History of Xinjiang: Between Islam and China (16th-19th Centuries)

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

As the survey in Chapters 1 and 2 shows, from the earliest times Xinjiang history has been the history of interaction with other places, be it through migration, trade or imperial conquest. By the sixteenth century, where we begin this chapter, out of the chaos that had followed the decline of the Mongol empire new, larger and more consolidated states were emerging in the agrarian rimlands of the continent—China, India, Persia, Russia. In Central Eurasia as well there were various attempts to- reunify, even reimperialise, in Tibet, in Transoxiana, among Mongol groups, and in Manchuria. These efforts involved the mustering of both politico-military and religio-ideological forms of power. Increasingly the ethnic and religious landscape in Central Eurasia resembles that of modern times, with Turkic speakers, Iranian speakers, Mongol speakers, Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Mongols, Kazaks, Kirghiz, Uyghurs, Chinese and so on all living more or less where we find them today. Xinjiang was, quite literally, in the middle of all this, and events of these centuries left two legacies that have endured to the present: Xinjiang’s sedentary and nomadic population became almost entirely Islamic; and competition among reimperialisers in Mongolia, Manchuria and China resulted in Xinjiang’s incorporation and integration to a China-based state in a manner closer than ever before.

Xinjiang was Islamicised by the seventeenth century. This process had begun earlier, its onset signalled by the tenth-century conversion of Satuq Bughra Khan and ‘200,000 tents of the Turks’ discussed in the previous chapter. But while Turkic Central Asia had largely converted to Islam (and Islam had adapted to the nomads’ needs), the Mongols were new arrivals in the thirteenth century. They were generally a brand of animist, believing in a universal sky-god (Tenggeri) and various other spirits whom shamans could contact, though some followed Tibetan Buddhism, and many influential Mongols were Nestorian Christians. The Chaghatayid Tughluq Temür’s own embrace of Islam in the fourteenth century shows that Islam was making inroads among the Mongols in Xinjiang, but does not yet mark full Islamicisation of either the nomads or Xinjiang’s oasis-dwellers. The Ming envoy Chen Cheng, passing through Turfan in 1414, noted many monks and Buddhist temples in that city and environs, and just a few years before that, Turfan had sent Buddhist priests as envoys to the Ming. Even further west, ‘those living in felt tents’ in the mountains and steppes of Moghulistan were not yet considered true Muslims: until the mid-fifteenth century, the Muslims could still legally enslave ‘Moghuls’ as infidels. But by the early decades of the sixteenth century inhabitants of the old Uyghur kingdom in the Turfan Basin had followed those of the oases of the Tarim Basin in becoming Muslims. Indeed, within a few decades control over the Tarim cities would fall to shaykhs tracing their lineage to Bukhara, the old Mughal khans reigning as mere figureheads.

Islamicisation linked the Xinjiang region culturally to the west, to the broad zone of Central and South Asia whose high culture was in Persian or Chaghatay Turkic. At the same time, however, Xinjiang remained strategically implicated in the power dynamics between north China-and Mongolia-based powers. There would be one more round in the pattern we have noted above: the north China-based power expanding westward into Xinjiang as part of its campaign against the steppe empire. Despite the repetition of certain patterns, however, history does not really repeat itself. In this final sequel the Qing fought the Zunghars with new technology, a larger agrarian tax base, greater logistical reach, more efficient mercantile cooperation and a different ideology than its predecessors, combining and transcending both Chinese and steppe historical achievements and institutions. The result would integrate Xinjiang within a centrally administered China-based empire far more tightly than it had ever been under Han, Tang or Yuan.

Meanwhile, other empires were converging on the scene. Together with the Qing occupation of Xinjiang, the eastward advance of the Russian empire and northward push of the British Raj effectively hemmed in Xinjiang and the rest of Central Eurasia, marking the end of the nomadic steppe empire and bringing the region into unprecedented contact with a wider world.

Sufi Proselytisation in the Tarim Basin

Muhammad Oghlan Khan, a Chaghatayid raised to the khanship by the Dughlat clan, took the business of Islamicisation seriously. He issued an edict in Kashgar around 1416 to the effect that any Mongol nomad or member of the ruling clan who did not wear a turban would have a horseshoe nail driven into his head. ‘May God recompense him with Good’, comments the historian.

Others took a subtler approach. Sufis, or Islamic mystics, spread Islam among the Turkic and Mongol nomads on the Kazak steppe in Zungharia, in the Tianshan and Pamir, as well as throughout the oases of Central Asia. Their claims of descent from the prophet Muhammad, chains of initiation, networks of lodges, close ties to merchants and rulers, tombs which served as pilgrimage sites and their often considerable wealth made the larger Sufi orders (tariqa)especially the Yasawiyya and Naqshbandiyya powerful institutions with growing religious and political influence in the Mongol imperial period and after. Stories about famous Sufi shaykhs stress their healing powers and the miracle-working upon which their success as missionaries hinged—the defeat of the giant Mughal wrestler by Arshad ad-Din (the shaykh who converted Tughluq Temür) is one example of such a miracle. The life of the Khoja Ishaq Wali (d. 1599) provides many others. He spent several years spreading the faith in Kashgar, Yarkand, Khotan, Aqsu and among the shamanist and Buddhist Kirghiz tribes in the nearby mountains. In one story, Ishaq sends a disciple to the camp of a gravely ill Kirghiz chief, Seryop Qirqiz, whose followers were making offerings to idols in an effort to cure him by shamanic ritual. The disciple had the Kirghiz bring their idols—one of silver and a thousand of stone and wood—to Ishaq, who pointed out their uselessness. Ishaq and his disciples then prayed, and the Kirghiz ruler ‘suddenly sneezed and, standing up, gave voice to the Muslims’ famous profession of faith: “I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His prophet.’” The Kirghiz thereupon accepted Islam to a man, and donated the silver from the idol (which they had smashed) to the Sufis.

