Islamic rebellion in Xinjiang (1937)

  (Redirected from Xinjiang War (1937))

In 1937 an Islamic rebellion broke out in southern Xinjiang. The rebels were 1,500 Uighur Muslims led by Kichik Akhund, who was tacitly aided by the 36th Division, against the pro-Soviet provincial forces of the puppet Sheng Shicai.[1][2]

Islamic rebellion in Xinjiang (1937)
Part of the Xinjiang Wars
Abdu Niyaz with his soldiers.png
Abdul Niyaz with his soldiers in Kashgar
Date2 April – 15 October 1937
Result Provincial government victory
Sheng Shicai's pro-Soviet regime establishes its rule over the whole territory of Xinjiang province.


Muslim Turkic rebels
 Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders

Republic of China (1912–1949) Chiang Kai-shek
Republic of China (1912–1949) Ma Hushan
Republic of China (1912–1949) Ma Ju-lung
Republic of China (1912–1949) Pai Tzu-li

Kichik Akhund
Abdul Niyaz 
Sheng Shicai
Ma Sheng-kuei
Soviet Union Joseph Stalin
Units involved

 National Revolutionary Army

Red Army
White Army
Xinjiang Provincial Army

~10,000 Chinese Muslim cavalry and infantry

1,500 Turkic rebels
5,000 Soviet Red Army troops
Several thousand White Russian soldiers and provincial Chinese troops
Casualties and losses
~2,000 casualties Provincial government: ~500
Soviet and White Russian forces: ~300
Soviet Invasion 1937


Sheng Shicai had moved against Divisional General Mahmut Muhiti, the commander-in-chief of the 6th Uyghur Division and the deputy chief of the Kashgar Military Region. Muhiti resented the increased Dociet influence and formed a secret group around himself. Sheng feared that Muhiti had allied with Chinese General Ma Hu-shan, a Muslim. However, the Uighurs of Kashgar heard hostile reports on Ma from Uighur refugees from Khotan who suffered under him.

Muhiti fled Kashgar on April 2, 1937, with a small number of his subordinates and some amount of gold to British India via Yengi Hissar and Yarkand. Shortly before his departure, he had sent a message to Ma Hu-Shan about his proposed arrival at Khotan. In response, Ma ordered his troops to prepare a parade and feast to honor Muhiti. That preparation pulled troops who guarded both mountain passes to Kashmir, which allowed Muhiti the opportunity to change his route and to sneak through into Kashmir. Muhiti's flight resulted in Uighur troops rising in revolt in Yengi Hissar, Yarkand, and Artush, which resulted in the execution of all pro-Soviet officials and a number of Soviet advisers. An independent Turkic administration was set up by two of his officers, Kichik Akhund Sijiang, who commanded troops in Artush, and Abdul Niyaz Sijiang, who commanded troops in Yarkand and Yengi Hissar.

Liu Pin, a provincial commander in Kashgar Region with 700 troops at his command, responded to the rebellion by launching a squadron of nine Soviet planes to bomb Yangi Hissar and Yarkand.[3] After Muhiti reached Srinagar in India, the following year, he went on pilgrimage to Mecca.[4] A buildup of Soviet military assets occurred in Xinjiang before the outbreak of war. Around Kashgar, the Soviets sent AA guns, fighter planes, and soldiers of Russian and Kyrgyz origin in great numbers.[5]

The start of the rebellion in southern Xinjiang had an immediate and tragic impact on the fate of about 400 Uyghur students, who had been sent by the Xinjiang government to the Soviet Unuon (1935–1937) to study in the university of Tashkent. They were all arrested on one night in May 1937 by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, and executed without trial allegedly by orders of Joseph Stalin. Soviet diplomatic staff were also purged throughout the province in Soviet consulates in Urumchi, Karashar, Ghulja, Chuguchak, and Altai. Soviet Consul-General in Urumchi Garegin Apresoff, the former Soviet consul in Mashhad, Iran, and the main architect of Soviet policies in Central Asia and the Middle East, was recalled to Moscow and shot by a firing squad for allegedly participating in the so-called "Fascist-Trotskyite Plot" against Stalin and attempting to overthrow Sheng Shicai's regime on April 12, 1937, a day that commemorated day of an uprising four years earlier. The rebellion is also viewed by some historians as a plot by Mahmut Muhiti and Ma Hu-shan to convert Xinjiang into a base for fighting against Stalinists.[6]

