portion of his infantry behind to put out the conflagration, and resolutely pressed on with the remainder of his force to Luntai. This small town had also been set on fire, but here the rapidity of Qing general's advance was rewarded with the news that the enemy's army, with a large number of the inhabitants, was only a short distance ahead. The rear-guard, composed of 1,000 cavalry, was soon touched, and the Kashgaria, emboldened by the small numbers of Qing troops, came on to the attack in gallant fashion. Their charge was broken, however, by the steadiness of Qing infantry, armed with excellent rifles, and the cavalry performed the rest. The Kashgaria left 100 slain on the field of battle and twelve prisoners. From these latter it was discovered that the main body of 2,000 soldiers was some distance on the road to Kucha, with the family of Bai Yanhu and the villagers under its charge. It was too late to advance further that day, but on the next the forward movement was resumed. A large multitude—" some tens of thousands of people"—was speedily sighted by the advanced guard, but on examining these through glasses it was discovered that scarcely more than a thousand carried arms. All the troops were then brought to the front, and Jin Shun issued instructions that all those found with arms in their hands should be slain, but the others spared."[18]

The armed portion of the rebel army drew off from the unarmed, leaving in their midst a large assemblage of rebel villagers who were being carried off to Kucha. These were sent to the rear by order of Jin Shun, and distributed in such of the villages as were most convenient. In the meanwhile a sharp fight took place a few miles in the rear of the old position, near a village called Arpa Tai. The action appears to have been well contested, but the superior tactics and weapons of Jin Shun's small army prevailed; and the rebel army retreated with considerable loss and in great disorder. "Kin Shun followed up his success with marvelous rapidity and restless energy, while the rebel troops fled to Kucha, abandoning the people and their control range to Qing troops. The unfortunate inhabitants implored with piteous entreaties the mercy of the conqueror, and it is with genuine satisfaction we record the fact that Jin Shun informed them of their safety, and bade them have no further alarm."[19] By this time it is probable that Qing army had been largely reinforced from the rear so they began the attack on Kucha. When Qing troops appeared before its walls they found that a battle was proceeding there between the Kashgarian soldiers and the townspeople, who refused to accompany them in a further retreat westward. On the appearance of Qing army, the Kashgarian force evacuated the city and joined battle with it on the western side of Kucha. Qing soldiers attacked them immediately with little success in the first instance and a charge of the cavalry, numbering some four or five thousand men, was only repulsed with some difficulty. But the cannon of the Qing soldiers had a remarkable effect upon the rebel forces while Qing reserves arrived constantly. The infantry were at last ordered to advance, under the cover of a heavy artillery fire, and the cavalry made a charge at the most opportune moment. The whole enemy army then broke and fled in irretrievable confusion, leaving more than a thousand of their number on the ground. The numbers on each side were probably about 10,000 men, and it was won as much by superior tactics and skill as by brute force and courage. All the movements of Qing army were characterized by remarkable forethought, and evinced the greatest ability on the part of the general and his lieutenants, as well as obedience, valor, and patience on the part of his soldiers. The rapid advance from Kuhwei to Karashar, the forced march thence to Luntai, the capture of Kucha and the forbearance of Qing troops towards the inhabitants, all combined to make this portion of the war most creditable to the Qing and her generals. The reason given in the official report for the Kashgarian authorities attempting to carry off the population was that the rebels wished in the first place to deprive Qing armed forces of all assistance, thus making further pursuit very difficult. Furthermore, to ingratiate themselves with the Qing authorities reestablished in Kashgaria, the rebels delivered this large mass of Turkic Muslims into their hands. Bai Yanhu was thereby considered no Hakim Khan Sur by contemporary author Charles Boulger who also believed that Bai must have been either a Dungan refugee or a subordinate of Beg Bacha's.[20]