In demonstrating healing powers, deciding battles by magical tricks or surviving trials by fire, Sufis acted like the shamans associated with Turko-Mongol rulers across Eurasia. In fact, in some ways the form of popular Islam that took root in the Xinjiang region following centuries of Sufi missionary work was overlaid upon, without displacing, pre-existing beliefs and cults. This is evident at many smaller shrines in Xinjiang, especially those not dedicated to well-known historical figures but to nameless ‘khojas’ or masters. One such shrine is at Qumartagh (Chinese name Niujiaoshan) on a hill overlooking the floodplain of the Qaratash and Yurongkash rivers south of Khotan. This striking site was once sacred to Buddhists; now it commemorates a hunter who, after a snake-spirit came to his aid, promised to build a place of worship on this spot. The tombs on the site, supposedly of the hunter, his parents and the snake, resemble similar cairns in Mongolia and Tibet, festooned with sticks, flags, sheep’s horns and yak-tails—all reminiscent of shamanic practice. Clearly an older tradition at Qumartagh has been recast as Islamic, as it has at similar shrines throughout the region.

Folklore reveals a similar process. According to a legend recorded in the sixteenth century Tarikh-i Rashidi, Khoja Jamal ad-Din (who would later meet Tughluq Temür, and whose son would convert him) once lived and preached in a town between Turfan and Khotan known as Lob Katak. The populace, however, had treated him with disrespect. One day he announced from the pulpit that God would soon deliver a calamity upon the town. Jamal ad-Din and the muezzin (the man who delivers the call to prayer) then fled, but after they had journeyed some distance, the muezzin changed his mind and returned to the town to attend to some last business. While he was delivering the call to prayer one final time, sand began to rain from the sky Only because he was in the minaret was the muezzin able to escape inundation himself; the town was completely buried. When he rejoined the Khoja, they immediately fled together. ‘It is better to keep at a distance from the wrath of God,’ Jamal ad-Din said.

The seventh-century Chinese Buddhist traveller, Xuan Zang, had related a very similar story in his account of the states of the ‘Western Regions’: A sandalwood image of the Buddha had flown miraculously to the city of Helaoluojia in the southern Tarim Basin. It was neglected by the city residents, however, and when a strange arhat (Ch. luohan) arrived to worship the image, the people buried him in the sand and starved him. Nevertheless, one of the townsmen who had himself prayed to the Buddha image took pity on the arhat and secretly brought him food. The arhat then warned this kind man to make preparations, for his city would soon be buried in sand. So saying, the arhat suddenly disappeared. The man’s relatives and neighbours dismissed his warnings of the coming disaster and one week later the sandstorm came. As the town was inundated, only the kind man was able to escape through a tunnel he had prepared. The Buddha image later magically reappeared in Pimo, the nearby town to which he had fled.

Both Buddhist and Islamic versions of the story seem to concern cities in southern Xinjiang—Lob or Lop of course echoing the name Lop Nor—and echo the fate of the buried city of Loulan (Kroraina) on the shores of the defunct lake. The later Islamic legend was built upon an existing substratum that may have already been old by the time of Xuan Zang.

The Naqshbandiyya and the ‘Khojas’

Despite this continuity in popular religious belief, the Sufis operating in Kashgaria, Uyghuristan and Moghulistan from the fifteenth century also represented a new and potent force, one that accelerated the Islamicisation of the southern townsfolk and among all the nomads except the Buddhist Oirats. Branches of the Naqshbandi order were even able to seize control of political and military affairs in the Tarim Basin and Turfan.

The Naqshbandis trace the lineage of their leaders back to the prophet Muhammad. The religious aura this lent them, together with their miracles and reputation as religious authorities, made them popular as advisers to temporal rulers in Central Asia. The order’s name derives from Baha’ ad-Din Naqshband (1318-89), who revitalised the order of the ‘masters’ (khoja or khwaja) in a village north-east of Bukhara, contributing three innovative teachings which henceforth characterised the Naqshbandiyya. First, Baha’ ad-Din believed and himself exemplified that certain Sufis, known as uwaysis, could be guided not only by living teachers, but by masters who were dead or separated by distance from their disciples. (This is reminiscent of the ‘discovery’ by reformist Tibetan lamas around the same time of ‘treasure texts’ buried in the consciousness of departed lamas but conveyable to the minds of their incarnations and successors). Baha’ ad-Din also taught that the Sufi need not seclude himself from the community in order to maintain his mystical relationship to God (this had been a much debated issue in the eleventh century, when Yusuf Khass Hajib took up the contradiction between worldly and otherworldly in his Wisdom of Royal Glory). By justifying his followers’ active involvement in worldly affairs, Baha’ ad-Din set the stage for the Naqshbandiyya in the fifteenth century to champion strict observance of the shari’ah. They were also staunch Sunnite activists, reacting against the triumph of Shi’ism in Safavid Persia. Baha’ ad-Din’s third innovation was to advocate use of the silent dhikr (zikr), or remembrance of God. This form of prayer usually consisted of unison chanting by groups of dervishes of ‘there is no God but Allah’. The Naqshbandis, however, believed the remembrance could be mentally intoned to oneself.

The Naqshbandi order gained strength rapidly in Ferghana, Bukhara, Samarkand, Herat and elsewhere, as Naqshbandis married into the families of local rulers and accumulated land and rights to tithes for the support of shrines, schools and religious work. One of Baha’ ad-Din’s most important successors was Khoja Ahrar (1404-90), a Naqshbandi grand master who assisted Timurid rulers Abu Said (1451-69) and Sultan Ahmad (1469-94), maintained contacts with the rulers of Moghulistan through a network of his own disciples, and greatly expanded the wealth and landholdings of the Naqshbandi order through charitable endowments (waqf) and family businesses in Samarkand, Herat and elsewhere. The influence of the Ahraris continued under the Shaybanids (Uzbeks) who displaced the Timurids from Transoxiana in 1500.

One of Ahrar’s disciples, Khoja Taj ad-Din, became a fixture in the Moghulistan court of Ahmad Khan and his successor Mansur Khan—the Turfan ruler who repeatedly fought with the Ming over Hami and who, with his brother, helped revitalise the Tarim trade routes. The Tarikh-i Rashidi claims that these khans were Taj ad-Din’s disciples, and its highly favourable account gives a sense of how these saintly masters worked and the power they could obtain in southern Xinjiang:

He [Taj ad-Din] was in attendance on [the two Chaghatayid khans] for fifty years.… And he accepted, during all this period, neither offering nor gift, whether it were from the Khans or the Sultans or the generals of the army, or from peasants or merchants. The Khwaja occupied himself, also, with commerce and agriculture. And from these occupations there accrued to him, by the blessing of the Most High God, great wealth. And what urbanity did he not show, every year, towards the Khans and the Amirs! The poor and indigent—nay, more, the peasant, the villager, the artisan and the merchant all profited [by his wealth]. For this reason no one denied him anything, and all the affairs of the kingdom were laid before him in detail.

