History of Xinjiang: Between Empire and Nation (Late 19th-Early 20th Century)

Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang. Editor: James A Millward. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2007.

The Qing recovery of Xinjiang was the last imperial campaign of a dying empire. That the dynasty pulled it off at all surprised Westerners at the time; since then Western historians have treated the decision to reconquer Xinjiang as an example of backward continental thinking, an anachronistic echo of the Qing’s Inner Asian strategic heritage at a time when more important matters demanded attention along China’s coasts. Yet the Qing reconquest of Xinjiang was the prologue to something new: an attempt to expand China into Central Asia. Hitherto in this book I have carefully distinguished between the terms ‘Qing empire’ and ‘China’; from the late nineteenth century however, this distinction fades. From this point, the Manchu and Mongol ruling élites of the Qing no longer brokered between the interests of Xinjiang’s Turkic peoples and its Han settlers and merchants. After the reconquest in 1878 and the creation of Xinjiang province in 1884 Qing authorities in Xinjiang were themselves Han, and Qing policies in Xinjiang increasingly reflected a sinicising agenda, albeit an incompletely realised one.

Meanwhile, Xinjiang remained linked economically and culturally to places to its west. The Russian empire had consolidated its control in Transoxiana and on the Kazak steppe. The mass-produced, modern products of industrialised societies would enter Xinjiang from Russia and Russian Turkestan; some Indian goods competed with Russian manufactured goods in southern Xinjiang, but Chinese goods were not in the running. Ideas moved along those same trade channels, just as they had when religions followed the Soghdian caravans eastward or Sufis proselytised among traders and nomads. Like peoples under colonial rule throughout the world, the Islamic and Turkic peoples of Central Eurasia were thinking in new ways about their situation, questioning aspects of their tradition, proposing new approaches to knowledge and promoting political reform. Xinjiang fell within the circuits of this new discourse in Central Eurasia, which increasingly defined the object of concern as the khälk (‘the people’) or millät (‘the nation’). Nationalism came to Xinjiang from two directions.


In many ways, the hardest struggles in the reconquest of Xinjiang were fought before the first Qing soldiers marched into the region. These were the battles for political, logistical and financial support necessary before the campaign could be launched. Once again, troubles in the distant territory had raised doubts for many Qing officials regarding Xinjiang’s place within and value to the empire. It took a mixture of new and old arguments and intense lobbying to overcome opponents and convince an ambivalent Qing court that Xinjiang should be recovered. The chief proponent of Xinjiang reconquest, commander of the campaign and mastermind of post-war reconstruction was Zuo Zongtang (Tso Tsungt’ang; 1812-85).

Zuo was a scholar from Xiangyin, Hunan, who made his name not by success in the civil service examinations but by forming and leading a local army of Hunanese soldiers in victorious battles against rebels in south China. As such, he was one of several Han Chinese figures (including Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang) commanding regional Chinese armies who became prominent during the mid-nineteenth century when the Manchu banner soldiers proved ineffective against rebellions in China. Their rise, and the influence the desperate Qing court was forced to cede to them, marks a stage in the ongoing devolution of centralised Manchu power over the empire to a more regionalised arrangement under powerful Han generals and officials.

After his successes in campaigns against the Taiping and Nian rebels, in November 1868 Zuo Zongtang took up the post of Governor-General of the north-western Chinese provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu, bringing his Hunanese force with him. There he began the pacification of Tungan (Chinese Muslim, Hui) rebels in these provinces and in Qinghai. This he accomplished by 1873 (at a cost of 40 million taels), but Zuo was forced to delay his planned march west into Xinjiang due to court concerns over its merits. The Japanese invasion of Taiwan in 1874 had alerted the court to the inadequacies of Qing defence on the coast, and a group of officials in China, led by Li Hongzhang, began advocating that the Xinjiang campaign be postponed and the money allocated instead to naval development. (Li was then Governor-General of Zhili, the capital province, and active in the dynasty’s foreign relations with the West). There then ensued what Immanuel Hsü has called ‘the Great Policy Debate in China: Maritime Defence vs Frontier Defence’—but which we may see as simply the latest episode in the long-running debate over Xinjiang that began with the conquest of Zungharia and Altishahr under the Qianlong emperor in the 1750s. What differed this time, however, was the presence of a coastal threat from Western nations and Japan to balance the traditional security challenge on the north and north-western frontiers (now embodied by Russians rather than Mongol groups).

The ‘maritime defence’ party argued along sinocentric lines that retaking Xinjiang was not worth the massive expense, as it would always be a trouble-spot. Xinjiang was a barren waste, the government of which had required annual subventions from China since Qianlong times. Zuo and supporters of reconquest countered that nations threatening China along the coast were primarily interested not in penetration or territorial conquest but in establishing peripheral bases for trade; on the other hand, British and especially Russian aspirations in Xinjiang were more dangerous. Arguing, in essence, that ‘as goes Xinjiang, so goes Mongolia; as goes Mongolia, so goes Beijing’, the frontier defence advocates claimed that recovering Xinjiang was more critical to the defence of the capital than building more ships or coastal gun emplacements, for which standing funds existed in any case. Finally, the fact that Beijing lies relatively close to the ocean, but as far from Yili as New York from Denver, or London from Moscow, was less compelling to the frontier defence advocates than the hard-to-answer moralistic point that failure to recover Xinjiang would amount to unfilial conduct on the part of the present, Tongzhi, emperor, towards his illustrious ancestors.

In their responses to the throne, both sides employed a corporeal metaphor, disputing which threat, frontier or coastal, amounted to a sickness of the heart, and which a disease of the limbs. (That lobbyists cast the dynasty’s options in terms of death or dismemberment reflects the desperation of the times.) Though the idea of the Russian-controlled Yili valley as a dagger pointed at the heart of Beijing may seem far-fetched, this view was in line with the Qing’s earlier strategic emphasis on Inner Asia, and Zuo ultimately won the debate of 1874 and prevailed against further arguments from Li to abandon the Yili region in 1879.

In English-language accounts this debate has often been used to highlight the supposed backwardness of Qing strategic and diplomatic thinking. Li was a famous proponent of Chinese self-strengthening, and his advocacy of coastal defence and ship-building has seemed relatively modern to Western scholars of Chinese history. For example, in his influential textbook Tradition and Transformation John King Fairbank wrote that Zuo’s victory in the debate against Li and other ‘self-strengtheners’ and subsequent reconquest of Xinjiang led conservatives into complacent opposition to Westernisation—though Zuo himself promoted and employed Westernising methods: modern military drill, factories, arsenals to produce modern weapons and Western loans. Even S.M. Paine’s recent study of Qing-Russian relations calls Li’s arguments ‘logical’ in contrast to Zuo’s ‘traditional’ ones. In Chinese-language historiography and any ideological stripe, on the other hand, Zuo has been and remains a hero for his reconquest of Xinjiang against apparently great odds. One might add, moreover, that a stress on continental security has characterised PRC policy as well, at least from the rupture of Sino-Soviet relations in 1960 till the 1990s. It is only in recent years that the People’s Liberation Army has begun to focus seriously on development of its maritime capability.

In April of 1875, Zuo Zongtang was appointed imperial commissioner for Xinjiang military affairs, becoming the first Han Chinese to take charge of a region that had hitherto been the preserve of Manchu and Mongol officials. He then began careful preparations for the Xinjiang campaigns, selecting an army of some 60, 000 soldiers and service personnel, well-trained and armed with imported Western guns and Chinese-made versions of new Western weapons. During 1874-6, while preparing for the campaigns, these solders farmed, adding to the army’s grain stockpiles. Other grain was brought in by the massive logistical apparatus Zuo mobilised, with 5, 000 wagons, 29, 000 camels and 5, 500 donkeys and mules to transport and store a reserve of some 16 million kilograms of grain in staging areas along the Gansu corridor, Hami and Barkol. Zuo even obtained grain from a Russian supplier in Siberia.

Zuo’s greatest problem was financing. Despite opposition from various quarters, the court provided funds from customs on maritime trade, and from the provinces of China proper. In addition, the court authorised Zuo to borrow 8.5 million taels from a foreign bank, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Overall, Zuo spent 26.5 million taels on the military phase from 1875 to 1877, and another 18 million on reconstruction work in 1878-81. Though he remained within his initial budget, from 1876 he spent, annually, an amount equivalent to one sixth of the annual expenditure of the Qing treasury.

After Zuo’s meticulous preparations, the Qing forces marched west with very few difficulties while Zuo himself directed operations from Gansu. Qing columns, including one comprising Zuo’s Hunan Army under command of Liu Jintang (a Hunanese colleague of Zuo’s) moved into northern Xinjiang in the summer of 1876. The Qing forces first took towns in the agricultural belt north of Urumchi, defended primarily by Tungans, including the followers of BaiYanhu andYu Shaohu whom Zuo had driven from Qinghai three years earlier. The Tungans defending Urumchi fled, and Qing troops captured it in a day (August 18). In all of northern Xinjiang only the city of Manas offered serious resistance; its Tungan defenders, fighting for their lives, received no reinforcements from Ya‘qub Beg. Manas finally fell in early November 1876 after a siege of two and a half months by the entire Qing force. The reconquest of Zungharia (except for the Yili valley, which remained under Russian control) took only three months.

Ya‘qub Beg had opted to leave defence of the east and north to Tungans. In fact Ya‘qub Beg did not wish to engage the Qing forces himself, but rather hoped to reach a diplomatic agreement with the Qing. In 1873-4 Ya‘qub Beg discussed the matter with British envoy T.D. Forsyth. Those Qing officials who favoured ‘maritime defence’, including Li Hongzhang and Prince Gong in the Zongli Yamen (the Qing’s new modernised foreign office), seem to have cautiously encouraged such a settlement; Li Hongzhang asked Forsyth in 1876 if Ya‘qub Beg would be willing to ‘submit’ to the Qing formally. The British mediated talks between the Emir’s plenipotentiary in London and the Chinese ambassador, Guo Songtao. They agreed in principle in July 1877 that Ya‘qub Beg would acknowledge Chinese suzerainty if he could retain control over Kashgaria, though the two sides had not ironed out all the details. Such a deal would have been in line with an option explored by the Qing in 1758, and then again in the 1830s, by which the dynasty hoped to leave the Tarim Basin under the control of a local power willing to send tribute and acknowledge Qing suzerainty. Li Hongzhang, Prince Gong and Guo Songtao were at least initially open to such a possibility with Ya‘qub Beg, and the proposal was discussed at one point by the Qing Grand Council and promoted in Beijing by the British ambassador Thomas Wade. Zuo Zongtang, not surprisingly, remained cool to the idea.

In any case, by the spring of 1877 the new military situation in southern Xinjiang led the Qing court to change its mind. In April 1877 Qing forces took Turfan, Pijan, Dabancheng and Toqsun with little resistance. In fact the Muslim commander in Turfan, Hakim Khan, fled before the Qing arrival, although he had 20, 000 troops and a large store of supplies. In Dabancheng the besieged defenders waited in vain for Ya‘qub Beg to send reinforcements. Toqsun, where Ya‘qub Beg had built a new fortress the year before and at one point made his headquarters, was abandoned before General Liu Jintang’s force approached the city.

