The warriors of Xinjiang: garrison soldiers of the Eight Banner Army on the western frontier

Chapter Five) Maps and Ethnicities

The warriors of Xinjiang: garrison soldiers of the Eight Banner Army on the western frontier

The establishment of the Qing Dynasty by the Manchu people would not have been possible were it not for the astute warfare of the Iron Battalion of the Eight Banner Army. After the Qing army seized the capital and overturned the Ming Dynasty, Eight Banner soldiers were sent to important cities and strategic frontier posts as a means of consolidating the army's control. During the reign of Emperor Kangxi, the soldiers and officials of the Eight Banner Army were mostly garrisoned in the surrounds of Beijing. They gradually spread out to Jinan, Xuzhou Jiangning (today known as Nanjing), Xi'an, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Zhangjiakou, Liangzhou and Zhuanglang. Later, during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, they were sent by the thousands to garrisons all throughout Xinjiang.

Image 71: Overall Map of Xinjiang from the Complete Atlas of Xinjiang stored in Taipei

In the interests of preserving the traditions and customs of the Manchu people, as well as avoiding cohabitation with the locals, the Eight Banner armies would often build separate military camps or settlements where their soldiers could live with their wives and children. These settlements were referred to in Qing Dynasty texts as mancheng ("Manchu cities") or manying ("Manchu camps").
The "Manchu cities" of Qing-era Xinjiang were mostly located to the north, such as Huiyuan and Huining in Ili Prefecture; Huining (written with a different symbol for hui) on the outskirts of Barkol; Gongning, outside Urumqi; Fuyuan, outside the ancient city of Beshbalik; Yarkand; and Guang'an, outside Turpan. Other cities in Xinjiang — such as Hami, Yarkand, Kashgar, Yengisar, Uqturpan, Suijing (today Tacheng) and Aksu —had "Manchu camps", shown on Image 71.

The pivotal frontier post of Ili was home to Xinjiang's highest military authority, the General of Ili. Shortly after the unification of Xinjiang under Emperor Qianlong, a large number of Eight Banner soldiers were garrisoned at Ili. In the first half of 1764, 3200 soldiers who hitherto had been stationed in Liangzhou and Zhuanglang, in Gansu Province, permanently moved to the garrisons of Ili Prefecture with their wives and children. Meanwhile, 1032 Eight Banner soldiers who had been stationed in Rehe (a former province spanning the modern region of Hebei and Liaoning) were transferred to Ili Prefecture. They left on the 1st of April 1764 and arrived two years later, having rested and recuperated along the way. From the end of 1769 to 1771, a total 2088 Eight Banner soldiers from Xi'an were transferred to the Ili garrisons. By then, there were over 6000 soldiers stationed in Ili — if we include their wives and children, this amounts to a settlement of around 20,000 people.

Image 72: Urumqi as shown on the Complete Atlas of Xinjiang (stored in the Library of Congress)

Image 72 is an ancient map representing the state of Urumqi and its surroundings in the mid-Qing Dynasty. If we look closely, we can see that, at the time, Urumqi had both a hancheng ("Han Chinese city") and a mancheng ("Manchu city"). There is a footnote in Chinese that says: "The Manchu city comprised a Military Governor (dutong), a "Grain Inspector of Zhenxi and Dihua" (zhendidao), a Department Magistrate (zhizhou), a Controller-General (tongpan), as well as a squadron of Eight Banner garrison soldiers and officers." 
 This Manchu city (shown in Image 73) was built in 1772 and subsequently granted the name Gongning City by Emperor Qianlong. In 1773, over 3000 military personnel (comprising 83 Eight Banner soldiers and officers who had been stationed in Liangzhou and Zhuanglang; as well as "2700 cavalrymen, 300 foot soldiers, 40 artillerymen, 24 craftsmen and 280 cadets") relocated to Urumqi with their wives and children (making for a total of over 10,000 migrants). 