Khoja Taj ad-Din was evidently a man possessed of great land-holdings and other wealth, and a respected adviser to the military and political rulers of Moghulistan and Turfan privy to affairs of state. (The claim that he accepted no gifts may be read as evidence that most khojas did so, and in any case is contradicted by the statement that nothing was denied him). The extent of Taj ad-Din’s involvement in the business of khans is clear from the manner of his death c. 1533: in battle against the Ming.

Taj ad-Din was also a direct descendent of Jamal and Arshad ad-Din, the father and son shaykhs who a century earlier had converted Tughluq Temür and the Moghuls to Islam. Arshad’s line of Sufi masters, probably originally Yasawi, had in the early fifteenth-century ‘transformed itself into a line of Naqshbandi saints’ and continued to promote Islam not only in the oases but among the nomads of Xinjiang. As mentioned above, as late as the early 1400s Buddhist temples still dotted the landscape around Turfan, and Buddhist monks were dispatched as envoys from Turfan to the Ming court. However, by the time of Mansur and Taj ad-Din in the early decades of the sixteenth century old Uyghuristan was virtually all Islamic.

In Kashgaria members of another branch of the Naqshbandiyya not only advised the khans and proselytised but ultimately took power in their own right. The progenitor of this branch, Ahmad Kasani (1461-1542) or Makhdum-i A’zam (‘Supreme Teacher’), was another disciple of the Naqshbandi master Khoja Ahrar. Makhdum-i A’zam’s own influence spread in his lifetime from Transoxiana to the Tarim Basin, but the penetration of the Makhdumzadas (as his successors are called) into Xinjiang truly began with one of his sons, Ishaq Wali (d. 1599)—the same shaykh who worked miracles among the Kirghiz. Khoja Ishaq enjoyed high repute as a Sufi master in Transoxiana, where he enjoyed the patronage of several Uzbek khans. In the late sixteenth century he and his disciples journeyed to the Tarim Basin, and after several years had established the Ishaqiyya (as their order came to be known) in the Kashgar region. Ishaq made the Chaghatayid khan of Kashgaria, Muhammad Sultan (r. 1592-1609) his disciple. (Muhammad was the ruler who arranged Bento de Goes’ caravan to the borders of China). Before his death Ishaq even named Muhammad Sultan the Naqshbandi grand master—Ishaq’s spiritual successor—thus assuring the Ishaqiyya’s continued status in the region.

A short time later Khoja Muhammad Yusuf (d. 1653), descended from Makhdum-i A’zam through the patriarch’s eldest son, also came east. He preached in the cities of the Tarim and Turfan Basins and in western China. Ishaqis, jealous of his success, poisoned Khoja Yusuf, leaving his work to be carried on by disciples under his son Hidayet Allah (d. 1694), also known as Khoja Afaq (‘Master of the Horizons’). Their branch of the Makhdumzada Naqshbandis in Xinjiang thus came to be known as the Afaqiyya.

Khoja Afaq was a powerful presence in Kashgar until the 1670s, and he may even have served as governor of that city under the khan ‘Abdullah, whose capital was in Yarkand. When ‘Abdullah went on hajj, however, his son, Isma’il Khan, in league with the Ishaqiyya, drove Khoja Afaq out of Kashgar. Afaq fled to Kashmir and then to Lhasa, where he sought the intervention of the Dalai Lama. There are differing versions of Afaq’s encounter with the Shaykh of the Brahmans—as the Afaq’s hagiography calls the Dalai Lama. In one story, the two holy men engage in a contest of miracles, in which Afaq’s magic proves the more powerful.

Today both the reputation and political position of Tibet’s leading cleric have changed greatly, but in the seventeenth century the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-82) was a forceful ruler, leading the reformist Gelugpa (dGe-lugs-pa, Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism to supremacy over other schools and over the kings in Tibet proper, and expanding his political influence into Khams (eastern Tibet), Qinghai (Amdo or Kokonor) and even among the Oirat, Khalkha, Chahar and other Mongol peoples in Zungharia and Mongolia. Today’s sense of Tibetan Buddhism as a quietisi, pacifistic religion is not borne out by events in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Inner Asia. In fact, Joseph Fletcher compared the rising Gelugpa to the Naqshbandiyya in both its reformmindedness and its engagement with worldly affairs.

Khoja Afaq represented himself to the Dalai Lama as the legitimate secular ruler of Kashgaria, and the Dalai Lama agreed to help by calling on Galdan, ruler of the Zunghars, the confederation of Oirat Mongols who had since the early seventeenth century been forming a steppe empire north of the Tianshan, in the region since known as Zungharia. ‘Isma’il Khan has seized [Afaq’s] country’, the Dalai Lama wrote Galdan, who gladly lent a hand by conquering the Tarim Basin oases in 1678 and placing Afaq and his sons in power, in return for an annual payment. The Afaqi-Ishaqi rivalry continued, however, while the Zunghars were preoccupied elsewhere. After Khoja Afaqs’ death, for example, his wife earned the nickname ‘Jallad Khanum’ (‘Butcher Queen’) for the way she pressed the bloody feud with the Ishaqis. Kirghiz tribes in the mountains ringing the western Tarim Basin joined both sides of the struggle, and for this reason the Ishaqiyya is also called Qarataghliq—Black Mountain—and the Afaqiyya known as Aqtaghliq—White Mountain—after Kirghiz factions in different areas.

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, then, the Tarim Basin had reverted to an old pattern: local rulers in the oases (now a lineage of Sufis) paying tribute to nomad overlords north of the Tianshan. As in previous periods, moreover, the political dynamic across the Tianshan was but part of a larger geostrategic picture, a rivalry between the northern nomadic power (the Zunghars), the ruling power in China (the Manchu Qing dynasty) and even Tibet under the Gelugpa Dalai Lamas. More than that, however, another continental empire had emerged over the western horizon: Muscovite Russia, together with the Qing, would definitively change the steppe-sown dynamic, and with it Xinjiang’s place in Central Eurasia.