Kim Hodong suggests that this lack of resistance on the part of Ya‘qub Beg’s forces was due not to overwhelming Qing strength—Muslim troop numbers were roughly comparable to those of the Qing columns—but to an order issued by Ya‘qub Beg (reported in Muslim, though not Chinese, sources) to avoid engaging the Qing in combat. Ya‘qub Beg was apparently still hoping that the negotiations in London would result in an agreement, and thus sought to avoid antagonising the Qing. His armies, however, were demoralised and confused by this command. Moreover, when Ya‘qub Beg himself died suddenly in Korla in late May, probably of a stroke, what remained of organised resistance to the Qing collapsed. Qing sources report that Ya‘qub Beg committed suicide, but this is the usual self-glorifying imperial spin (they said the same about Galdan). Kim points out thatYa‘qub Beg had as yet sent none of his troops to fight Liu Jintang’s battalions, so was thus far from defeated at the time of his death.

Following Ya‘qub Beg’s death, several rivals vied to succeed him as ruler in Kashgaria. These included his sons Beg Quli and Haqq Quli; in Korla, soldiers enthroned their commander Hakim Khan, who was one of the last surviving Afaqi khojas (son of Kättä Khan); Niyaz Beg, one of the antebellum Altishahri Beg’s who had come to resent rule by Ya‘qub Beg and the Khoqandis, took control in Khotan. Beg Quli overcame his Turkic rivals by October, 1877, though independent Tungan forces still remained active. Meanwhile, the Qing juggernaut rolled on. In early October Liu Jintang sent a force from Toqsun to Karashahr, and the Tungan leader Bai Yanhu cut the dikes on the Kaidu River, flooding the Karashahr-Korla area. Despite this impediment, the Qing occupied Karashahr on October 7; Bugur fell soon after, followed rapidly by the other cities along the westward road. Driving Bai Yanhu and his few thousand followers before them, the Qing reached as far as Ush Turfan by the end of the October. Bai Yanhu and his followers fled over the border, where they formed the core of the Russian Tungan population that remains as a small minority in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan today. Beg Quli, by then besieging his own capital of Kashgar in a vain attempt to recapture it and free his relatives from the Tungan Ma Daluya, escaped to Ferghana in mid-December when the Qing vanguard reached the area. With the Qing occupation of Khotan in January 1878, the reconquest of Xinjiang was complete.

The Qing retook the entire territory from Korla to Kashgar in seventy days; this, as Kim Hodong has pointed out, is only twice the thirtyfive days a trade caravan needed to cover that route in peacetime. The Qing thus advanced almost unimpeded, owing to Ya‘qub’s order not to fight Qing troops, his reluctance to commit his Turkic forces, the chaos that followed his death, and Uyghurs’ disaffection with the harsh Khoqandian regime. Many native Altishahri residents defected to the Qing army as it marched into the region.


The Qing had reconquered a ruined land. From Gucheng to Kashgar, forts and city-walls were flattened, villages burnt out, and irrigation canals filled in. The broad, formerly fertile area around Karashahr lay flooded by the Kaidu River, and the city itself stood under several feet of water. Throughout Xinjiang refugees roamed while fields lay fallow.

Besides the physical damage, moreover, the conflicts and Ya‘qub Beg’s regime had swept away the institutional foundations of Qing governance in Xinjiang. Many of the Beg’s (the hereditary local officials employed by the empire) had been killed or displaced and stripped of their estates. Likewise, in Turfan and Kucha, while the Muslim princes enfeoffed by the Qing had survived, they had largely lost their source of sustenance: the lands and the agricultural serfs which were the source of their economic and political power. The Manchu and Mongol bannermen, the former backbone of Qing military in Xinjiang, were dead or scattered. One Qing official reporting to his new post in Gucheng compared the banner garrison there, with only a dozen remaining soldiers, to ‘a handful of straw’. When the Qing marched into Urumchi they found the Manchu citadel razed without even any rubble left to mark where it had stood; only one Manchu soldier remained of the former garrison. To the north, the Yili valley, where the majority of the Manchu and Mongol bannermen had once been quartered, was of course now occupied by Russia, but when the Qing finally recovered the Yili region (see below) officials found the old Qing residences, barracks, guard posts, granaries and so on to be just as dilapidated as in the south. Ghulja could no longer serve as Xinjiang’s capital.

Not all Chinese had fled or perished in the conflicts. Bellew, who accompanied the British party on its embassy to Yarkand and Kashgar in 1873-4, reports that numbers of Chinese converts—‘new Muslims’ (yengi Musulman) —frequented the bazaars of Yarkand and Yängihissar, and there was even a private army of Tungans and ‘new Muslims’ in the Emir’s service. And there were still many Tungans, especially further east. But even after Chinese refugees, new immigrants and some of Zuo’s troops resettled in Xinjiang, farming populations in the agricultural settlements north of Urumchi in 1878 amounted to only between a tenth and a quarter of what they had been before the rebellions. This limited the state’s ability to provision soldiers and support a governing apparatus in the territory.

General Liu Jintang, who would soon become the first Governor of Xinjiang Province (in office 1884-91), wistfully contemplated the ruins of a century of Qing rule there:‘Since the chaos, the old system has been entirely swept away, and to contemplate restoring it involves myriad difficulties.’ He and others believed only a sweeping reform of Xinjiang’s administrative system, though it would require an initial investment, could consolidate Qing control in the region for the long term.

Before the reconquest was complete Zuo Zongtang had already officially suggested making Xinjiang a province: ‘To cut costs and save effort, in order to draft policies ensuring enduring peace and stability in Xinjiang and reduce the court’s anxiety … [we must] establish a province and change to junxian -style administration.’ Zuo thus proposed putting all of Xinjiang on the same administrative footing as the provinces of China proper, replacing the old system of local rule by Uyghur Beg’s and princes and Mongol jasaks under a supervisory Qing military government, with the system of counties, prefectures and so on each under Confucian-trained civil magistrates (the system known in Chinese as junxian). The idea of provincehood for Xinjiang had been around since the 1820s, when Gong Zizhen (Kung Tzu-chen, another Hunanese) raised it in a famous essay as a way to control costs in Xinjiang. Zuo himself had even alluded to Xinjiang provincehood in a poem he wrote forty years earlier. Even in the 1870s, however, the Qing court had not yet been ready to commit to such a radical reform before the reconquest was complete and while the issue of the Yili valley awaited solution. Nonetheless, the court did authorise Zuo to take the first steps towards a Chinese-style administration in Xinjiang as part of his ‘post-pacification’ (shanhou) reconstruction programme in both north and south Xinjiang.

Thus under the rubric of reconstruction the Qing army began establishing for the first time the rudiments of a Chinese civil administration in south Xinjiang, from Hami to Kashgar. There were specialised Reconstruction Agencies to collect taxes, promote production of grain, mulberry and silkworms, and institute a collective responsibility and security system (baojid) at the village level. More general tasks included reconstruction of city defences, government offices and barracks, bridges, roads and canals; sorting out land ownership; minting a new currency; and opening schools. The work was carried out by Zuo’s Hunanese soldiers and their officers—by default the main governing body in post-war Xinjiang—and funded from China proper. Although, as we will see below, reconstruction plans were not immediately realised due to budget constraints, these efforts represent a definitive departure from earlier Qing policy, which had left local-level affairs in Muslim areas almost entirely to the Beg’s.

Recovery of the Yili Valley

The rapid collapse of Ya‘qub Beg’s emirate and the swift reconquest of Xinjiang took even foreign observers by surprise. When Governor-General Kaufman of Russian Turkestan sent troops into the Yili valley in 1871 in the name of protecting lives and property of its citizens from the chaos of the rebellions, he surely did not expect to be discussing its return to the Qing eight years later. Indeed, the Russians seemed to have intended a long stay in Ghulja, for they restored major irrigation canals, built a hospital, established bilingual schools and other cultural institutions, including a Russian Orthodox Church. However, since Russia had initially promised to return all occupied Qing lands outright, its negotiating position was poor as it sought concessions from the Qing. Moscow was, moreover, feeling the strains of rapid imperial expansion, having just waged a war with the Ottoman empire which left it little energy or funds for another conflict in Central Asia. Besides, the victorious Qing army was just over the border, and far outnumbered the Russian troops in Yili.

Despite all these factors in the Qing favour, the Manchu representative, Chong-hou, agreed in the Treaty of Livadia (1879) to terms so scan dalously detrimental that he was sentenced to death immediately upon his return to Beijing, and spared execution only after appeals on his behalf from the international diplomatic community. The treaty, which the Qing court refused to ratify, promised only the partial return of the Yili lands occupied in 1871; in addition, it would have allowed Russia to open seven new consulates in Xinjiang and Mongolia, permitted duty-free trade in both these regions; afforded Russian traders access to trade routes extending to Beijing and the Yangzi river through China proper; opened the Sungari (Songhua) River in Manchuria to Russian navigation, and paid Russia an indemnity of 5 million roubles (2.8 million taels).

The usual explanation for this diplomatic debacle, following Qing sources, is that Chong-hou was inexperienced and over-eager to return home to China. However, in her recent study of the diplomatic history of the Sino-Russian frontier, S.C.M. Paine has shown that Chong-hou was in fact a seasoned diplomat and no homebody, having dealt with Western nations on several occasions over thirty years in France, England and the United States. Moreover, so absurd were the concessions to Russia in the Livadia treaty (Russia even attempted to keep them secret, fearing objections from other powers), especially those regarding overland trade privileges in the Chinese interior, that no sane Qing official could have expected them to be accepted by the court had he agreed to them independently. Thus, Paine reasons, Chong-hou must have had the approval of the terms of the treaty from others in the Zongli Yamen before his return to Beijing. It was only later, after the Empress Dowager sought general comment on the treaty from officials at large that the scandal broke. With appalled officials calling for war with Russia, Chong-hou was made the scapegoat, first hurriedly by the court and then over time by historians.

In February of 1880 the Qing court announced its refusal to ratify the Treaty of Livadia. Although both sides began preparations for war, neither wanted it; hostilities were averted after the Qing dispatched Zeng Jize (Tseng Chi-tse), former minister to Britain and France, as minister to Russia to renegotiate the return of Yili. During the latter half of 1880 and early into the next year Zeng and his Russian counterpart Biutsov worked to reach a new agreement despite the largely incompatible demands behind which both courts staked their imperial dignity. Ultimately the Russian need for cash, and Qing willingness to pay a larger pecuniary indemnity in return for reduced territorial and commercial concessions, led to the Treaty of St Petersburg (February 1881). By this treaty the Qing paid 9 million roubles for the return of Yili east of the Khorgos River; Russia retained the westernmost part of the Yili valley to resettle some 50, 000 Tungan and Taranchi (Ghulja Uyghur) refugees who feared Qing reprisals, and who had appealed to the Tsar to accept them as subjects. Commercial concessions were limited to only two new Russian consulates to be established immediately (as opposed to the seven stipulated by the Treaty of Livadia), though others were to follow. Russian traders gained customs-free trade rights in Xinjiang and Mongolia, but not in the interior of China. Border issues in other parts of Xinjiang, from Khobdo (in Mongolia) to Kashgar, were to be decided separately in five ancillary treaties following field surveys (Zeng thus avoided Chong-hou’s mistake of making territorial decisions based on Russian maps).