"A depot was formed at Kucha, and a large body of troops remained there as a garrison; but the principal administrative measures were directed to the task of improving the position of the Turkic Muslim population. A board of administration was instituted for the purpose of providing means of subsistence for the destitute, and for the distribution of seed-corn for the benefit of the whole community. It had also to supervise the construction of roads, and the establishment of ferry boats, and of post-house in order to facilitate the movements of trade and travel and expedite the transmission of mails." Magistrates and prefects were appointed to all the cities, and special precautions were promptly taken to prevent the outbreak of epidemic or the onset of famine. Boulger writes: "There is no reason to believe that in the vast region from Turfan to Kucha Qing authorities have departed from the statesmanlike and beneficent schemes which marked their re-installation as rulers; and whatever harshness or cruelty they manifested towards the Dungan revolts and the rebel soldiers was more than atoned for by the mildness of their treatment of the people."[21]

On the 19th, or more probably the 22 October, Jin Shun resumed his forward movement and encountered no serious opposition. His first halt was at a village called Hoser, where he stopped for one night. He prepared a report to Peking, which described the successes and movements of the previous three weeks. At the next town, known as Bai, Jin Shun halted to await the arrival of the rear-guard under General Zhang Yao. This force arrived before the end of October, and the advance against Aksu resumed. Up to this point, the chief interest centered in the army south of the Tian Shan and the achievements of Jin Shun. "The only authority for this portion of the account of the campaign is the Peking Gazette."[22]

The Northern Army under the immediate command of Zuo Zongtang operated in complete secrecy. Estimates vary as to its strength—Boulger believes it comprised a minimum of 28,000 men and writes: "a St. Petersburg paper, on the authority of a Russian merchant, who had been to Manas, computed it to be of that strength."[22] It was concentrated in the neighborhood of Manas, and along the northern outskirts of the Tian Shan; and also on the frontier of the Russian dominions in Kuldja. To all appearance this army was consigned to a part of enforced inactivity since it was impossible to enter Kuldja, and thus proceed by their old routes through the Bedel Pass or Muzat River. But it was not so; the travels of Colonel Prjevalsky in the commencement of 1877 had not been unobserved by Qing authorities, and it was assumed that where a Russian officer with his Cossack following could go, there also could go a Qing troop. By those little-known mountain passes, which are made by the Tekes and Great Yuldus rivers, Qing army which was under General Zuo crossed over into Kashgaria; and it is probable that the two armies joined in the neighborhood of Bai. It was by this stroke of strategy on the part of Zuo Zongtang that Qing army found themselves before the walls of Aksu. At that moment, the imperial army was an overwhelming army at the very sight of which all thought of resistance died away from the hearts of the rebel peoples and garrisons. General Zuo appeared before the walls of Aksu, the bulwark of Kashgaria on the east. And its commandant, who were panic and stricken, abandoned his post at the first onset. He was subsequently taken prisoner by an officer of Kuli Beg, and executed. Qing army then advanced on Uqturpan, which also surrendered without a blow. It is said that the Chinese have not published any detailed description of this portion of the war, and we are consequently unable to say what their version is of those reported atrocities at Aksu and Uqturpan, of which the Russian papers have made so much. There is no doubt that a very large number of refugees fled to Russian territory, perhaps 10,000 in all, and these brought with them the tales of fear and exaggerated alarm. We may feel little hesitation in accepting the assertion as true, that the armed garrisons were slaughtered without exception; but that the unarmed population and the women and children shared the same fate we distinctly refuse to credit. There is every precedent in favor of the assumption that a more moderate policy was pursued, and there is no valid reason why the Qing authorities should have dealt with Aksu and Uqturpan differently to Kucha or Turfan. The case of Manas has been greatly insisted upon by the agitators on this "atrocity" question; but there is the highest authority for asserting that only armed men were massacred there. This was what Qing troops had always done; it was a national custom, and they certainly did not depart from it in the case of the Dungan and Kashgaria. But there is no solid ground for convicting them of any more heinous crime, even in the instances of Manas and Aksu, which are put so prominently forward.[23]