A conquest of the Kremlin, Russian Turkistan, and Siberia was planned in an anti-Soviet "jihad" formulated by Ma.[7] He promised a devastatation of Europe and the conquest of the Soviet Union and India.[8] The anti-Soviet uprising by Ma was reported by United Press International (UPI) and read by Ahmad Kamal on 3 June 1937.[9]

36th Division invasion of KashgarEdit

Meanwhile, Ma Hushan and his Chinese Muslim troops of the 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) were watching the situation with interest since they were eager to seize more territory. Sheng Shicai surprisingly ordered the 36th Division to quell the rebellion of the 6th Uyghur Division although the 33rd and 34th Regiments of the 6th Uyghur Division, which had been stationed in Kashgar since August 20, 1934, initially did not join the rebellion because they had previously trained in the Soviet Union. In 1934 to 1935, a number of officers of the 6th Uyghur Division were sent to Tashkent to study at its military academy. Soviet General Rybalko, General Obuhoff, and General Dotkin worked in Kashgar from 1934 to 1936, were the Soviet military advisers of Sheng Shicai's administration, and participated in organizing and training the staff of the 6th Uyghur Division.

Having received the order, the Tungans attacked Kashgar airfield on 20 May but were defeated. Ten days later, 1,500 Islamic irregulars under Kichik Akund attacked and seized Kashgar Old City. His troops wore armbands with the words "Fi sabil Allah" (Arabic: in the way of Allah). The rebellion was followed by a Kyrgyz uprising near Kucha and Muslim unrest in Hami.[3]

Ma Hushan remained at Khotan watching the situation. His chief of staff, Pai Tzu-li, as well as Ma Ju-lung, the 1st Brigade commander at Karghalik, persuaded him to strike against Kashgar. Ma Ju-lung arrived on 2 June at Kashgar reportedly to "put down the rebels of Kichik Akhund" although Kichik Akhund had secretly agreed to back off and he transferred his soldiers and himself to Aksu. Kashgar was taken by Ma Hushan without a battle. The Fayzabad-Maral Bashi region was taken by Ma Sheng-kuei's 2nd Brigade. Ma Hu-shan strengthened his position in southern Xinjiang and avoided engaging in battle, which let the Turkic Muslim rebels do the fighting as a diversion for Sheng's provincial army.[3]

General Abdul Niyaz

Ma Hushan surrounded Kashgar New City and explained to the British Consulate-General that the Chinese Muslim forces, which were still officially the Kuomintang 36th Division, were acting in covenant with the Turkics (Uighurs) to overthrow the pro-Soviet provincial government and to replace it with an Islamic government loyal to the Republic of China Kuomintang government at Nanjing.[10]

Ma Hushan was paranoid about a Soviet attack and controlled the Kashgar-Khotan area because it offered him a safe escape to British India, where he could take a steamer from Calcutta safely back to Chinese seaports and then to Gansu and Qinghai. He and his officers repeatedly had vowed to attack the Soviets in conversations with Peter Fleming and sought to procure gas masks and airplanes to help them fight.

In August 1937, 5,000 Soviet Red Army troops, backed by an air unit and an armored regiment, moved into Xinjiang at the request of Sheng Shicai, whose provincial troops were defeated by Muslim rebels in July 1937 at a battle near Karashar and could not continue their advance on the south. In late August, provincial forces, including White Russians, Red Army, and NKVD units, decisively defeated Kichik Akhund's troops at Aksu, with most of his troops being annihilated after they were machine-gunned and bombed in air attacks by a squadron of 24 Soviet airplanes in an open field near Aksu. As a result, Kichik Akhund and Abdul Niyaz escaped to Kashgar with only 200 men. After that battle, Ma Sheng-kuei was bribed by Sheng Shicai to defect and to turn against Ma Hushan. Ma Sheng-kuei marched on Kashgar on September 1, 1937, only to find that Ma Hushan, Ma Ju-lung, and Pai Tzu-li had withdrawn toward Karghalik with the 1st Brigade. On 7 September, Ma Hushan and his officers deserted their troops and fled to India with gold. Ma brought along with him 1000 ounces in gold, which was confiscated by the British.[11]

Chinese General Ma Zhanshan, a Muslim, was allegedly one of the Soviet Army commanders during the invasion. It was reported that he had led Soviet troops disguised in Chinese uniforms along with bombers during the attack, which had been requested by Sheng Shicai.[12]