Both Qing contemporaries and later Western scholars have considered the Treaty of St Petersburg a diplomatic victory for the Qing, and when judged against the disastrous Treaty of Livadia, it certainly is. Zeng Jize was an informed and hard-nosed negotiator who convinced the Russians to retreat from territory already occupied—something unprecedented in the history of Tsarist expansion in Central Asia. However, the Russians nonetheless gained considerable territorial and commercial benefits for returning a portion of the lands they had forcefully occupied—and which they had originally promised to return free and clear in their entirety upon the repression of the rebellion in Xinjiang. The exact extent of the lands ceded to Russia depends on one’s assessment of where the westernmost boundary of Qing Xinjiang lay prior to the treaty Views differ: Hsü’s map shows a relatively narrow strip of land, but a late-twentieth-century Chinese historical atlas claims that Qing territory originally included lake Balkash and beyond, at its furthest point extending some 900 kilometres west of Yili to Baykadam (now in central southern Kazakstan). Based on complaints about the border revisions conducted as riders to the St Petersburg treaty, Chinese today view it as an ‘unequal treaty’ by which China lost 70, 000 square kilometres to Russia. Moreover, Chinese historians write that many Yili residents, called ‘refugees’ by Russian and Soviet historians, were forcibly deported by Russia. This is said to have led to a shortage of manpower that slowed subsequent agricultural development in the Yili region.

Creating Xinjiang Province

Administrative Reforms

Xinjiang provincialisation was thus a grand design on which the Qing court and Han officials pinned high hopes. The scheme was based on a reworking of the region’s administrative and military arrangements. Starting in 1884 circuits, prefectures, sub-prefectures and counties were established in both northern and southern Xinjiang. Liu Jintang was appointed First Governor, headquartered in Urumchi, the new provincial capital, but he in theory answered to the Governor-General of Xinjiang, Gansu and Shaanxi, who was based in Gansu, through which Xinjiang’s budget subventions were channelled. These changes stripped much importance from the former top post in Xinjiang, the Yili Generalship, which had always been held by Manchus or Mongols answering directly to the Qing emperor and Grand Council. The bulk of Xinjiang’s troops now fell under the command of the Governor in Urumchi, not the Yili General. The overall size of the army had been reduced as well, to just over 30, 000 (compared to some 40,000 in mid-Qing times), but now more troops were permanently stationed in the Tarim Basin than before the wars of the 1860s and 1870s. To achieve these reduced levels of permanent forces, large numbers of the 50,000 men army of reconquest were demobilised and enrolled in the land reclamation programme.

The creation of so many new administrative districts required officials to fill the posts, and this is one of the most striking changes in the new Xinjiang province. Whereas the upper ranks of the military government of mid-Qing Xinjiang had been staffed by Manchus, Mongols and the occasional Uyghur, the formal bureaucracy now became almost entirely Han Chinese. Moreover, because Zuo Zongtang’s Hunan Army had composed the core of the reconquest force, Liu Jintang drew upon this pool of fellow Hunanese in making appointments, with the result that from 1884 to 1911 an average of 55 per cent of men in office in Xinjiang were Hunanese, primarily from Zuo’s and Liu’s own home counties in Hunan. Moreover, none of these men held the metropolitan, or highest, degree in the state civil service examination system, which county magistrates were in theory expected to have obtained. Very few could boast even the lowest shengyuan degree status. In short, thirty years before the dynasty abandoned the examination system in the empire as a whole, the system was all but replaced in Xinjiang by native-place patronage, as the Hunanese clique took control of the new province.

The creation of this Chinese bureaucratic network represented an unprecedented attempt by the Qing state to govern directly at the local level in non-Han as well as Han areas of Xinjiang. As such, it assigned to new Chinese magistrates responsibilities which had under the previous system belonged to the upper echelons of Uyghur Beg’s. Nevertheless, these reforms did not entail the wholesale elimination of native Turkic officials. Despite the wishful thinking of some of the provincehood visionaries, implementing junxian administration could not immediately address the fact that most of Xinjiang’s Turkic population did not speak Chinese, and the Hunanese and other Chinese officials certainly spoke no Uyghur. Since the eighteenth century the Qing had relied on Beg’s and ahungs (Muslim clerics) for interpreting, implementation of decrees, collection of taxes, police work, adjudication of minor disputes and a range of other clerical and administrative matters. Moreover, the higher-ranked hakim and ishiqagha Beg’s were eminent personages who governed cities and communicated directly with the emperor; they frequently bore the titles and trappings of the Qing nobility—honours shared by élite Manchus and Mongols but generally not Han.

After 1884 the hakim and ishiqagha Beg’s, higher-ranked than the new county and prefectural officials, were stripped by Liu Jintang of their duties (though they initially retained their noble titles and stipends). Otherwise, however, some 3, 300 Turkic functionaries (many of them the same men, or descendants of men who had served as Beg’s before 1864) remained in service as clerks in government offices, as ‘runners’ conducting official business in the field, and as village headmen—this in contrast to only eighty-two formal civil government posts. In Chinese the native functionaries were no longer officially called boke (beg) but rather ‘clerks’ or xiangyue—a term used in China proper for village elders. In Uyghur, however, they were generally still known by such traditional terms as beg, onbashi (head of ten households) yüzbashi (head of a hundred) and so on.

Zuo Zongtang had anticipated retaining the Beg’s, who were after all very useful in local matters, but drew this distinction: ‘they are official servants, not officials’ (again, this was a departure from earlier Qing practice, when the higher-ranked Beg’s were clearly Qing officials). And Chinese officials apparently treated downgraded Beg’s accordingly. One British visitor to the southern Tarim in the early twentieth century writes of the contempt displayed by the Chinese ‘ambans’ for the ‘native officials’, whom they called by the derogatory term chantou (turbaned-head) and with whom they shared little if any social interaction.’The manner assumed by an Amban in speaking to his native entourage would, ’ he writes, ’if used by an Englishman to a native in India, be described at least as “unconciliatory”—by the native press probably in far stronger terms…Judged by our own method of treating Asiatics, this must tend to weaken the central authority by preventing mutual understanding.’

Foreign travellers’ accounts also make clear, however, that although these new Beg’s were vetted and supervised in their positions by local Han officials, they still retained a good deal of autonomy. They collected their salaries from the households under their jurisdiction, which left ample opportunities for extortion, and linguistic and cultural barriers prevented Chinese magistrates from monitoring the Beg’s too closely. Despite Confucian idealism, then, even under the reformed administrative system a gulf divided central government officials from people and affairs in southern Xinjiang.

Of course the Chinese central government had throughout late-imperial history always assigned officials to postings far from their homes, where they often encountered a strange language (many dialects of Chinese are mutually unintelligible) and novel conditions—this was true throughout China, not only in Xinjiang. The standard solution relied on class solidarity and the workings of traditional education: the sons of local élites received training in the Confucian classics in academies or from private instructors in preparation for the civil service exams; this gave them a cultural idiom in common with officials posted to the district. They also learned to communicate in Mandarin. Administration by means of the junxian (provincial) system was thus closely linked to Confucian education and the civil service exams, as Zhu Fengjia noted. However, the difference in Muslim Xinjiang after the reconquest was that the local élites—the families from which the Beg’s were drawn—educated their children in the Islamic, not Confucian, tradition. To change this, Qing authorities embarked on a programme to establish Confucian academies throughout Xinjiang.

Introducing Chinese Education

In keeping with the sinicising thrust behind his planned reforms for post-conquest Xinjiang, Zuo Zongtang advocated a programme of educating Muslims in the Chinese fashion:’If we wish to change their peculiar customs and assimilate them to our Chinese ways (huafeng) , we must found free schools (yishu) and make the Muslim children read [Chinese] books, recognise characters and understand spoken language.’ Another goal was to replenish the supply of local interpreters and clerks to promote communication between officials and the people. Therefore, as soon as the Qing armies had reconquered each Xinjiang city, the Reconstruction Agencies set up free Confucian schools. By 1883 there were seventy-seven of these schools in Xinjiang, fifty of them in predominantly Turkic Muslim areas (including Aqsu, Kashgar, Yarkand, Khotan and so on), each with a teacher and attended by some fifteen to twenty boys, eight years old and above. Although students in theory did not pay tuition, they did purchase books, paper and ink from the Reconstruction Agency Teachers received a salary and materials stipend from revenues on public land, based on enrolments.

The curriculum in these schools was similar to that of Confucian schools in China proper where students learned to read through rote memorisation of the classics, character by character. However, some modifications were necessary in light of the fact that many of the matriculating pupils in Xinjiang did not even speak Chinese and therefore experienced more than the usual difficulty with this standard pedagogical method. In addition to such standard works as the Trimetrical Classic (Sanzijing), the Classic of Filial Piety , the Book of Odes , the Analects and other classics, officials prepared various bilingual texts, such as a parallel Chinese-Uyghur version of the Sacred Edict (sixteen homilies by the Kangxi emperor) and a glossary called Chinese and Muslim (Language) Juxtaposed (Han Hui he bi). In 1879 one of the reconstruction agencies was ordered to print 500 copies of an Annotated Arabic Character Sampler for distribution to Turfan (forty copies), the four eastern and four western cities of Xinjiang (230 copies each).

Teachers gave students Chinese names. Unlike the Chinese versions of Uyghur names used today for official PRC documents which transliterate the names syllable by syllable into long strings of characters, these school names took the usual form of three Chinese characters. As is familiar to any foreign student of Chinese today, such names, chosen to vaguely emulate the pronunciation of the original foreign name, often have an outlandish quality or convey a didactic message through the meaning of the characters or a pun on their sound. One ten-year-old student of beg descent who entered a Chinese school near Turfan in 1883 was dubbed Ai Xueshu (‘loves to read books’); his classmates included Bi Deming (‘must make a name for himself’—as in the civil service exams) and Tui Dalun (‘promotes the great Analects’).

Following the Boxer Rebellion in north China (1900) the Empress Dowager, Cixi (Tz’u-hsi) approved a series of reforms in a desperate effort to save the Qing dynasty. The most significant of these were the elimination of the civil service examination system and the establishment of ‘modern’ schools to include study of science, mathematics, foreign languages, Western nations, physical education and other subjects deemed necessary for the strengthening of the country, particularly in regard to the Western attack on Qing territorial and commercial sovereignty. The modern schools came to Xinjiang following the appointment in 1907 of DuTong as provincial superintendent of schools. Du had studied pedagogy in Japan, then a model for many Qing reform efforts, and attempted to establish a broad-based lower, middle and vocational school system in Xinjiang to provide instruction in these modern subjects as well as Chinese language and physical drill. By around 1911 this programme had resulted in an expansion in the number of schools (to over 600) and an approximate ten-fold increase in the numbers of students matriculated (to about 15, 000). Unlike the Confucian schools, which were designed primarily to train the sons of Uyghur notables to be government functionaries, the modern schools had broader social and political goals. They thus included ‘common’ as well as ‘upper level’ (élite) schools, and were located in villages as well as urban communities. Attendance was in theory compulsory, at least for boys.

