Qing reconquest of Xinjiang

The Qing reconquest of Xinjiang (Chinese: 清軍收復新疆之戰) was the event when the Qing dynasty in China reconquered Xinjiang after the Dungan Revolt in the late 19th century. After a century of Qing rule, the Uzbek adventurer Yakub Beg conquered almost all of Xinjiang during the revolt, but 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.

Qing reconquest of Xinjiang
Result Qing victory
Xinjiang returned to the Qing Empire
Flag of China (1862–1889).svg Qing dynasty Kashgaria (Kokandi Uzbek Andijanis under Yaqub Beg)
Commanders and leaders
Yaqub Beg 
Bai Yanhu
Units involved
Han Chinese Xiang Army
Khufiyya Sufi Hui Muslims (Dungans) from Gansu
Gedimu Sunni Hui Muslims from Shaanxi[1]
Kokandi Uzbek Andijanis


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.[2]


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.[2] 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.[3][4] 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.[5]

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.[2] In contrast to General Zuo, the Manchu leader Dorongga sought to massacre all the Muslims and saw them all as the enemy.[2] 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]


Jade Gate
Yangi Hissar
Jade Gate
Places for Yakub Beg[clarification needed]

Phase 1: 1876: From about 1874, with the end of the Panthay rebellion and most of the Dungan Revolt (1862–77), the Chinese were able to turn their attention to Yakub Beg in the far west. In 1875 Zuo Zongtang was given responsibility. It took a long time to collect men and supplies and move them 800 miles west along the Gansu corridor. In August 1876 the Chinese appeared at Urumchi. The place soon surrendered and the garrison was massacred. On 2 September they began the siege of Manas which was a much stronger place. On 6 November it surrendered. The garrison left town in marching order with their weapons. It appeared that they might be planning an armed break-out, so they were attacked and slaughtered. Every able-bodied man in the vicinity was also killed, but the women and children were spared. A headquarters was established at Gucheng about 100 miles east of Urumchi (?[11]). They had about 50,000 men at Gucheng and another 10,000 under Chang Yao at Hami. The Chinese army had now been trained by French and German officers, had Krupp cannon, at least 10,000 Berdan rifles and were supplied, unofficially, by Russian merchants from Kulja. In September Russia annexed the Khanate of Kokand northwest of Kashgar, thereby tightening the noose around Yakub Beg.

Phase 2: 1877, spring: In September 1876 Yakub learned that a Chinese army was 700 miles to the east. He spent the winter making preparations and by February 1877 he was at Turfan building forts. (The geography looks a bit odd. Yakub would have marched south of the Tien Shan to reach the Turfan oasis south of the Bogda Shan mountains. If the Chinese supply line ran from Hami north of the Bogda Shan this would explain why Yakub was east of the Chinese. If the Chinese wanted to move south of the mountains they would have to pass just west of Turfan.) Aleksey Kuropatkin visited Yakub at Turfan and reported that he had 17000 troops spread over a large area, that there were many desertions and that Yakub had little hope. In spring the Chinese attacked the fort of 'Davanchi' (probably Dabancheng on the road from Urumchi to Turfan). Meanwhile, in mid-April Chang Yao marched from Hami and took Pichuan[12] 50 miles east of Turfan. Yakub fought near Turfan and lost, withdrew to Toksun, was defeated, withdrew to Karashar, stayed there a few days and moved to Korla. This withdrawal demoralized the troops and there were many desertions. In April or May Yakub met Nikolay Przhevalsky near Korla. In May 1877 Yakub Beg died near Korla, possibly murdered.

Phase 3: 1877, autumn: The Chinese halted near Turfan for a few months, possibly to bring up supplies or avoid the summer heat. The death of Yakub Beg had disorganized the rebels. There were various conflicts which need not be listed and no single leader arose to organize resistance. In August an advance party left Turfan and the main body left on 27 September. In early October Karashar and Korla were occupied. The rebels dammed the Kaidu River and flooded part of Karashar, but this did not stop the advance. Bayen Hu adopted a scorched earth policy, burning houses and crops and driving the people westward with his army. Kin Shun (Jin Shun) made a forced march and somewhere near Luntai sighted a mob, said to be some tens of thousands of people. The rebel soldiers drew off from the civilians, a battle was fought and the Kashgaris fled to Kucha. When the Chinese reached Kucha they found the townspeople fighting the rebels, having no wish to accompany them westward. The Kashgaris fought the Chinese with some success, were defeated and fled, leaving 1000 dead on the battlefield. A depot was set up at Kucha and some effort was made to clean up the mess left by Bayan Hu. By the end of October Chang Yao brought up the rear guard and the advance was resumed toward Aksu. During this time, General Zuo with the main army had been inactive north of the mountains. He somehow crossed the Tien Shan and joined the advance.[13] The Chinese now had so many men and the rebels had been defeated so many times that Aksu and Uqturpan surrendered without a fight. (The commander of Aksu abandoned his post, was captured by the rebels and executed.) On 17 December, Kashgar was easily taken. Yarkand, Khotan and other places then submitted.[14]


No further rebellion was encountered afterwards, 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.[4] 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.[15]

The Qing military governor of Hami in 1875.
Ruins of a mosque in Hami destroyed by rebels in 1872.
Chinese Soldiers in uniform of wool jackets, velveteen trousers covered with a wrapped skirt, hair wrapped in turbans in Hami, 1875.