Early in December all Qing troops began their last attack against the capital city of the Kashgarian regime, and on December 17 the Qing army made a fatal assault. The rebel troops were finally defeated and the residual troops started to withdraw to Yarkant, whence they fled to Russian territory. With the fall of Kashgaria Qing's reconquest of Xinjiang was completed, and the other cities, Yangi Hissar and Yarkant, speedily shared the same fate. Khotan and Sarikol also sent in formal promises of subjection. But the capture of Kashgaria virtually closed down the rebels. No further rebellion was encountered, and the reestablished Qing authorities began the task of recovery and reorganization. The Qing forces beheaded Turkic rebel commanders, and also tortured Ottoman Turkish military officers who served with the rebels.[3] When the city of Kashgaria fell, the greater portion of the army, knowing that they could expect no mercy at the hands of Qing authorities, fled to Russian territory, and then spread reports of fresh Chinese massacres, which probably only existed in their own imagination.[24]

Local reaction

It was written by Zuo Zongtang that "The Andijanis are tyrannical to their people; government troops should comfort them with benevolence. The Andijanis are greedy in extorting from the people; government troops should rectify this by being generous."[25]

Yaqub Beg's rule was unpopular among the natives with one of the local Kashgaris, a warrior and a chieftain's son, commenting: "During the Chinese rule there was everything; there is nothing now." There was also a falling-off in trade.[26]

The local Uyghurs of Altishahr came to view Yaqub Beg as a Kokandi foreigner and his Kokandi associates behaved ruthlessly to the local Uyghurs, an anti Yaqub Beg poem was written by the Uyghur:[27]

From Peking the Chinese came, like stars in the heaven.
The Andijanis rose and fled, like pigs in the forest.
They came in vain and left in vain, the Andijanis!
They went away scared and languidly, the Andijanis!
Every day they took a virgin, and
They went hunting for beauties.
They played with the dancing boys,
Which the Holy Law has forbidden.

British reaction

Demetrius Charles de Kavanagh Boulger stated at the time that the strength of the Qing has been thoroughly demonstrated and that her prestige remained unsullied. "Whatever danger there may be to the permanence of Qing's triumph lies rather from Russia than from the peoples of Tian Shan Nan Lu; nor is there much danger that the Chinese laurels will become faded even before a European foe. Zuo Zongtang and his generals such as Jin Shun and Chang Yao, accomplished a task which would reflect credit on any army and any country. They have given a luster to the modern Chinese administration which must stand it in good stead, and they have acquired a personal renown that will not easily depart. The Qing reconquest of Xinjiang is beyond doubt the most remarkable event that has occurred in Asia during the last fifty years, and it is quite the most brilliant achievement of a Chinese army, led by Chinese generals, that has taken place since the Qianlong Emperor subdued the country more than a century ago. It also proves, in a manner that is more than unpalatable to us, that the Chinese possess an adaptive faculty that must be held to be a very important fact in every-day politics in Central Asia. They reconquered Kashgaria with European weapons and by careful study of Western science and technology. Their soldiers marched in obedience to instructors trained on the Prussian principle; and their generals maneuvered their troops in accordance with the teachings of Moltke and Manteuffel. Even in such minor matters as the use of telescopes and field glasses we could find this Chinese army well supplied. Nothing was more absurd than the picture drawn by some over-wise observer of this army, as consisting of soldiers fantastically garbed in the guise of dragons and other hideous appearances. All that belonged to an old-world theory. The rebel troops were as widely different from all previous Chinese armies in Central Asia as it well could be; and in all essentials closely resembled that of a European power. Its remarkable triumphs were chiefly attributable to the thoroughness with which China had in this instance adapted herself to Western notions".[28] "But, although our hands are tied in Central Asia, they are not fettered at Pekin, and we certainly should congratulate, if we have not done so already, the Chinese on their remarkable successes in the Tian Shan regions. That step might be pregnant with beneficent results, and our desire to be on good terms with our new, yet our old, neighbour might be met in a cordial manner by the Chinese."[29][29]

See also


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  16. Boulger 1878, p. 248.
  17. & Boulger 1878, p. 247.
  18. Boulger 1878, p. 268.
  19. Boulger 1878, p. 269.
  20. Boulger 1878, p. 270.
  21. Boulger 1878, p. 271.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Boulger 1878, p. 272.
  23. Boulger 1878, p. 273.
  24. Boulger 1878, p. 274.
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  28. Boulger 1878, p. 275.
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