The Xinjiang government took its educational efforts seriously, during both the first, ‘Confucian’, and second, ‘modern’, phases. In the late nineteenth century seasonal grade reports for all students were forwarded by teachers up the government hierarchy to the provincial governor himself. These reports listed each student by Chinese name, commented on their ability and improvement, and even noted the text and exact sentence up to which they had successfully memorised. It was proposed that teachers receive bonuses on the basis of the number of their students who could speak Chinese clearly (with light accent), and although Governor Liu dismissed this idea, he threatened to investigate any school where students did not improve.

Despite attention at both gubernatorial and national levels, neither phase of the plan to educate Xinjiang Muslims was a success. The last governor of Qing Xinjiang admitted just before the fall of the dynasty in 1911 that after twenty years in operation the Confucian academies had at best served only to train ‘mullahs’—here indicating, in a somewhat derisive way, men with bare functional literacy, capable of serving as secretaries, but little else. The mass cultural assimilation once envisioned remained an unlikely prospect. Moreover, there was great resistance to all Chinese schools on the part of the very people they were designed to educate. Students who matriculated put little effort into studying, according to their instructors. Of course, the teachers themselves were less than stellar: most were impoverished and embittered Han who had themselves failed the civil service exams and wound up teaching in Xinjiang as a last resort. The implementation of the modern curriculum after 1907 was impeded by the fact that most available instructors had been trained only in the traditional curriculum, if at all.

In fact élite Uyghur families sought to avoid sending their sons to Chinese schools, where they were required to participate in Confucian rites considered idolatrous by Muslims. Whenever possible, rich families hid their sons or hired poor boys to attend in their place. Isa Yusuf Alptekin, the Uyghur separatist leader, told of his father’s experience with the late Qing Chinese school system. When Isa’s grandfather first heard that Uyghurs would be sent to Chinese schools, he arranged to have Isa’s father hidden in the Taklamakan desert and sent a poor neighbour to school as a stand-in. When the local magistrate uncovered the ruse, Isa’s father was forced to matriculate. At the school he was given a Chinese name and was required to don official Qing dress with his hair in a queue. Thereafter the boy reportedly was not allowed into his own house until he changed out of these clothes, and his own mother (Isa’s grandmother) could not bear the sight of the long pigtail; she found herself unable to demonstrate affection for her own son.

Xinjiang education commissioner Du Tong himself held quite a liberal attitude toward educating the Uyghur population of Xinjiang, writing that literacy and technical education to improve agriculture and textile production were priorities, whereas changing Uyghur customs and converting them from Islam was not an urgent task. Some of the new state schools even taught the Qur’an as well as the subjects of the new curriculum. Du furthermore forbade corporal punishment of pupils by teachers. Nonetheless, even after 1907 Turkic Muslim resistance to state education policies continued, especially at the primary level. Part of the problem lay in the costs and manner of implementation of the new education programme. Although the provincial government was supposed to cover some costs of establishing the new schools, this support was in practice directed to northern districts populated primarily by Han. Elsewhere special taxes were levied to raise funds for the new schools, and Kataoka has shown that many of the new village schools were in fact located in local mosques and madrasas—the only buildings available for the purpose—an imposition which may also have engendered resentment. Moreover, although Du had initially intended Uyghur to be the medium of education, the ‘common’ lower schools switched around 1908 to instruction in Chinese only, on the grounds that the Uyghur language ‘does not communicate’ (yuyan butong) —that is, with the Han Chinese teachers—and that it contributed to the gulf between Chinese and Uyghur. This led to complaints that boys and girls, some of whom boarded at their schools, could no longer speak to their own parents without interpreters. Overall there was considerable agitation in southern Xinjiang regarding the taxes, corruption by Chinese officials involved in tax-collection and school construction, and the apparent sinifying intent of the new education. Some families fled to Russian Turkestan to avoid sending children to the Chinese schools.

Islamic Education in Qing Xinjiang

The Chinese schools were not, of course, introduced into a pedagogical vacuum, and understanding the role and meaning of the autochthonous education system sheds light on why the Qing-era Confucian schools and especially the new Chinese modern schools were abhorrent to many Uyghurs. In Muslim Xinjiang in the late nineteenth century Islamic education was available to boys between the ages of roughly six to sixteen (and in some places by the late nineteenth century to girls under twelve as well) via the traditional institution of the maktap (mäktäp). Maktap were informal neighbourhood schools established in a mosque, at the house of a teacher, or that of a wealthy member of the community; teachers could be any literate man, usually either a mullah or qurra (Qu’ran reciter), and were paid by occasional donations in kind or cash from students’parents. The curriculum was primarily religious and oral, including instruction on the religious festivals, certain Qu’ranic verses and some poetry in Turki and Persian. Arabic script was taught after a fashion, but not the language, so much of the Qu’ranic study took the form of rote memorisation without comprehension. (As such, maktap education was similar to that in the Confucian schools). According to foreign observers in Xinjiang and Adeeb Khalid’s study of contemporary maktap in Bukhara, this training provided pupils with minimal reading and no writing skills; by the end of their studies they often could read only those texts they had memorised and nothing else. What students did garner from their time in the maktap, however, was the acquisition of’basic elements of culture and modes of behaviour through interaction with an older, learned man’. Maktap were common in the Tarim Basin region—as in Central Asia generally—with some seventy to eighty in Kashgar before 1930. Substituting a state-run institution for the interaction of student and teacher in maktap intervened in a basic way with the practices of intergenerational transmission of culture in southern Xinjiang.

The larger oases of southern Xinjiang also supported madrasas (müdrüsü): colleges attached to shrines and run as charitable foundations supported by income from endowed lands (waqf). In the last decades of the nineteenth century there were dozens of madrasas in Yarkand, several in Kashgar and two important ones in Aqsu. Many of the mullahs who taught at these Xinjiang colleges had themselves studied in Bukhara, which remained until the twentieth century a major centre of scholarship drawing students from throughout Central Asia, including the Tarim Basin oases, and elsewhere in the Islamic world.

Madrasas in Kashgar, Aqsu and Yarkand attracted young men (aged fifteen and up) from throughout the Xinjiang region, who were housed in cells at the college. Well-to-do students paid tuition; poor students worked for the school and could sometimes receive financial assistance from the college’s charitable foundation. The curriculum stressed the study of texts relating to Islamic law, Arabic grammar, logic and dogma, as well as some poetry. Like the maktap, madrasas employed oral-aural methods of teaching and learning. After some time in the madrasa, students could recite the Qu’ran and understand it, at least in part; they could read and write in Arabic and Persian (and presumably Turkic as well). By the early twentieth century some madrasa curricula also included Islamic history, astronomy, geography, literature and medicine— an indication of the influence of the jadidist or‘new method’movement (see below), and perhaps of the Chinese new curriculum, even in these traditional institutions.

Opinions on the quality of Xinjiang’s madrasa education vary with place, time and the outlook of the observer (most available information comes from Westerners), but while some of the colleges may have served as little more than hostels for the urban poor, permanent students and other hangers on, some at least were vital centres of scholarship where influential mullahs trained students from a wide catchment area in Islamic jurisprudence and thus linked Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims to intellectual trends in the broader world represented by Bukhara. Training at a madrasa allowed men to become mullahs and opened the way for employment in the (Qing) beg bureaucracy as a judge (qazi or qazi räis) or as a teachers in madrasas.

After reconquering the region in 1878, then, the Qing shifted its approach to Xinjiang to one that was more assimilative and sinicising. Personnel with top political and military authority were for the first time predominantly Han, not Manchu, Mongol or Uyghur. The beg officials were down-graded, though they remained essential. And the state attempted to implement in Xinjiang education systems based on the same content and pedagogical style as those in China proper, first through Confucian education for Uyghur élites, and then through ‘modern’ Chinese-language education for, in theory if not practice, all Uyghur children. Both educational initiatives joined and in some ways challenged local educational systems already in place. In fact, a parallel effort to modernise Islamic education had already appeared in Xinjiang from the 1880s and 1890s, inspired by the jadidist movement in the Crimea and Central Asia and by developments in Turkey. We will examine Xinjiang’s jadidist education and its influence below (see ‘Islamic modern education’); first, however, we will look at the results of Xinjiang provincialisation and the political upheavals that followed the fall of the Qing dynasty.

Achievements of Provincialisation

Fiscal Matters

After the creation of Xinjiang Province (1884) Xinjiang’s annual subvention from the treasury and provinces of China proper was formally stabilised until 1901 at 3.4 million taels (passed on each year out of 4.8 million sent to Gansu-Shaanxi-Xinjiang Governor-General’s office). This was a considerable reduction from the annual average of 11 million taels which Zuo and his armies had drawn since 1876 for military and reconstruction expenses, and only covered Xinjiang governmental and military salaries and operating costs. The 3.4 million taels provided nothing for the continued reconstruction or enhancement of infrastructure that in the long term might have increased revenues locally available to the Xinjiang government. Moreover, once Russia relinquished Yili (1881), the court considered Xinjiang’s crisis resolved, and turned its primary attentions to the next looming disaster, tensions with France over Annam (northern Vietnam). War with France would erupt in the south in 1884-5, intensifying the need for coastal defences. Thereafter no extra funds to be invested in Xinjiang were available; for example, the court refused a request by the Yili General for 1.9 million taels for reconstruction in the newly recovered Yili territory, and all non-essential work was suspended. Moreover, the court exerted political pressure on Xinjiang governors to cut costs below their allotted subsidy, and the budgeted 3.4 million taels did not always arrive in timely fashion, if at all.

The Boxer debacle in 1990 burdened the Qing and China for thirtynine years with an annual 30-40 million tael indemnity to the foreign powers, which the court paid from both commercial and customs tax revenues and by docking provincial budgets. Xinjiang province, despite its perennial deficit status, was charged an annual 700, 000 taels as its share of the indemnity payment. As a result of this and other budget cuts, Xinjiang’s annual subsidy fell in 1901 from 3.4 million to 2.58 million taels. But in fact the situation was even worse than this. Kataoka Kazutada has established that the actual amounts forwarded to the new province after 1900 fell short even of this reduced quota, occasionally by over a million taels. In 1900, for example, the province received only 1.78 million taels; in 1909 only 1.21 million.

The plan for a provincial administration and slimmed-down military deployment implemented in Qing Xinjiang after 1884, with its promises of more security at lower cost, was predicated on the potential to increase local revenues in tandem with Chinese immigration and land reclamation. However, the Sino-French War diverted funds that might have been available for Xinjiang’s reconstruction, and the Boxer indemnity then halved the province’s basic operating budget. This is one way in which the military and diplomatic pressure of the Western powers and Japan on the Qing directly affected the dynasty’s security on the Inner Asian frontier. To compensate for lost revenues, after 1902 Xinjiang authorities increased tax rates and imposed a variety of surtaxes. By 1910 the total revenue from the land tax (tianfu) had quintupled compared with 1887; this was despite the fact that overall land area under cultivation during this period actually declined from 11, 480, 190 mu (about 1, 740, 000 acres) to 10, 554, 705 mu. Various commercial taxes, including internal customs (likin or lijiri) also provided increased revenues. Local revenue sources had thus been expanded, but the burden on taxpaying farmers increased substantially.