Qing forces captured the grandchildren and sons of Yaqub Beg after his death.[16] Aisan Ahung was among his grandson, while the sons who were captured were K'ati Kuli, Yima Kuli, and Maiti Kuli.[17] Yakuub Beg's 4 wives, 2 granddaughters, 2 grandsons and 4 sons fell into Qing hands.[18] 5 year old Aisan Ahung, six year old K'ati Kuli, 10 year old Yima Kuli, and 14 year old Maiti Kuli were sent to Lanzhou jail.[18] A disinterment of the graves and incineration of Ishana Beg's and his father Yaqub's Beg's corpses took place at the orders of the Qing.[18] China crushed an attempted revolt by Hakim Khan Tufl.[18] Beijing received Yaqub Beg's cremated remains.[19]

The use of Muslims in the Qing armies against the revolt was noted by Yang Zengxin.[20]

The third reason is that at the time that Turkic Muslims were waging rebellion in the early years of the Guangxu reign, the ‘five elite divisions’ that governor general Liu Jintang led out of the Pass were all Dungan troops [Hui dui 回队]. Back then, Dungan military commanders such as Cui Wei and Hua Dacai were surrendered troops who had been redeployed. These are undoubtedly cases of pawns who went on to achieve great merit. When Cen Shuying was in charge of military affairs in Yunnan, the Muslim troops and generals that he used included many rebels, and it was because of them that the Muslim rebellion in Yunnan was pacified. These are examples to show that Muslim troops can be used effectively even while Muslim uprisings are still in progress. What is more, since the establishment of the Republic, Dungan have demonstrated not the slightest hint of errant behaviour to suggest that they may prove to be unreliable.

Local reactionEdit

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.[21]

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:[22]

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 reactionEdit

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".[23] "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."[24]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Garnaut (2008), p. 105.
  2. ^ a b c d Lanny B. Fields (1978). Tso Tsung-tʼang and the Muslims: statecraft in northwest China, 1868-1880. Limestone Press. p. 81. ISBN 0-919642-85-3.
  3. ^ DeWitt C. Ellinwood (1981). Ethnicity and the military in Asia. Transaction Publishers. p. 72. ISBN 0-87855-387-8. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  4. ^ a b Ho-dong Kim (2004). Holy war in China: the Muslim rebellion and state in Chinese Central Asia, 1864-1877. Stanford University Press. p. 176. ISBN 0-8047-4884-5. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  5. ^ Garnaut (2008), p. 104.
  6. ^ Fairbank, Liu & Twitchett (1980), p. 241. "From Su-chou, Tso wrote to Chang Yueh, who was to leave Hami on an invasion of Turfan, saying it was good policy to treat the inhabitants of southern Sinkiang well. '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.'"
  7. ^ Fairbank, Liu & Twitchett (1980), p. 241. "To Liu Chin-t'ang, Tso wrote that the two chief enemies to catch were Ya'qub Beg and Pai Yen-hu along with their 'diehard partisans' (ssu-tang)."
  8. ^ Fairbank, Liu & Twitchett (1980), p. 241. "Tso did not find fault with the indigenous inhabitants of Altishahr. After the short Ta-fan-ch'eng campaign. Liu Chin-t'ang was reported by the Russians to have '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.'"
  9. ^ Fairbank, Liu & Twitchett (1980), p. 240. "Meanwhile, under Liu Chin-t'ang and the Manchu General Chin-shun, Tso's offensive in Sinkiang had started."
  10. ^ Fairbank, Liu & Twitchett (1980), p. 241. "In a belt of towns north of Urumchi, the Sinkiang Tungans made their last stand as a cohesive group. The heavily walled city of Ku-mu-ti, fifteen miles north-east of Urumchi, was attacked by Liu Chin-t'ang's big German guns. Tso reported that 6,000 Muslims were killed and 215 captured; only a few, including Pai Yen-hu, escaped. The very next day, on 18 August, Urumchi fell without resistance … Tso, who directed battles from his headquarters at Su-chou, noted in a letter to a colleague: 'The Andijani chieftain [Ya'qub Beg] has fairly good firearms. He has foreign rifles and foreign guns, including cannon using explosive shells [k'ai-hua p'ao]; 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.'"
  11. ^ Probably. Boulger (1878, p. 247) has “Guchen near Urumchi”. He sometimes misunderstands geography. Gucheng seems likely in the absence of a better source.
  12. ^ Boulger (1878) has “Pidjam”.
  13. ^ Boulger's account of this is so vague that it may be inaccurate.
  14. ^ G. J. Alder (1963). British India's Northern Frontier 1865-95. Longmans Green. p. 67 – via Internet Archive.
  15. ^ Boulger (1878), p. 274.
  16. ^ Herbert Allen Giles (1898). A Chinese Biographical Dictionary. B. Quaritch. pp. 894–.
  17. ^ Translations of the Peking Gazette. 1880. pp. 83–.
  18. ^ a b c d Appleton's Annual Cyclopedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1879. D. Appleton & Company. 1890. pp. 145–.
  19. ^ Clarence King memoirs. The helmet of Mambrino. Published for the King memorial committee of the Century association by G.P. Putnam's Sons. 1904. pp. 50–.
  20. ^ Garnaut (2008), pp. 104–105.
  21. ^ Boulger (1878), p. 152. "As one of them expressed it, in pathetic language, "During the Chinese rule there was everything; there is nothing now." The speaker of that sentence was no merchant, who might have been expected to be depressed by the falling-off in trade, but a warrior and a chieftain's son and heir. If to him the military system of Yakoob Beg seemed unsatisfactory and irksome, what must it have appeared to those more peaceful subjects to whom merchandise and barter were as the breath of their nostrils?"
  22. ^ Ildikó Bellér-Hann (2007). Situating the Uyghurs Between China and Central Asia. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-7546-7041-4.
  23. ^ Boulger (1878), p. 275.
  24. ^ Boulger (1878), p. 298.