Zunghar-Manchu Rivalry and the Qing Creation of ‘Xinjiang’

‘Zunghar’ is a political term, referring to a confederation of Oirat tribes, including Choros, Dörböts and Khoits, that coalesced under Zunghar tribal leadership in the early seventeenth century in northern Xinjiang. There is considerable confusion regarding the terminology, and one may find the terms Oirat and Zunghar (and their variants Wei-la, E-lu-te, Wei-lu-te, Wei-la-te, ölöd, Eleuth, Junghar, Jegün Ghar, Dzunghar, Zhun-ge-er) used interchangeably. Islamic and Russian sources call all Oirats ‘Kalmyks’ (Qalmuqs), and sometimes use this term even for eastern Mongols and Manchus.

While all Zunghars were Oirats, not all Oirats were Zunghars. In fact large numbers of two Oirat tribes fled the intense struggle for control of lands and people in Zungharia in the 1620s and 1630s in search of more open pastures elsewhere. The Khoshuuts moved from grazing lands in the region of today’s Urumchi south to Qinghai and Tibet, where they lent their military muscle to the Gelugpa cause. The Torghuts migrated west from the Tarbaghatai region of northern Xinjiang all the way to the banks of the Volga. There, known as Kalmyks, they dominated local Muslim Nogay Turks, but eventually fell under Tsarist rule and were forced to pay taxes and fight in Moscow’s wars against the Ottoman empire. To escape this oppression, in 1771 some 150,000 Torghuts migrated back east to seek asylum with the Qing. They were received with much pomp, and resettled in northern Xinjiang. This episode, with its ripple effects reminiscent of the Xiongnu displacement of the Yuezhi, was history’s last great ‘billiard ball’ movement of nomadic peoples across Central Eurasia.

Through the seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth century the Zunghars gained strength and built a powerful state, constructing stonewalled towns, adopting Tibetan Buddhism, expanding trade with Russia and the Qing, and ultimately deploying gunpowder weapons—by mounting small cannon on camel back, the Zunghars even fielded mobile ‘tanks’. Though still less militarily effective in open battle than mounted horsemen, cannon and guns were useful in conquering cities and made an impressive amount of noise. As Peter Perdue points out, the fielding of cannon on camelback shows that the Zunghars were more than mere raiders, but were rather engaged in a full-scale imperial project.

Indeed, under their ruler Batur Khongtaiji the Zunghars expanded at the expense of the Kazaks, and in 1635 concluded a treaty with the Russians over territory, jurisdiction and rights to tribute from tribal peoples, like the Yenesei Kirghiz, caught between their growing imperial realms. The Russians had been expanding westward across Siberia since the sixteenth century; the Russian merchants and rough frontiersmen who came in search of sable and other furs were followed by Tsarist troops and officials. Before long a string of frontier forts and trading towns dotted the banks of Siberia’s major rivers. The Zunghars obtained gun-casting and cartographic technology from Russians and Swedes formerly in Russian service. The Zunghar state also drew on labour and manufactured goods from southern Xinjiang, and mined iron, copper, silver, gold, steel and minerals for gun-powder. With copper from Xinjiang mines, the Zunghars minted coins bearing the mint name ‘Yarkand’ in Arabic and their khan’s name in Oirat script. The Zunghars manufactured paper and printed books in the Todo script specifically designed for the sounds of the Oirat Mongolian by a Tibetan prelate (who thus repeated a service rendered to the Chinggisids by another lama centuries before).

The Tibetan connection was critical to the growth and legitimacy of the Zunghar state. Though some Chinggisid Mongols had adopted Buddhism during the imperial period (Khubilai, in particular, had close relations with Tibetan lamas), Tibetan Buddhism did not predominate among the tribesmen of Mongolia until after the mid-sixteenth century, when the political and missionary activity of the Gelugpa won over rulers among both eastern and western Mongol groups. In 1640 Batur Khongtaiji participated in a quriltai, or congress, of Mongol and Oirat tribes, attended by representatives of the Khalkhas, Khoshuuts from Qinghai and Torghuts from the Volga, as well as Tibetan lamas. From this meeting emerged a pan-Mongol law code in which Tibetan Buddhism was designated the religion of the Mongols, and marriages were concluded linking Batur with the Torghut and Khoshuut ruling clans. Political marriage was not an option for the Tibetan lamas, but one of Batur’s sons, Galdan, went to Lhasa as a novice monk, establishing a similar sort of linkage. (His name is a Mongolised version of the Tibetan ‘Dga’ ldan’, the Tushita Paradise of Maitreya Buddha, also the name of a famous monastery built in Lhasa by the reforming founder of the Gelugpa school).

The 1640 khuriltai thus signalled the potential of the Zunghar state to unite the Mongols under the banner of Tibetan Buddhism and forge a new Mongol empire in Inner Asia. When Galdan returned to Zungharia in 1670 and resolved the succession struggle that had ensued upon Batur Khongtaiji’s death a few years earlier, he began to make good upon that promise. He seized the Tarim and Turfan Basins in 1678-80 with the Dalai Lama’s blessing. The Dalai Lama also bestowed upon Galdan the title ‘Boshugtu Khan’, khan by divine grace, essentially licensing Galdan to use the khanal title despite his lack of Chinggisid ancestry. Now possessed of a tax-base in the oases to his south, Galdan pursued an interest in the affairs of the Khalkhas, those Mongols still ruled by Chinggisid khans to the east. This brought Galdan into direct competition with the other rising Inner Asian power, the Qing (Ch’ing) empire founded by the Manchus.