Land Reclamation and Resettlement

Though expansion of arable land and encouragement of Chinese in-migration were priorities of Xinjiang’s reconstruction and provincialisation programmes, the results of these programmes between the 1880s and 1911 were mixed and somewhat unexpected. While there was an initial rush of Han population into Xinjiang, these migrants included many peasants temporarily fleeing the devastation in their hometowns in Gansu without plans to settle permanently. They were reluctant to homestead more distant sites with harsher environments, preferring Xinjiang’s eastern and northern areas that were already relatively thickly settled. Furthermore, for various reasons, neither the demobilised soldiers from Hunan and Gansu nor the exiled convicts made good farmers. Many of the lands reclaimed in the 1880s were later abandoned, and for this reason the total area registered as under cultivation actually declined by the turn of the century. Xinjiang would not become intensively populated by Han until after 1949.

But there was an important demographic shift of a different sort underway in Xinjiang. Attracted by the fertile lands in the north and east left empty by the wars, poor Uyghurs had begun migrating from the south to the Yili area, Tacheng (Tabarghatai), Kur Kara Usu, Jinghe and Urumchi and even the chain of settlements (previously almost entirely Chinese) from the capital to Qitai. Uyghurs were also migrating, some with government assistance, to the nearly vacant lands on the lower reaches of the Tarim River, the Lop Nor area and around today’s Ruo-qiang. The walled city of Buchang Cheng was built in 1893 as the administrative centre of the area’s growing population. In the first years of the twentieth century Governor Tao Mo acknowledged both this fact and the mixed record of post-reconquest Chinese resettlement programmes in a memorial requesting a halt to intensive efforts to resettle Chinese. The ‘turbaned people (Uyghurs) have lived on the frontier for generations.…Their bodies are acclimated to the land, and their hearts content with the work…If we resettle a household [of Uyghurs], we will get a household’s worth of results’, or if the household is large, he added, two household’s worth. The government would also be spared the sizeable expense of relocating people across hundreds of kilometres of desert from Gansu.

The spread of Uyghurs from the western cities of the Tarim Basin throughout the entire province is a Qing period development with significant long-term consequences. The Qing conquest and administration of Zungharia and Altishahr led ultimately to the belief by nationalistic Chinese that a territory known as ‘Xinjiang’ (New Frontier) was part of the Chinese motherland. However, the Qing imperial experience had an analogous effect on the sedentary Turkic-speaking population of the Tarim Basin oases, the group now known as Uyghurs. The Qing destroyed the Zunghars and scaled back the nomadic population in the north; it unified Zungharia and the Tarim Basin administratively under a single name and political aegis; it relocated Uyghurs from the Tarim Basin to farm the Yili valley; it promoted the conversion of forest and rangeland in northern and eastern sections of Xinjiang into farmland; it improved communications throughout the region. These factors, and the death and flight of many Chinese between 1864 and 1878, made possible the fanning out of Uyghur farmers and merchants from the south-west to northern, eastern and south-eastern parts of Xinjiang, where they had not dwelt in appreciable numbers before. By the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, though the Uyghur population was still concentrated in the south-west and the Chinese in the northeast of the province, Xinjiang in its entirety , beyond just the Tarim Basin, Turfan and Hami, was becoming a Uyghur homeland.

Overall the population of Xinjiang was recovering from the turmoil of the 1860s and 1870s and resuming the pattern of increase which began in the mid-eighteenth century. A census taken in 1887 in the three circuits of Zhenxi-Dihua, Aqsu and Kashgar—i.e. all Xinjiang except the sparsely inhabited Yili-Tarbaghatai circuit—counted 1, 238, 583 people (including some 66, 000 Han, 33, 114 Tungans and 1, 132, 000 Uyghurs). At that time Han and Chinese Muslim numbers remained well below their antebellum levels—at the start of the nineteenth century, some 155, 000 Chinese settlers (including Muslim Chinese) had lived in Xinjiang. The Uyghur population, on the other hand, increased rapidly through the nineteenth century, almost doubling since 1831, the troubles notwithstanding. By 1907-8 the combined population of all four circuits was in the range of 1, 650, 000 to 2, 000, 000 (the two available sources disagree). Although these later figures are not broken down by ethnicity, the bulk of the population (1.4-1.8 million) lived mostly in the Aqsu and Kashgar circuits, which were predominantly Uyghur. (On Xinjiang population, see also ‘The Peacock Flies West’in Chapter 7.)


Military readiness was another aspect in which provincehood did not entirely live up to the expectations of its early proponents. Military forces in Xinjiang and Gansu did deal effectively with Muslim (Salar) uprisings in Gansu in the 1890s. But just as during the 1850s and 1860s, when the expenses related to the Taiping and other rebellions in China cut into the silver shipments on which the Qing banners in Xinjiang depended, Xinjiang’s budget strictures after the imposition of the Boxer indemnity again contributed to a hollowing out of the Qing military in the far west. British visitors in the first decade of the twentieth century, who took special notice of troop levels owing to their perennial fear that Russia would annex Xinjiang, commented on the low numbers and poor condition of Qing soldiers throughout the cities of Xinjiang and Gansu. Their comments indicate a great discrepancy between paper quotas of soldiers supposedly stationed in each city and actual numbers present and able to pass muster. Budget crisis, corruption, opium addiction, the aging of the military population, and unwillingness of Qing local authorities to raise local Uyghur troops all contributed to this military unreadiness. The military reforms that followed provincehood and accompanied the ‘New Policies’ programme in the first decade of the nineteenth century were primarily aimed at cutting costs through troop reductions, and had little substantial effect; moreover neither was the command structure unified nor the forces thoroughly modernised (despite some units adopting the moniker ‘New Armies’ after 1905).

Commerce and Trade

From the time of the Qing conquest commerce had become an increasingly important part of Xinjiang’s economy, in part because the Qing personnel and growing local population needed provisions, and in part because peace in the region allowed merchants of many backgrounds to restore the Xinjiang region’s traditional position as commercial conduit between China and India, Central Asia and, more recently, Russia. However, the commercial pattern changed in certain ways following the 1864-78 hiatus in Qing rule, with new Chinese merchant groups replacing those most active earlier, and with Russian traders gaining a predominant position in the region.

The principal merchant group in eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Xinjiang had been the Shanxi traders, whose family-owned businesses dominated the long-distance trade between China and Xinjiang. Shanxi firms ran chains of retail operations and pawnshops, and provided the remittance banking services that facilitated both private and official transfers of money. After 1879 these firms lost part of their lucrative tea monopoly, as the Hunanese-controlled Xinjiang government handed the loose tea business to Hunanese merchants (Shanxi merchants continued to ship and sell brick tea to Xinjiang’s Mongol and Kazak consumers). A more serious challenge came from merchants from the capital province (Zhili), known as the Beijing-Tianjin clique or ‘Eight Great Houses’ (Ba Da Jia). These merchants had originally contracted to supply Zuo Zongtang’s reconquest campaigns and used this opportunity to establish shops in each Xinjiang city. They linked the capital and the coast (Tianjin) with Xinjiang via the Gobi desert route and Qitai, moving such luxury items as dried vegetables and seafood, textiles and other manufactured goods. The Zhili houses outstripped the Shanxi merchants in the twentieth century after the silver subsidy from China proper to Xinjiang fell off and the Shanxi banks which had handled those silver transfers lost business. By the 1930s the Beijing-Tianjin clique controlled some 60 per cent of Xinjiang’s domestic trade with the rest of China.

Another change involves Tungan (Hui) merchants. Many Chinese Muslims had been small-scale traders earlier in the Qing period. According to Zeng Wenwu (a Chinese historian of Xinjiang who wrote in the 1930s), after the reconquest and provincehood of Xinjiang, Tungan merchants developed more highly-capitalised businesses, extending their trading operations to Sichuan, Beijing and even overseas by the first decades of the twentieth century. Some Uyghur merchants, such as the Musa Bay (Musabayov) brothers discussed below, likewise expanded operations to the Russian empire and Europe.

Russian Trade

However, the most dramatic commercial developments in this period involved not Chinese but Russian merchants. Russian subjects (Central Asians, and some disguised European Russians) had been trading in Xinjiang since the early 1800s, often through Kazaks who participated in annual trade fairs at designated zones in Yili and Tarbaghatai. In 1851 this trade was codified by the Sino-Russian Treaty of Ghulja (also known as the Yili-Tarbaghatai Commercial Treaty). This agreement allowed for duty-free entry of Russian goods into Xinjiang (and for this reason is considered by the Chinese an ‘unequal treaty’), but it also allowed the Qing to monitor the trade more closely by restricting it to designated zones inYili and Tarbaghatai where the Russian merchants were allowed to warehouse and exchange goods and reside for part of the year under the supervision of a Russian consul. For the most part the Qing exported brick tea and some cloth in return for Russian livestock, hides, furs and manufactured goods.

Following a conflict with Russians over a gold mine in disputed territory south-west of the city, Chinese miners looted and burnt the Russian warehouses in Tarbaghatai in 1855. Qing officials quickly sought to defuse tensions; after negotiations with the military officer, explorer, scholar and modern Kazak hero Ch. Ch. Valikhanov the Qing eventually agreed to rebuild the Tarbaghatai trade zone and compensate Russia for lost goods. Modern Chinese scholars have portrayed this event as patriotic resistance to Russian imperialism, but trade continued to grow thereafter, with little apparent popular dissent.

The rebellion and inter-oasis fighting of the mid-1860s brought almost all of Xinjiang’s foreign trade, including that with Russia, to a halt. Russian trade gradually recovered after that, and from 1870 to 1871 more than doubled to a value of over 600, 000 roubles. Russia concluded a commercial treaty with Ya‘qub Beg in 1872, and trade volume expanded to a million roubles of trade thereafter.

The treaty of St Petersburg (1881) opened Xinjiang further to Russian traders, with new consulates in Tarbaghatai, Yili and Kashgar the next year, and one in Urumchi four years later. Most important, the treaty extended Russian merchants’ duty-free status. This proved a great advantage in a period when likin taxes were a major source of provincial income throughout China. Not only did Russian subjects (or those, including some Uyghurs, who successfully passed themselves off as Russians) pay no tax, but Chinese merchants who did pay were at such a palpable disadvantage that Xinjiang authorities could not levy the tax consistently without driving them completely from the market. Moreover, compared to Chinese merchants, who had to transport goods by caravan hundreds of kilometres, paying likin many times en route, Russians in Xinjiang enjoyed the advantages of geographic proximity further enhanced by the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railroad (1904). (The Turkestan-Siberian Railroad, completed in 1929-30, would provide still greater access, as it passed close to the Xinjiang border). Russian liquor, metal goods, fabrics, lamps, ceramics, watches, cigarettes and so forth were all much cheaper than their Chinese counterparts on Xinjiang markets, a fact reflected in the Russian-derived Uyghur names for many modern Western products imported from around this time through the twentieth century: lampa (oil lamp), sharpa (scarf), pilati (women’s Western-style dress), nefit (petrol), pechina (biscuit). The rouble circulated freely in the bazaars of Kashgar.