Furthermore, during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, over 1300 Eight Banner soldiers were stationed in Tarbagatai (today known as Tacheng), while 1000 were stationed in Barkol (shown in Image 74), the first city that greets those who enter Xinjiang from Mongolia. 1000 garrison soldiers were also stationed in the ancient city, which was strategically inaccessible and whose trade had begun to flourish. Meanwhile, as an important hub of Eastern Xinjiang, Turpan accommodated 500 garrison soldiers.

Image 73: West gate of the Manchu settlement of Urumqi at the end of the Qing Dynasty

Such was the distribution of military personnel belonging to the Eight Banner army throughout Xinjiang. In the mid-Qing Dynasty, close to 10,000 Eight Banner personnel were stationed in various cities of Xinjiang. Those in northern Xinjiang were permanently garrisoned and were allowed to bring with them their wives and children. If we take family members into account, the number of people affiliated with the Eight Banner army who relocated to Xinjiang at this time would have been no fewer than 30,000. Meanwhile, those in the southern regions were known in the Qing military hierarchy as huanfangbing, or "rotating garrison soldiers"; they were transferred to a new garrison once every three years and were not allowed to bring family members. These rotating garrison soldiers had been transferred over from the northern regions where they were originally stationed.

The number of rotating garrison soldiers in southern Xinjiang fluctuated at times, but remained more or less around 850. According to the Complete Repertoire of Manchu and Han Soliders Stationed In Southern Cities, out of all the Eight Banner soldiers in Southern Xinjiang: 331 were stationed in Kashgar, 80 were stationed in Yengisar, 200 were in Yarkand, 148 were in Uqturpan, and 62 were in Aksu.

Image 74: Streets of the Manchu settlement of Barkol in 1875

Image 75 is an ancient map that represents Xinjiang during the reign of Emperor Jiaqing. As we can see, there were two cities in Kashgar at that time: Laining and huicheng, or "Muslim city". Laining was built in the 27th year of Emperor Qianlong's reign (1762) and named by the emperor nine years later. It accommodated over 300 garrison soldiers and officers of the Eight Banner army. The lower half of Image 75 is Yengisar. During Emperor Qianlong's reign, the new settlement had yet to be built. At that point, they had merely constructed a wall dividing the city into north and south. 80 Eight Banner soldiers were garrisoned in the northern half of the city.

During the Qing Dynasty, the Eight Banner army was the central military force that maintained the unity and peace of Xinjiang. These 10,000-or-so strapping soldiers made tremendous journeys from their hometowns throughout China in order to protect the Western frontiers. They were then permanently stationed in Xinjiang, where they had children who followed in their footsteps. In times of war, they would make their way to the desert battlefields and charge the enemy line. Major military operations such as the pacifications of the Dzungar people and the Khoja rebellions would not have been possible without their involvement. In times of peace, they kept watch over the sentry posts and forts.

Image 75: Kashgar and Yengisar on the Map of the Western Territories from the Jiaqing reign

During the revolts led by Jahangir Khoja in the reign of Emperor Daoguang, the Ili General Qing Xiang — the highest military authority of southern Xinjiang — committed suicide out of patriotism when Kashgar was invaded. In Qing documents, there are a number of stories of Manchu officials choosing to commit suicide rather than yield to the enemy. Many of the Eight Banner army protecting the borderlands were fiercely devoted to their cause.

During the Han Dynasty, Emperor Gaozu (born Liu Bang) wrote in the Song of the Great Wind: "A great wind came forth, the clouds rose on high/Now that my might rules all within the seas, I have returned to my old village. Where will I find brave men to guard the four corners of my land?" These Eight Banner soldiers were certainly worthy of the name "brave men".

Main references

Ding Yizhuang: Summary of the garrisons of Eight Banner soldiers throughout northern Xinjiang in the Qing Dynasty. History and Geography of the Chinese Borderlands. No. 2, 1991.

Wu Yuanfeng: The state of Manchu army camps in Urumqi during the Qing Dynasty. History and Geography of the Chinese Borderlands. No. 3, 2004.

Su Kuijun: Research into Manchu army camps in Xinjiang during the Qing Dynasty. 2006 postgraduate thesis from Xinjiang University.