From their beginnings in the frontier lands between north China, Korea and Siberia, the Manchus had been closely involved with Mongol groups. The confederated military force (the ‘Eight Banners’) which they deployed against the Ming and ultimately led into Beijing contained many Mongols. The Qing had assumed control of tribes and lands in Inner Mongolia in the 1630s, and by the time the Manchus took Beijing (1644), they exercised considerable influence over the Khalkhas to the north as well. Thus Galdan’s advance into Outer Mongolia in 1688 was a direct provocation to the Qing. The Qing Kangxi emperor (r. 1662-1722) responded to the threat methodically, through both diplomatic and military means. He stabilised relations with the Russians, who had come into conflict with the Qing in the north-east, and whose fort at Albazin on the Amur River (Heilongjiang) the Qing had razed twice (1685 and 1686). In the treaty of Nerchinsk (1689), the Qing and Russia regularised trade relations, demarcated their eastern border, and set rules governing the unsettled peoples in frontier territories. Kangxi also took steps to secure the lasting loyalty of the Khalkhas, of whom some 140,000 had fled the Zunghars into Qing territory. The Qing dispatched grain, livestock and other supplies to these refugees. While the Khalkha khans and their highest lama deliberated over whether to cast their lot with the Qing or the Russians, the Qing’s own court lama lobbied hard for the Manchus, stressing that unlike the Russians, the Qing patronised the Gelugpa church. In the end the Khalkhas came over to the Qing, an event celebrated in 1691 with a great feast at Dolonnor 250 kilometres north of Beijing. This new reserve of Khalkha manpower would serve as a mainstay of the Qing military, especially in its Inner Asian campaigns. Moreover, to have the Khalkha Chinggisids as subjects of the Manchu emperors lent the Qing political legitimacy in Inner Asian affairs, aiding in their efforts to assume the Chinggisid mantle and the role of patron and protector of the Gelugpa church. Finally, the Kangxi emperor launched a military campaign against Galdan, and a Qing army crushed the Zunghar force in 1696 at Jao Modo (on the Tula River just east of modern Ulaan Baatar). Abandoned by his army, Galdan died the next year, perhaps poisoned by one of his few remaining followers or a victim of sudden illness. The Qing court and historians knowingly falsified the record in the service of the Qing imperial myth, claiming that Galdan had committed suicide.

Meanwhile, fighting continued among the Ishaqiyya, Afaqiyya, remaining Chaghatayids and Kirghiz groups in the south-western Tarim Basin, prompting the new Zunghar khan, Tsewang Rabdan, to invade again in 1713 and restore the revenue stream from the oases. The Zunghars took the leaders of both khoja factions as royal hostages back north to Ghulja; a few years later they would restore the Ishaqiyya to power in Altishahr as Zunghar vassals.

The Zunghars did not govern the Tarim Basin so much as extract from it, in the manner of the Qara Khitay before them. However, we have more information for this period about precisely what this meant. The Tazkira-i Khwajagan reports that the Zunghars assessed an annual levy on Kashgar of 48,000 ounces of silver; other cities likewise owed a cash tax. In the mid-eighteenth century a Qing official reported that Kashgar had annually paid the Zunghars 40,898 silver ounces and 67,000 patman of grain (a patman was approximately four piculs and five pecks). These levies were supplemented by payments of grain, cotton, saffron, corvées of labour and taxes on distilling, milling and trade. The exactions could be arbitrary: Zunghar bands arrived each harvest season to collect the tax, and had to be wined, dined and supplied with women.

One way in which the pattern of Zunghar control over Xinjiang differed from that of earlier nomadic powers was in their efforts to develop the agricultural potential of Zungharia. Captive Kazaks, Kirghiz and prisoners from western Turkestan and China, along with some Zunghars, constructed irrigation and worked the land in the rich Zungharian river valleys and the Urumchi area; most numerous were Muslims transported from the western Tarim to the Yili valley to be farmers, or ‘taranchis.’ This demonstrates the importance the Zunghar state placed on regularising its sources of grain and other produce. Incidentally, but significantly for the future, this policy marks the beginning of the process by which Zungharia came to be inhabited by non-nomadic Muslim Turkic-speakers from the south—a group that by the twentieth century would be called Uyghurs.

Commerce provided another source both of revenue and of items the Zunghars could not grow or manufacture for themselves, including silks, tea and cotton cloth. High-value satins and tea could be trans-shipped to the west and sold at profit; cloth and coarse brick tea was consumed by common nomads in Zungharia. Having taken control of southern Xinjiang, the Zunghars also seized the monopoly on licensing caravans that had once been the prerogative of the Chaghatayid khans and other rulers of the Tarim oases. The merchants in Zunghar caravans, referred to as ‘Bukharans’ in the sources, were themselves likely to come from the Tarim Basin, Turfan or western Central Asia. (For example, Chinese sources list the name of the ‘ambassador’ leading the Zunghar delegation to Beijing in 1744 as ‘Tur-er-du’—certainly a transcription of ‘Turdi’, a Turkic—not Mongolian—name). By contracting such merchants, the Zunghars exchanged goods with Tashkent in the west and the Qing in the east. In peacetime, trade with China followed the same pattern and engendered the same aggravations as during the Ming period, with the Zunghar caravans exceeding the quotas both on ‘tribute missions’ to Beijing and at the frontier trade fairs in Suzhou, Gansu. The Zunghars also traded with Tibet, in the guise of pilgrimages to donate tea to monasteries in Lhasa; the Qing was forced to sanction and even subsidise these trading ventures, much to the annoyance of officials. Thus the Zunghars provide a good and well documented example of the importance of the caravan trade to the nomadic states of Inner Asia.

For fifty years after Galdan’s death Zunghar relations with the Qing alternated between open warfare and tense truces. Following the pattern now familiar to us, the two powers sparred for control of eastern Xinjiang (the Hami, Turfan and Urumchi areas), passing control of these cities and their peoples back and forth. The struggle spread into Tibet in 1717, when the Zunghars intervened in the politics of Dalai Lama succession. Their defeat there by the Qing in 1720 marks the beginnings of the Qing protectorate in Tibet. The Zunghars also invaded western Turkestan in 1723, sacking Tashkent and other cities; these Zunghar attacks greatly weakened the Middle and Great Hordes of the Kazaks, facilitating Russian penetration of Central Asia. The Zunghars also fought periodically against the Russians, whose chain of fortified outposts pressed upon Zunghar lands and who were demanding submission and tribute from tribes already subject to the Zunghars.