Russian merchants mainly imported raw materials from Xinjiang, including 60 per cent of the cotton crop from Turfan, the largest cotton producer in Xinjiang. Russian demand for cotton was great: in 1902 Kashgar exported some 1, 350, 000 roubles worth of cotton cloth out of 3 million roubles total exports to Russia. Altogether in 1902-4 the Russian consulates of Yili, Urumchi and Kashgar recorded annual exports worth almost 5.9 million roubles, and Russian imports to Xinjiang of 3.4 million roubles. The prominent position of Russian trade in the Xinjiang economy would continue until it evaporated during the Russian Revolution, and then pick up again.

Chinese historians generally view the implementation of provincial status in Xinjiang in a highly positive light. In a recent synthetic history by several prominent Chinese historians of Xinjiang, Wang Xilong writes that after provincialisation ‘Xinjiang’s political and economic connections to the rest of China (neidi) grew closer, and objectively speaking, for Xinjiang’s socio-economic development and for the development of a unified multi-nationality state, the significance of this cannot be underestimated.’ Advocates of Uyghur autonomy or independence, on the other hand, who usually cite 1884 as the date of Chinese ‘annexation’ of Xinjiang, are rueful, even speculating that if the Qing had not chosen to reconquer Xinjiang and the territory had fallen under Russian control, then Eastern Turkestan would be independent today along with the former Soviet Central Asian Republics.

Symbolically significant as reconquest and provincialisation was, from the Qing imperial point of view it fell far short of its goals of tight integration and fiscal independence. On the eve of the 1911 ‘revolution’ that brought down the Qing dynasty, the new Xinjiang province was governed under a Chinese-style administrative structure more intrusive than the mid-Qing military government, but which still relied on indigenous élites to manage local affairs. Resettlement of Xinjiang by Chinese had proceeded more slowly than expected, and mass conversion of local population to Chinese ways had proceeded not at all. Fiscally, Xinjiang government still depended in theory upon subsidies from other Chinese provinces and the court, though in fact the shortfalls in those subsidies led to ad hoc taxes and increased corruption. The military could not maintain its designated troop strength. The Faustian bargain concluded with Russia for the return of the Yili Valley in the treaty of St Petersburg left the province wide open to penetration by Russian merchants, thus severely limiting commercial integration with China proper.

Life in the Tarim Oases at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Though Turkic society was by no means stagnant or passive during the decades following Ya‘qub Beg’s reign and the Qing reconquest, our knowledge of what life was like, and how it was changing for Uyghurs or Kazaks in Xinjiang in this period is limited by the type and quality of sources. Uyghur sources are not yet easily available or greatly exploited by scholars. And Chinese sources from the late Qing period are not greatly helpful in this regard, as Chinese writers of the time rarely depicted local life at all, and when they did, tended to do so in picaresque verses or brief stylised and often cribbed passages in the local surveys known as gazetteers. European writers were given to their own stereotypes. As was common in Westerners’ visions of ‘natives’ or ‘Asiatics’ in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, British visitors to southern Xinjiang, and even George Macartney, the long-time British representative in Kashgar, tended to consider the Tarim oasis dwellers lethargic and apathetic. Colonel Francis Younghusband referred to them as ‘the essence of imperturbable mediocrity.’

While the smug racism of imperialists should hardly be taken at face value, there is nevertheless a clear sense that after the frequent bloodletting and palpable anxiety of the era of rebellions and Ya‘qub Beg, the oasis cities of the Tarim Basin moved to calmer rhythms for the next two to three decades. Life revolved around the marketplace, mosques and mazars (Sufi shrines) as well as the low mud-brick homes with their shaded courtyards. These houses were densely packed in the cities and more comfortably spaced along willow-shaded lanes in the villages. Most Uyghurs had little contact with Chinese officialdom in their fortified ‘new’ or ‘Chinese (Khitai) cities’ walled off or at a remove from the city proper, except possibly for a sighting of the Qing Amban abroad in his sedan chair, escorted by soldiers. Chinese and Tungan merchants—and gamblers with their dice and cards—were of course a presence in the bazaars. And on rare occasions a legal dispute would have to be brought before the Chinese magistrate, as when two well-paid rainmakers in Kashgar, around the year 1900, produced excessive precipitation and were caned and thrown in the Chinese stocks for their negligence. The tax burden was not light, but indications are it was less than under Ya‘qub Beg, at least initially after reconquest. Corruption was ubiquitous, from the onbashi and other Beg’s who collected the head-tax, sales and other taxes, to the Chinese officials (such as the Hunanese ex-military officers from Zuo’s army). Officials often paid to obtain their postings and strove to make a return on the investment before their transfer or retirement. The burden in taxes and bribes on common people grew in the early twentieth century, as the Xinjiang government’s financial underpinnings became more precarious.

In southern Xinjiang, on farms irrigated with river water, many people grew cotton, which they spun and wove into cloth for export, generally via camel caravan. Others grew wheat and rice; vegetables and especially fruits were plentiful. A simple meal of apricots, almonds, peaches, grapes with flat-bread (nan) and tea was common, and was served as the standard manner of greeting a guest. Few could afford to eat mutton daily, but yak and horsemeat were cheaper alternatives, as was fish from larger rivers. Rice polu (pilaf or biryani) steamed with sheep’s fat, carrots and onions was a festive meal: the presentation of the polu crowned the all-night feasts held in rotation by men belonging to village or city-neighbourhood clubs known as mäshräp . After a night of eating, tea-drinking, music and dancing, men ate polu with the tips of their fingers from copper platters and rubbed the grease from their hands onto their boots before departing, just in time for the dawn prayer.

Everyone, men and women alike, came out during festivals, such as the ancient Persian new year Nawruz (still celebrated, despite the remonstrances of mullahs), or on market days to ‘make tamasha’: they would stroll about, greet friends, and see what was happening in the marketplace or covered bazaar. In addition to foodstuffs, tea, hardware, carpets, furniture, notions, dyes, medicines and imported Indian or Russian clothes and manufactured goods, each in its own section of the bazaar, there were beggars, male and female soothsayers by the town gates and a variety of entertainments to enjoy. One of these, the manual predecessor of a well-known arcade ride, a tall pole with a wagon wheel mounted at its apex was driven into the ground. People grasped ropes hanging from the wheel and ran around, to be swung into the air as the wheel spun atop the pole. There was story-telling and singing, and musicians played while dancers whirled on a large carpet spread on the ground. Sometimes there were animal acts in the bazaar—one man had trained a goat to balance on a platform atop a high pole. Another led a dancing bear on a chain. Someone else stood a donkey on top of a cart, antlers lashed to its head to resemble a deer. Chinese opera was performed in a tent outside the city walls; even Uyghurs could recognise Guan Gong by his red beard and fierce demeanor. On weddings and other special occasions young men would oghlaq tartish —play the ‘kid game’: a kind of all-against-all rugby on horseback, common throughout Central Asia (where it is also known as boz kashi ), in which mounted competitors strove to seize the carcass of a baby goat and haul it over a finish line.

The spiritual world of the oases was active. Harmful spirits (Jin), ghosts and the evil eye were omnipresent, especially threatening to children; remedies included verses from the Qur’an sewn into a cap or other amulet, musical exorcisms or simply addressing children in unflattering terms (‘thief’) so as not to attract evil. Many people took their requests for divine help to the mazars, like the Hazrat-i Afaq (Afaq Khoja) Mazar outside Kashgar. At these saints’ shrines (see Chapter 3) people prayed tearfully for health, children or other miracles. The shrines were also pleasant retreats and gathering places, with a pond and shade trees under which to drink tea. Young men and women found ways to meet here, and this neutral territory was often used by matchmakers to conduct their business.

Formal prayer and services in mosques were restricted to men, but some women took part in devotional gatherings in prayer halls (khaniqa) with a female master to whom they swore themselves disciples. The meetings consisted of swaying, vigorous breathing, chanting, reading of passages from religious books and recitation of Arabic verses from the Qu’ran, followed by energetic dancing. We have a detailed description of such a prayer rite, as practised by men in Kashgar:

[In the] khaneka, a mud hut without windows or ceiling … men of all ages gather. The ishan [master] has a venerable position. His disciples (murid) present him with their offering of food or money. After they have assembled they sing religious hymns accompanied by stringed instruments, like the dutar, sutar [both long-neck lutes] and kalon [a hammer dulcimer]. Thereafter follows the wild music of the dap [frame drum] and the clarinet (surnai). When the music has stopped there follows a dance of an indescribably wild nature. They jump and run like veritable madmen. Many of them fall unconscious to the ground because of the exertion. In a circle around the dancers the other people sit rhythmically rocking their bodies and inhaling and exhaling with a noisy, snorting sound. This sound represents the words ya-hu [Arabic ya huwa/oh Him!’]. When the dance has stopped food is offered whereafter they all lie down and sleep.

The Fall of the Qing

The 1911 ‘Revolution’ in Xinjiang

The main instigators in Xinjiang in 1911-12 were similar to those in contemporaneous events elsewhere in China: revolutionary elements in the new army, working closely with secret society members. Zuo Zongtang’s Hunan army included many members of the Gelao hui (Brothers and Elders Society), a secret brotherhood with eighteenth century origins and anti-Qing aspirations. There is even a story that Zuo himself was forced to join the society as a ‘Dragon Head’ chief before leading his army to campaign in the Chinese north-west. Once in Xinjiang, the Gelao hui spread beyond the army through members who had been demobilised when some 30,000 troops were cut after the reconquest. Although many of these soldiers were given government support to settle and farm new lands, many were unsuccessful at agriculture and left the land. They then often turned to the Gelao hui and became involved in organised crime, especially the cultivation and selling of opium, which had become a major business in the Qitai region in north-eastern Xinjiang. Other, non-military settlers likewise gravitated to the opium business and the Brothers and Elders. The Gelao hui also recruited among Tungans and, according to future Governor Yang Zengxin, among Turkic Muslims as well. For the most part, however, it was among Han soldiers and new settlers in Xinjiang that employment and the mutual aid network provided by the Brothers and Elders Society were most welcome.

Revolutionaries worked primarily within the ranks of the New Army units, which had been created in Yili and Urumchi as part of the New Policies reforms of the late Qing. Yili General Chang-geng was a strong proponent of the reforms, and formed a new-style infantry brigade around a core battalion of New Army troops transferred from Hubei. In Urumchi (at that time referred to as Dihua, ‘guided to civilisation’), Governor Lian-kui began drilling his troops in accordance with Western and Japanese models; the force was renamed the ‘Xinjiang Army’. Both regions opened military academies and hired instructors from China proper. To command his New Army in Yili, Chang-geng retained Yang Zuanxu, a graduate of a Japanese military academy, who was secretly a member of the anti-Qing Revolutionary Alliance (Tongmeng hui). A dozen other revolutionaries with experience propagandising in the New Army in central China found their way to Yili with Yang after being driven out of Hubei in a Qing crackdown. Among them were Feng Temin (a.k.a. Feng Yi), a journalist and graduate of the Self-Strengthening Academy and member of the Society for Daily Improvement (Rezhi hui) in Wuhan. In Yili Feng and other conspirators involved themselves in various institutions connected to the New Army and in particular produced the Yili Vernacular Newspaper (Yili baihua bao) in Chinese, Manchu, Mongol and Uyghur editions. This paper was effective in politicising soldiers, merchants, Gelao hui members and Muslims in the region. In propaganda directed at Turkic Muslims, the revolutionaries drew an association between Zuo Zongtang’s massacre of Muslims during the reconquest of Xinjiang and the famous Yangzhou and Jiading massacres during the Qing conquest of China in the seventeenth century. The implication was that although he was Han, Zuo had been doing the bloody work of the Manchus, and Muslims should thus make common cause with the Han to bring down their common oppressors. Such definition of the Republican revolution as specifically anti-Manchu, a common theme throughout China, would require modification later, as the 1911 Revolution’s chief ideologue, Sun Yat-sen, would discover: One could not easily denounce the Qing empire and Zuo’s reconquest of Xinjiang without opening the question of whether the territory was rightfully ‘Chinese’.