General Chiang Yu-fen, a provincial commander, dispatched his men after Ma Hushan's 1st Brigade, and other provincial forces drove Abdu Niyaz and Kichik Akhund towards Yarkand. Red Army aircraft assisted the provincial forces by dropping bombs, including some containing mustard gas. These airplanes first flew from an airbase in Karakol, Soviet Union, and then from captured airfields in Uchturpan and Kucha.[13] On 9 September, Yarkand fell to Sheng, and on 15 September, Abdul Niyaz was executed. On October 15 the Soviets bombed the city of Khotan, which resulted in 2,000 casualties.[14] The remnants of the 36th division melted away through Kunlun Mountains in Qinghai and northern Tibet.[3]


Before the war, Ma Hushan had exchanged messages with the Nanjing government and expected it to send aid, as he said in conversations with Peter Fleming. However, in 1937, during the Soviet attack, China was invaded by Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War. The pro-Soviet provincial forces of Sheng Shicai established their control over the whole of Xinjiang. All rivals were eliminated, and the defeat of the 36th Division caused the control of the Chinese government in Xinjiang to cease.

Sheng Shicai set up a memorial to the Soviets killed in combat by Ma Hushan that included Russian Orthodox crosses.[15][16]

The Chinese government was fully aware of the Soviet invasion of Xinjiang and of the Soviet troops moving around Xinjiang and Gansu, but it was forced to conceal them to the public as "Japanese propaganda" to avoid an international incident and to continue to receive military supplies from the Soviets.[17]

In August 1937, a month into the full-scale war in China against the Japanese forces after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the Soviet Union sent the Republic of China material aid during the Second Sino-Japanese war against the Japanese invasion under the Sino-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Moslems in Chinese Turkestan in Revolt Against Pro-Soviet Provincial Authorities". The New York Times. 26 June 1937.
  2. ^ Forbes, Andrew D. W. (1986). Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia. Cambridge, England: CUP Archive. ISBN 978-0-521-25514-1.
  3. ^ a b c d Andrew D. W. Forbes (1986). Warlords and Muslims in Chinese Central Asia: A Political History of Republican Sinkiang 1911-1949. Cambridge, England: CUP Archive. p. 144. ISBN 0-521-25514-7. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  4. ^ Alastair Lamb (1991). Kashmir: a disputed legacy, 1846-1990 (3, reprint ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 66. ISBN 0-19-577423-X. Retrieved 2011-06-09.
  5. ^ Li Chang (2006). Maria Roman Sławiński (ed.). The modern history of China (illustrated ed.). Księgarnia Akademicka. p. 168. ISBN 83-7188-877-5. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  6. ^ Allen Whiting and General Sheng Shicai. Sinkiang: Pawn or Pivot?, Michigan State University Press, 1958.
  7. ^ Ahmad Kamal (1 August 2000). Land Without Laughter. iUniverse. pp. 163–. ISBN 978-0-595-01005-9.
  8. ^ Ahmad Kamal (1 August 2000). Land Without Laughter. iUniverse. pp. 164–. ISBN 978-0-595-01005-9.
  9. ^ Ahmad Kamal (1 August 2000). Land Without Laughter. iUniverse. pp. 327–. ISBN 978-0-595-01005-9.
  10. ^ Hsiao-ting Lin (2010). Modern China's Ethnic Frontiers: A Journey to the West. Taylor & Francis. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-415-58264-3. Retrieved 2010-09-28.
  11. ^ Great Britain. Foreign Office (1997). British documents on foreign affairs--reports and papers from the Foreign Office confidential print: From 1940 through 1945. Asia, Part 3. University Publications of America. p. 401. ISBN 1-55655-674-8. Retrieved 2010-10-28.
  12. ^ Alfred Crofts, Percy Buchanan (1958). A history of the Far East. Longmans, Green. p. 371. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  13. ^ "Uses of CW since the First World War". Archived from the original on 2010-08-22. Retrieved 2015-03-08.
  14. ^ Xiang, Ah. "Changing Alliances In International Arena" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-06-28.
    Xiang, Ah. "Changing Alliances In International Arena". Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  15. ^ Memorial to men who died in battle against Ma Hushan, includes Russian Orthodox crosses
  16. ^ LIFE. Time Inc. 1994. p. 94. ISSN 0024-3019. Retrieved 2015-03-08.
  17. ^ Hsiao-ting Lin (2010). Modern China's Ethnic Frontiers: A Journey to the West. Taylor & Francis. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-415-58264-3. Retrieved 2010-06-28.