The attitudes of Chinese sources towards the Zunghars have changed little since the Qing emperors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries berated their untrustworthy, bellicose and rebellious natures. A more neutral perspective is possible. The Zunghars, like the Qing, Tsarist Russia and, indeed, several European states, were engaged in a self-strengthening, state-building effort. As Peter Perdue points out, however, in the eighteenth century the great continental empires of Russia and the Qing could draw upon larger agrarian bases and more highly centralised administrative systems than could the Zunghars in the Tarim Basin and Zungharia; these empires could also effectively limit the Zunghars’ access to strategic materials and tributes from Siberian peoples.

By the mid-eighteenth century succession troubles, the bane of all steppe empires, fatally weakened the Zunghar state. Following the death of the khan Galdan Tsering (r. 1727-45), internecine struggle split the confederation. In 1752 chieftains Amursana and Dawachi assassinated the currently reigning candidate; when Dawachi declared himself khan, Amursana went to war against him, but was defeated and fled east to the Qing with 20,000 followers. The Qing Qianlong emperor (r. 1736-95) saw this as a great opportunity, and personally received Amursana along with Tsereng, another defecting Oirat chief, with great ceremony in the Manchu summer capital at Chengde on the Mongolian border. (Inner Asian luminaries preferred not to visit Beijing, where the chance of contracting smallpox was high).

With these new allies in the vanguard, Qing armies marched on Zungharia, taking it easily in 1755. This was not a victory of firearms over primitive weapons: documentary portraits of the battles, as painted by Jesuits in the Qing court, reveal that both sides used cannon and small arms as well as bows and arrows. The Qing could, however, more effectively mobilise its agrarian, economic and military resources. After years of fighting among themselves, moreover, the ragged Zunghar confederation offered little resistance.

After capturing Dawachi and taking Ghulja without a fight, the Qing felt secure in withdrawing most of its forces. The Qianlong emperor initially planned to break up the Zunghar confederation and divide the region’s pastures and people between four main Oirat tribes, each under their own khan. By this formula, similar to how the Qing had pacified Mongolia, Amursana would have become khan of the Khoits. But Amursana hoped to command the whole of the former Zunghar peoples and pastures himself. He announced this intention in a memorial to the Qing court and slaughtered the remaining Qing forces in Ghulja. (Though treated as a traitorous rebel in Chinese historiography, Amursana is a hero in the Mongolian Republic, where a street is named for him in Ulaan Baatar).

The enraged Qianlong emperor had Amursana’s impudent missive printed and circulated to all the officials in China, and launched a massive Qing retaliation to resolve the Zunghar problem. Qianlong repeatedly urged his reluctant generals to exterminate all the Zunghars except women, children and the elderly, who were to be enslaved to Manchu and other Mongol banners. Starvation tactics, smallpox and the suppression of tribal identities of surviving Zunghar slaves led to the disappearance of the Zunghar people and depopulation of the region. The name Zunghar was expunged; there were surviving Oirats, but no Zunghars. Perdue calls the episode a deliberate ethnic genocide unprecedented in Qing practice, a ‘“final solution” to China’s north-west frontier problems’.

When Qing forces first took Ghulja in 1755 they found two Afaqi khoja brothers, Burhan ad-Din and Khoja Jahan, whom the Zunghars had detained there as hostages. The Manchus gave Burhan the military support to retake the Tarim Basin, hoping to establish him as a client in the south. However, when Amursana rebelled, Khoja Jahan fled south to join his brother and they renounced their allegiance to the Qing, executed an envoy, and attempted to reinstitute independent Afaqi rule in the Tarim Basin. Without ever having intended to, therefore, the Qing found itself campaigning oasis by oasis south of the Tianshan, an enterprise that required enormous logistical efforts to move men, grain, livestock, silver and other supplies from Zungharia across the Tianshan passes and from north-west China over the Gobi desert to Xinjiang. When Qing banner armies tookYark and and Kashgar the Khojas escaped west through the passes to Badakhshan. In the course of their campaigns against the Zunghars, the Kazaks who supported the Zunghars, and the Khojas, Qing armies in the late 1750s penetrated the mountain pastures of the Kirghiz and the Ferghana valley beyond; one detachment reached the city of Talas—the first China-based army there since the famous battle a thousand years earlier. Another reached the city of Khoqand, and another camped outside Tashkent. Though this show of force beyond the Pamirs was temporary, it served its purpose: cowed local rulers hastened to help the Qing apprehend fugitives. In particular, Sultan Shah bent to the will of the wrathful Manchu superpower and sent first Khoja Jahan’s head, and later Burhan ad-Din’s remains, back east with his compliments.

Thus the Qing extended its imperial rule to Muslim Central Asia, adding the Zunghar empire to its already vast holdings in north-east Asia, China and Mongolia. The Qianlong emperor had carried on the campaigns in the face of domestic opposition from Chinese officials concerned about the cost of conquering and holding territory they judged to be ‘wasteland’. The emperor and the court justified the conquest in financial and strategic terms, arguing that a forward position allowed banner troops to be stationed on the steppe, where they herded livestock and, in theory (though never in practice), supported themselves without adding to the burden on the population of China proper. Certainly the threat from the steppes north of China, which had comprised the most serious strategic issue for Han, Tang, Ming, Yuan and other states based in north China, was no longer a concern after the Qing annexation of outer Mongolia and conquest of Xinjiang. Holding Xinjiang, the emperor argued, saved money and enhanced security. Many Chinese officials and literati remained unconvinced of this at first, but got used to the idea over subsequent decades. From this line of reasoning would develop the argument that Mongolia was essential to the security of the Beijing capital, and that Xinjiang was an essential bulwark to the defence of Mongolia, and ultimately the argument that Xinjiang was an essential, inalienable part of China—something no Chinese would have argued before the nineteenth century.

Qing Xinjiang

Defence and Administration

Until the 1880s Qing administration in Xinjiang took a form different from that in China proper. Rather than divide the region into prefectures and counties, each under a magistrate as in the provinces of ‘inner’ China, the empire employed the hierarchy of the Qing banner system to create an overarching administration that saw to the needs of military personnel and supervised local government by indigenous élites. For this reason, some western scholars have referred to Xinjiang as a ‘protectorate’ or ‘vassal’ of the Qing, implying that it was not fully part of the empire. Likewise, Xinjiang, along with Qinghai, Mongolia and Manchuria have sometimes been depicted on historical maps in a manner setting them off from China proper. Though there is an important distinction to be made between these Qing Inner Asian areas (once called ‘Chinese Tartary’) and the provinces of China, all (with the partial exception of Tibet) should be considered fully parts of the Qing empire. In most of Qinghai, Mongolia, Xinjiang and Manchuria the primary form of administration was the banner military hierarchy.