In Urumchi the leading revolutionary organiser was Liu Xianjun, likewise a Hunanese returned from study in Japan. Liu arrived in Xinjiang with a relative’s introduction to ‘offer his services’ to Governor Yuan Dahua. Yuan first tried to assign Liu to a position where he could keep an eye on him, and then to pay his fare to send him back east, but Liu lingered in Urumchi, forging connections with Gelao hui elements and agitating within the army.

The mutiny in Wuchang in October 1911 and subsequent proclamation of the Republic of China raised tensions in Xinjiang. In Urumchi Liu Xianjun’s plans for a coup were leaked to Yuan Dahua, who arrested and executed two of Liu’s co-conspirators. Liu was forced to act prematurely in late December with only some 100-200 troops, and was unable to convince the rest of the army to join them. Qing forces repressed the uprising within days. However, after executing the leaders Yuan allowed many of Liu’s supporters to return to farms outside Urumchi, and simply transferred others to southern Xinjiang. This had the effect of spreading the Brothers and Elders members and revolutionary influence to southern Xinjiang.

In Yili disaffection in the army had increased after the energetic Chang-geng was transferred to Shaanxi-Gansu in 1909 and replaced as Yili General by Guang-fu, an illiterate who failed to carry through on his predecessor’s military reforms and remained unaware of the corruption, inequalities and the degree of revolutionary sentiment among the rank and file in the army. Guang-fu was replaced in turn in 1911 by Zhi-rui, a strong Manchu loyalist and cousin of two of the Guangxu emperor’s concubines. Zhi-rui was reportedly party to a secret plan to create a fall-back Manchu state out of Mongolia, Xinjiang and Gansu should the Chinese revolutionaries expand their influence beyond the Yangzi Valley with Chang-geng, Yuan Dahua and others, Zhi-rui would then welcome the Xuantong emperor to carry on the dynasty from a new capital in Outer Mongolia.

After taking office Zhi-rui discovered the extent of revolutionary activities in Yang Zuanxu’s New Army and promptly disbanded it (he maintained personal command of remaining banner forces). Zhi-rui also demanded that the soldiers return their official-issue leather outergarments before travelling to their distant homes—in dead of winter. This order, not surprisingly promptly drove the entire New Army force to the revolutionary side. With Yang Zuanxu urging action, in January 1912 Feng Temin and associates led the uprising. Virtually all significant groups in Ghulja (Yining) joined the revolt, including military units, officials in charge of the key South Arsenal, the Gelao hui, Tungans and even local Uyghurs. The last hold-outs, a division of Manchu garrison troops, eventually surrendered after Yang Zuanxu persuaded Guang-fu to broker and guarantee a truce in the name of ‘five peoples republicanism’ (wuzu ganghe). After executing Zhi-rui in front of the old drum tower in Ghulja, a provisional government proclaimed itself on 8 January 1912, with Guang-fu as nominal head (dudu)and influential ministries controlled by Yang Zuanxu and the revolutionary leaders.

Yang Zengxin Comes to Power

For neither the first nor the last time, Xinjiang now had two rival governments, that of the republican revolutionaries in Yili, and Yuan Dahua’s rump Qing administration in Urumchi. Fighting soon broke out between them, with major battles occurring in severe winter conditions during the first months of 1912. Yuan’s forces, including Uyghur cavalry, defeated the Yili army at Jinghe in January and February; but after Yang Zuanxu, leading his own troops, won a major victory in March, a standoff ensued.

Already in February the Dowager empress in Beijing had arranged for the Xuantong emperor (Pu-yi) to abdicate, and Yuan Shikai had taken effective control of the new Chinese Republic. In Urumchi Yuan Dahua recognised the Republic and soon thereafter stepped down from his post. As talks began with the Yili forces to distribute power in the province, a complex struggle ensued. The Gelao hui, in communication with the Yili leaders, launched a campaign of terror, assassinating eleven former Qing officials in Zhenxi, Karashahr (Yanchi), Aqsu (Wensu), Kucha, Luntai and Kashgar in April and May. One of their victims, Yang Houyou, was Yuan Dahua’s chosen successor as governor. Military figures who were also Gelao hui members began to take control of the south.

Meanwhile, former Urumchi Circuit Intendant and Commissioner for Judicial Affairs, Yang Zengxin (1867-1928), had quietly seized the capital. Yang Zengxin was originally from Yunnan, and had served as circuit intendant and district magistrate in Gansu and Ningxia before his posting to Xinjiang. There was a high concentration of Chinese Muslims in each of these places, and Yang enjoyed good relations with them. While Yuan Dahua’s Urumchi troops were tied down fighting the Yili revolutionaries, Yang deputised an exiled convict, Ma Fuxing, to raise a force consisting of some 2, 000 personally loyal Tungans and with this personal guard pressured Yuan Dahua into retiring and fleeing the province. Yang Zengxin then himself accepted Yuan Shikai’s appointment as Civil and Military Governor. Yang came to terms with the Yili group, and in June convinced their leaders to accept positions in a unified provincial government. Yang Zuanxu, for example, became military commander in Kashgar, and Feng Temin became commissioner for Xinjiang foreign affairs.

Over the next three years Yang consolidated his control over the entire province, appointing fellow Yunnanese and relatives to many posts, creating a provincial spy network to report personally to him, and effectively eliminating both the Yili revolutionaries and the Gelao hui. He managed the latter task by first incorporating his rivals into the government, scattering them to posts throughout the province, then quietly having them arrested and executed one by one. It was a technique he would employ again.

Hami and Turfan Uprisings

In the last years of Qing rule, while the far west remained relatively quiet, the Hami and Turfan region in the east became Xinjiang’s new hotspot. One cause of unrest involved the khan or prince of Hami (Qumul) who had assisted Zuo Zongtang in the reconquest, just as his ancestors had aided the Qianlong emperor’s campaigns. As a reward, after province-hood in 1884 the Qing allowed him to keep the serfs and lands that had been his under the Qing hereditary politico-military system. The Hami khan oversaw agrarian, pastoral, religious and legal affairs for some 6, 500 people in thirteen companies (designated by the Mongolian term sumu, arrows). He required corvée service of them in his fields and mines. The khan had recently greatly increased the corvée requirement from three to seven days per month, and his labour bosses forced peasants to perform a similar amount of private work for them, with the result that farmers had insufficient time to work their own fields. Another source of tension was the flow into the Hami and Turfan area of Chinese settlers who paid agricultural tax to the Qing authorities but were exempt from the corvée. In 1907 some one thousand Uyghur peasants converged on the prince’s compound demanding to be put on a par with Chinese farmers, as rent payers rather than serfs of the prince. This unprecedented demand arose, no doubt, from Chinese migration, increased foreign demand for Turfan cotton, and other recent changes in Xinjiang that had problematised the old Qing system of differing administrations for different ethnic constituencies. (Chinese scholars writing from a Marxist perspective understandably highlight this event as marking Uyghur discontent at the ‘feudal’ society of the Qing. While Chinese historiography has been derided for its loose use of the term ‘feudal’ to cover the entire Chinese imperial period, in this case the word more or less fits the personalistic relationship of the khan with his sumus).

The Qing helped the Hami khan repress the uprising and carted the ring-leaders off to Urumchi for execution. Despite some pressure from the state to reduce the corvée, the Hami prince successfully maintained the status quo until early 1912. At this point, while the battles with the Yili revolutionary army occupied Governor Yuan Dahuas troops and attention elsewhere, Hami Uyghurs rebelled again. This time, under a leader named Timur, they successfully defeated the forces Urumchi sent to repress them, and retreated to a base in the mountains north-east of the city. The following year Yang Zengxin opened negotiations with the rebels, sending a commander of his own Tungan troops, Li Shoufu, as emissary to Timur’s redoubt. Li swore on the Qu’ran that the Hami Uyghurs would be relieved of the corvée if they came out of the mountains, and on the strength of this oath concluded a deal whereby Timur and 500 of his men were incorporated into the provincial army as a cavalry unit based in Urumchi.

The Turfan oasis too had been restive. In early 1910 Uyghur farmers rioted following a bad harvest and price inflation. Armed with knives and agricultural tools they attacked and burned Han settlements, stealing grain, money and horses, before being put down by Qing forces and those of the Turfan khan. Two years later there was a similar uprising, which Yang dealt with as he had the rebellion in Hami: by co-opting the rebel leader, Mu-yi-deng, and incorporating his followers into the provincial army. Through such an apparently conciliatory approach, Yang successfully defused the situation in Hami and Turfan. In fact, however, Yang never forced the Hami khan to lessen the burden of corvée, and he kept Timur and Mu-yi-deng under close watch. Their men complained of mistreatment. When the Uyghurs conspired to rebel again in September of 1913—or perhaps Yang trumped up the charges—Yang had an excuse to round up and execute the two leaders and some two hundred of the Uyghur soldiers, thereby eliminating yet another source of resistance to his rule in Xinjiang.

Islamic Modern Education

The events in Hami and Turfan centred on local issues concerning the economic well-being of Turkic peasants. Although the reference to Chinese tax status at Hami and the attacks on Chinese in Turfan hint at an element of ethnic awareness, these riots and rebellions in the early twentieth century were not attempts to throw off Qing or Chinese rule—had they been so, the acceptance by the rebels of positions in Yang’s armed forces would have been ludicrous as well as unwise. Nor were these uprisings more than opportunistically connected to the events of the 1911 ‘Revolution’ in Xinjiang. Unlike in Tibet and Mongolia, where the fall of the Qing empire led indigenous élites to declare their own national independence from a new nation , the Republic of China, there were no such élites in positions of sufficient prominence in Xinjiang to make any such proclamation, and no unified Uyghur response to the fall of the Qing.

Nevertheless, there were stirrings of nationalistic thought among more worldly Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. This spirit is reflected most strongly in the creation of new-style Turkic schools in the province, a movement led by affluent, well-travelled merchants in several Xinjiang cities. There were various influences underlying this movement. Xinjiang merchants trading abroad had contact with progressive Muslim intellectuals and educational trends in Kazan (Crimea) and other Russian cities. There they learned of the jadidist movement for modern schools which in the last decade of the nineteenth and first decade of the twentieth century was challenging the dominant maktap- and madrasa-based Islamic education in Central Asia. In Ottoman Turkey, where Uyghur merchants also travelled, a similar push was underway for enlightenment through education in subjects outside the traditional Islamic school curriculum, including mathematics, history and geography. Moreover, merchants from Russian Central Asia, especially Crimean Tatars, were numerous in northern and western Xinjiang, thanks to the Treaty of St Petersburg. The connection between the madrasas of Bukhara and the ‘ulama of western Xinjiang is another channel by which new subjects and ideas for Islamic curricular reform, including the usul-i jadid (see below), came to Qing territory. And finally, the Chinese schools of the New Policies period, established throughout the province from 1907, brought their own version of modern education, ultimately derived from Japanese models, to towns and villages of Xinjiang; despite their limitations and the unpopularity of their Chinese-language focus, the challenge presented by these new schools doubtless had the effect of raising concern among Uyghurs regarding their own communities’ level of scientific or ‘modern’ knowledge.

The earliest efforts to modernise the Islamic schools in Xinjiang were those of Hüsäyin Musa Bay Hajji (Hüsän Musabayov), a wealthy merchant based in Artush, near Kashgar, and his brother, Bahawudunbay (Baha’ al-Din; Bawudun Musabayov). Hüsäyin had travelled widely, including trips to Paris, Berlin, Moscow and Istanbul, in the course of building up his trading company in Artush; he also owned a factory in Ghulja. Made aware during these travels of Kashgar’s backwardness, in 1885 he opened a primary school in Artush organised differently from the traditional maktap. The first cohort of teachers was local, and included one graduate of a maktap in Kashgar that a few years earlier had attempted to teach modern science along with religious subjects. Hüsäyin later sent the local teachers to Kazan, where they studied at the normal college before returning and expanding the Artush primary school. The Artush school curriculum followed those of contemporary Kazan and Istanbul, influenced by the jadidist programme: language and literature, arithmetic, history, geography, nature, art, physical education, Russian, Arabic and eventually Chinese. Hüsäyin also sent talented students abroad for further study.

In 1913 Hüsäyin sent a delegation from Kashgar to Istanbul to request a modern-educated teacher from Mehmed Talat Pas, who was then in charge of an organisation promoting pan-Turkism and pan-Islam outside Turkey. Mehmed sent Ahmed Kemal, who had been exiled from his home on Rhodes when the Italians took the island the year before and had since been teaching in Istanbul. By March 1914 Ahmed Kemal was in Kashgar.

Ahmed Kemal, working with Bahawudunbay, first attempted to establish a modern school in Kashgar city. Their efforts there were frustrated, however, by ‘Umar Akhund Bay, another rich merchant, who feared the reaction of the Chinese authorities. Thus the new school, a normal college, was established in nearby Artush with funding from Hüsäyin and a charitable foundation to provide continuing support. As the goal of the new school was to train modern teachers quickly, Ahmed Kemal drafted a special cohort of students from local madrasas who already displayed a strong command of Arabic and Persian; they joined other boys from influential Artush families. Later the school offered a programme for girls.

The pedagogy at the Hüsäyniyä Mäktäpi, or Artush Normal School, reflects both the jadidist curriculum and Pan-Turanian ideology then popular in Turkey. Ahmed Kemal used textbooks produced in Istanbul. Besides their courses in religious subjects, history and geography, the students performed a play written by Ahmed Kemal and sang Turkish marches. The school uniform was a version of Ottoman court costume, and students were told the Ottoman sultan was their supreme ruler.

These innovations disturbed local conservatives, including ‘Umar Ak-hund, who petitioned GovernorYang Zengxin in Urumchi to shut down the primary and normal schools. Yang ordered local Kashgar authorities to do so, and had Ahmed Kemal and others involved with the school arrested in the summer of 1915. However, this decision aroused considerable local agitation. Moreover, Ma Shaowu, the new Prefect of Kashgar and nephew of Ma Yuanzhang, a Naqshbandi leader in Gansu, personally appealed to the governor on behalf of the new schools. Thanks to this appeal (and to a financial contribution from Bahawudunbay), Yang relented and allowed Bahawudunbay to reopen the schools, provided that Chinese language and physical drill were added to the curriculum—thus bringing their format closer to that of the Chinese new schools.

Bahawudunbay reopened his school, this time in the centre of Kashgar. Though the numbers of students reportedly declined immediately after that, the school and its Artush sister retained their influence as students fanned out to other communities to found and teach in new schools. Physical education apparently caught on in later years: Uyghur new school students won back-to-back victories in football matches against teams fielded by the Swedish missionaries and the British consulate. It was said that the British consul was so put off to see the European defeated by the native that he fled the scene without making good on his promise to give a horse and saddle to the winning team. Thus, with an opportunity to capitalise on his rival’s discomfiture, the Russian consul stepped in to grandly present the Kashgarians with his congratulations and a new football.

Several of the Turks who accompanied or followed Ahmed Kemal from Turkey to Kashgar wound up in various Xinjiang cities as schoolteachers, a fact which worried British and Russian consuls during the First World War. After China joined the Allies and broke relations with Germany in 1917, Ottoman Turks in Xinjiang lost their diplomatic representation, formerly provided by Germany Yang Zengxin then brought Ahmed Kemal to Urumchi and kept him busy as a translator until finally sending him to Shanghai for repatriation with other POWs at the end of the war.

In Urumchi, as in Kashgar, a similar mix of native and foreign merchants and intellectuals was working to promote enlightenment for Turkic peoples under Chinese rule, mobilising the same linkages between foreign trade, Islamic philanthropy and nationalism. In the early twentieth century there were thousands of Russian subjects in northern Xinjiang, including Tatars strongly influenced by jadidist modernisation ideology. As early as 1908 the Tatar merchants in Ghulja opened a school teaching Turkish to girls. There were likewise a large number of prosperous traders in Urumchi. Even under the wary eye of Yang Zengxin, Ahmed Kemal maintained a correspondence with this community, who provided him with Tatar journals and other materials. One of his correspondents was Burhan Shähidi (Shahidullah), the Tartar who would later become Xinjiang Provincial Chairman during the transition period between Chinese Nationalist (Guomindang) and Chinese Communist Party rule. In the late 1940s Burhan would espouse Chinese nationalism, but in the 1920s he and other Tartars in northern Xinjiang were concerned about the Turkic nation—Ahmed Kemal wrote in his memoirs that he and Burhan were collaborating ‘to defend their nation against the forces of decline’. We know from these memoirs also—though not from Burhan’s own, published later in the PRC—that Burhan was a reader and fan of Ismail Bey Gasprinskii (1851-1914), the Tatar founder of the jadid movement, and that he published a journal in Urumchi entitled Turan (a romantic designation for the Central Asian land of the Turks).

Burhan and other local Russian Turkic merchants and intellectuals also directed their energies towards education. In spite of criticism from conservative Uyghur mullahs and merchants (often egged on by the governor), in 1920 the Turkic progressives in Urumchi invested money to open a modern school in a mosque and donated funds for tuition and teachers’ salaries. The school, initially for boys but later offering separate instruction for girls as well, was nicely appointed with a small library stocked with textbooks, newspapers, journals and books on literature and art. The school also ran a teacher-training course whose students included not only Uyghurs, but Kazaks who upon completion of the course returned to the mountains and opened schools in their yurts.

Islamic and Turkic modernism was also manifested in, and disseminated by, new-style Turkic schools in Ghulja, Yarkand, Khotan, Aqsu, Kucha, Shanshan, Hutubi, Qitai and Hami. One of the most influential of these schools was that founded by Maqsud Muhiti in Astana, just outside Turfan. Muhiti, the son of a wealthy family, had been educated in maktap and madrasa before embarking on trading trips to Urumchi, Tarbaghatai, Semipalatinsk, Kazan, Moscow and elsewhere in Russian territory, where he encountered Turkic nationalist ideals. After 1911 Muhiti and associates sent representatives to Nanjing to lobby SunYat-sen for native schools in Xinjiang. The Nanjing Government’s promises of support were never realised under Yuan Shikai. In 1913, therefore, Muhiti recruited a teacher from Kazan and started his own school in a deluxe (for the time and place) two-story structure opposite his home. The school was furnished with blackboards and student desks—equipment unknown in the rote maktap pedagogy but essential to the new goal of producing fully literate students.

This ‘rebel school’ incurred local opposition, so its male and female students were initially drawn not from Astana but from the larger cities of Turfan, Urumchi and Qitai. After the October 1917 Revolution Muhiti again travelled to Russia and recruited more teachers to teach in a network of schools he opened in Turfan city proper, Gucheng, Urumchi and Tarbaghatai. Several of these teachers and their students were later involved in newspaper publishing or held government posts; in the 1930s eighteen students from the tiny village of Astana went on to study in the Soviet Union.

Xinjiang Jadidism and Turkic Nationalism

From what little we know about the curriculum of the Turkic new schools in Xinjiang, it appears they were similar to the jadidist schools in Russian Central Asia. Besides maths, geography and natural science, they taught Islam and the local Turkic language as discrete subjects. As Adeeb Khalid has pointed out, Islam alone had been focus in the maktaps and madrasas of Central Asia, to be taught through repetition of texts in Arabic and Persian, a mimetic practice which was a goal in itself. The new schools, on the other hand, fenced off Islam as a distinct discipline. Conservative ‘ulama objected to this approach, which implicitly put Islam on a par with other forms of knowledge.

There were many changes on the horizon in the 1910s and 1920s, all notable challenges to old ways. One traditionalist Islamic scholar in Yarkand, Ghulam Muhammad Khan, compiled a list of these dangerous evils, which to his mind all fell into the same camp by virtue of their novelty. His list included Bolsheviks in Bukhara and China (the 1920s Guomindang, whom he called jadidi khitaylar—Chinese jadids); the Turks who forced the abdication of the Sultan, exposed his harem to public view, and forbade wearing of the turban; and the Wahabbists who were now occupying Mecca and Medina, destroying mausolea, and prohibiting worship at shrines. Perhaps worst of all, Ibn Saud and his son were said to know French.

Teaching about the Uyghur language and using texts written in vernacular Turki was another innovation, one closely tied to an evolving Turkic nationalism. At Maqsud Muhiti’s school in Astana, for example, the students sang songs glorifying the national language:

Mother tongue! Oh beautiful language
the wisdom of our ancestors is its source.
I understand much about the affairs of the times
all by means of you—miraculous language.

Ironically, the lyrics of this paean to the ‘national’ language were in Tatar, not Uyghur. This highlights the fact that that the jadidist discourse emerging among Turkic merchant and intellectual élites in Xinjiang in the 1910s and 1920s remained vague about the actual nature and locus of the ‘nation’ it promoted. It was not focused on a ‘Uyghur’ nation—popularisation of and identification with this term would come later. Rather, this nation was that of Turkic Central Asian Muslims, to which the merchants and intelligentsia, be they Russian or Chinese subjects, saw themselves belonging. Furthermore, a nation-state free of colonial rule was not an explicit goal of these educators and publicists in Xinjiang. If jadidism in Russia is any guide, the widely-travelled merchants who promoted new education in Xinjiang hoped primarily to modernise the Turkic nation and allow youth to function effectively in the current political and commercial environment—thus as the schools developed, they came to include Chinese, Russian, Turkish and accounting among their new subjects.

Nevertheless, it is not a long step from more general Turkic nationalism to aspirations for an ‘East Turkestan’ within the boundaries of Chinese Xinjiang: many of the leaders of the rebellions and independence movements of the 1930s were connected with the reformist educational movement of the 1910s and 1920s.