The Qing initially stationed some 40, 000 troops in Xinjiang, and boosted that number to around 50, 000 by the mid-nineteenth century. About half of the initial deployment were Manchu and Mongol bannermen, many transferred west after the conquest. (The Sibe [Xibo] people of the Chapchal [Chabucha’er, Qapqar] Xibo Autonomous County, today the last living native speakers of a Manchu dialect, are descendents of tribal cousins of the Manchus transferred from Manchuria to Zungharia by the Qing.) The other half were Chinese troops. These military forces were distributed unequally across Xinjiang, with four times as many troops based in Zungharia (mostly in nine garrisons along the Yili Valley and in Urumchi) as in southern Xinjiang. Moreover, while the forces in the north were posted permanently, with their family members, and were supposed to be a self-perpetuating force, the troops stationed in Kashgar, Yarkand, Khotan and other southern cities were rotated after three-year tours of duty. This light military presence in Kashgaria, which would prove a great vulnerability, reflects the region’s north-controls-the-south tradition, the greater availability of fodder in Zungharia and the desire not to overburden Muslim city-dwellers and so destabilise Qing rule.

Military government . A military governor based in Huiyuan (today’s Yining) held ultimate authority over all Xinjiang and answered to the emperor and the Grand Council in Beijing, the empire’s highest executive body. Below him, councillors based in Yili, Tarbaghatai and Kashgar/ Yarkand supervised important sub-regions of the province, and superintendents were responsible for individual cities. Till the 1880s, aside from a very few Manchuised Han (Hanjun)and Uyghurs, only Manchus or Mongols served in these high offices. These officials were known collectively by the Manchu word amban or its Chinese equivalent dachen, and thus European travellers in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Xinjiang refer to Qing authorities as ‘da-jin’ and the like.

Jasak system . Local government in Qing Xinjiang varied with the ethnic makeup and political background of the people governed. As in Mongolia and Qinghai, nomadic groups in Xinjiang were formed into companies and governed by rulers known as jasaks, who though hereditary, served at the pleasure of the Qing government and could be replaced. When some 50, 000 to 70, 000 Torghut and Khoshuut Mongols returned from the Volga region and sought Qing asylum, they were resettled as several companies in scattered parts of Xinjiang, including just north of Bosteng Lake (for this reason PRC leaders carved out the massive Bayin Gol Mongol Autonomous Prefecture including the former Torghut reservation, but also a huge swath of the Taklamakan Desert where few Mongols ever ventured). There were miscellaneous companies of Chahars, Oirats and Kazaks under the jasak system in Zungharia. More important, the cities of Turfan and Hami were likewise governed under this system, their ‘princes’ (wangs) having aided the Qing during the conquest. Amin Khoja, the ruler of Turfan, led his own troops alongside the Qing banners during the campaigns in southern Xinjiang, and together with the Hami wang was put in charge of Kashgar and Yarkand in the aftermath of the Qing takeover. Jasaks enjoyed much autonomy. Hami and Turfan rulers, known as ‘princes’ (wang) in Chinese, were exempt from paying taxes to the state, were granted titles like members of the Qing royal house, had their own retainers, and commanded the people in their home territories as serfs (yänchi) .

Beg system . Elsewhere in southern Xinjiang, and in parts of the YiliValley where Uyghurs had been relocated as taranchi farmers, local governance fell to Muslim officials known as Beg’s. Beg is a Uyghur word which meant ‘noble’, and had applied to the landed aristocrats descended from the Moghuls, a class whom the Qing wished to co-opt. The Qing adopted existing administrative titles in the Tarim Basin, added the word beg to them, ranked each position in the Chinese manner, and thus created a relatively systematic bureaucracy consisting of local élites with supervision and appointments in the hands of Qing ambans, in consultation with Beijing. The highest ranked beg officials, the hakim Beg’s, were old Qing allies, descendents of Turfan and Hami ruling families allied with the Qing during the conquest, and served in key positions overseeing Uyghur affairs for whole cites—though not their own cities. Lower-ranking Beg’s, for whom there were over thirty different offices dealing with taxation, clerical work, irrigation, post stations, policing, legal and penal matters, commercial affairs and even some religious and educational duties, were in theory assigned outside their own villages or neighbourhoods. Beg’s received small salaries from the Qing government, and were granted lands and serfs to work them in proportion to their rank. Region-wide there were nearly 300 Beg’s.

In addition to the Beg’s the Qing maintained relations with the ’ulama, or Islamic learned community, who handled certain judiciary tasks involving shar’ah law, which pertained in local matters.

Chinese-style administration . Finally, in Urumchi, Barkol, new colonies north of Urumchi, and gradually elsewhere in Zungharia as the population of Chinese farmers and merchants increased, the Qing created counties, prefectures and circuits, and established magistracies. These were similar to those in the provinces of China proper except that the vast majority of cases magistrates were Manchus and Mongols, and their grain taxes were retained locally to support the military, rather than remitted to the imperial centre. Chinese-style administration could exist side-by-side with other forms in Xinjiang, as in the Turfan area, or even overlap: and although they fell geographically within the territory of the Yili military government, the civil officials within Xinjiang’s Chinese-style administrative areas were theoretically answerable to the Governor-General of Shaanxi and Gansu province.

Qing administration in Xinjiang, then, was complex, multilayered and more sophisticated than any imperial government in the region that had preceded it. It permitted a degree of local autonomy while maintaining a monopoly on military force, and cultivated and employed a cadre of local officials under the supervision of imperial officers. It managed ethnic diversity through multiple administrative and legal systems, and did not attempt to proselytise or culturally assimilate. And although far from the imperial capital, the Xinjiang administration kept in close contact with Beijing through lengthy written memorials in Manchu and Chinese, which were dispatched by fast-horse over well-maintained post roads. The Qing imperial archives still hold tens of thousands of these documents from Xinjiang—like imperial bureaucracies elsewhere, the Xinjiang administration ran on paper.

Indeed, one may draw many parallels between Qing administration in Xinjiang and that of the British in India or Russia in Central Asia, both of which relied on diverse administrative forms and local personnel. And there is no particular evidence that the Qing imperial regime in Xinjiang was any more or less effective, malevolent or benevolent than European versions in their earlier stages (by later in the nineteenth century, when European imperialism implemented the rhetoric and policies of’civilising mission’ backed by industrial power they become qualitatively different from the Qing). Of course, corruption was endemic across the Qing empire, in China proper as well as in Inner Asia. Local officials were well positioned for aggrandisement, and often even needed to embezzle to make ends meet. However, when such peculation and ‘squeeze’ on the people remained within limits, supervisors took no notice, local populations did not rebel and the officials did not get caught. It may be said that with one notable exception (discussed below), Xinjiang’s military government, beg and other administrative systems, while by no means entirely honest or enlightened, nevertheless functioned for decades in a manner efficient enough to allow economic development to prevent local uprisings. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the region would become a tinderbox.

Infrastructural and Economic Development

Having come upon its empire in Xinjiang almost by accident, as a sideeffect of wiping out its Zunghar rivals, the Qing faced an on-going problem of financing rule so far from the Chinese agrarian heartlands of its empire. The Qing Qianlong emperor, whose 60-year reign dominated the eighteenth century, tried to finesse the issue by arguing, in effect, that the tax-payers of China enjoyed a ‘peace dividend’ as a result of Manchu conquest and control of Inner Asia. Though this is in one respect true, Xinjiang could not generate sufficient revenue to fully support the military forces required to hold it, and millions of ounces of silver had to be shipped annually from China to Xinjiang to pay military salaries. (Xinjiang today still requires large central government subsidies, as will be seen in Chapter 7.) In attempts to lessen the required stipends and consolidate Qing rule in the Tarim Basin and Zungharia, Qing officials engaged in a variety of infrastructural projects, commercial ventures and schemes to stimulate handicraft and agricultural production. They opened state farms (discussed below) to provide needed grain, and managed stock-rearing to provide meat. They used tax policy to encourage increased production of cotton cloth in southern Xinjiang that could be shipped north to supply the banners and trade with Kazak nomads for more needed livestock. They opened iron and copper mines and nationalised copper to normalise currencies, and then manipulated the exchange rates between silver and copper currency to state benefit. They dabbled in running pawnshops, commissaries, textile shops, lumber yards, apothecaries and rental properties to provide other revenue, and joined in partnerships with private merchants to purvey tea and other products at a profit. They gathered jade from the mountains and rivers south of Khotan to ship back to Beijing.

These endeavours were facilitated by the Qing development of Xinjiang’s roads, roadside inns, water depots and post-horse stations on the major routes leading from China and Mongolia and around the Tarim Basin and Zungharia. It was military necessity that kept key passes passable, but these improvements benefited merchants as well. Chinese merchant firms engaged in long-distance trade via the steppe route from Mongolia and along the Gansu corridor, either purveying supplies for the military or opening branch stores in Xinjiang’s larger cities. Also many smaller-scale merchants peddled goods or smuggled jade from Xinjiang, where it was a controlled commodity, back to China proper, where it was a freely traded luxury item. (Border guards often caught smugglers with jade in false-bottomed carts or sewn into their trousers.) Additionally, Central Asian and Indian merchants congregated in Kashgar, Yarkand and Khotan and exported tea, Chinese medicinais and silver, bringing in gems, livestock, hides, furs, opium and various other products.

The focus of Qing development policies in Xinjiang was agricultural development on the old state military farm (tuntian ) model. The Han dynasty, it will be recalled, was first to open military farms in Xinjiang. Later China-based powers did the same when stationing forces in the far west. The Qing implemented the tuntian model to an unprecedented extent, thus not only building on tradition but also furnishing the immediate forerunners of the twentieth-century Xinjiang state farms, the Xinjiang Production Construction Corps (PCC or Bingtuan), as well as of the Xinjiang gulag.

The Qing military founded its first state farms in eastern Xinjiang early in the 1700s, while still at war with the Zunghars. After 1759 the Qing established state farms in various categories; besides setting Chinese soldiers to work the land, authorities employed exiled convicts, Han and Hui (Muslim) Chinese civilian colonists and local Uyghurs. After the defeat of the Zunghars, northern Xinjiang was, in the words of one writer, ‘an empty plain for a thousand li, with no trace of man’. Most of the state farms were thus in Zungharia, especially in the vicinity of Urumchi, where there was fertile, well-watered land and few people. But the Qing also organised Uyghurs into state farms in some Tarim Basin cities and in the Yili Valley. Even in far northern Tarbaghatai (Tacheng) settlers attempted to open state farms on the steppe.

Given the controversy about Han migration to Xinjiang today, some have seen the Qing agricultural colonies as an effort to displace Uyghurs from their homeland. In fact, however, from 1760 to 1830, when most of the farms were opened and the Chinese population in Xinjiang grew to around 155, 000, Qing authorities prohibited Chinese from settling permanently or bringing their families to the Tarim Basin. Only a few hundred Chinese, mostly merchants, resided in the Tarim oases during these decades. Rather, the Chinese settlers were concentrated in Urumchi (then a new city) and Zungharia, where few Uyghurs yet lived. That being said, the main goal of the Qing tuntian was nonetheless strategic, and it was hugely successful. The Qing military, based primarily in Zungharia, needed grain. The state farms provided this grain and a surplus: grain supplies were often greater, and prices cheaper, in Qing Xinjiang than in China proper.

After 1831 the Qing permitted and encouraged Chinese migration into the Tarim and stationed permanent troops, with dependents, on the land there as well. To people the Tarim with Chinese had by then become the great hope of some Chinese statecraft thinkers and of the Qing Daoguang emperor, but in those troubled decades there were few Chinese farmers available in the remoter Tarim cities. A major survey of available land conducted in the 1840s by Lin Zexu (banished to Xinjiang from Guangzhou for mishandling the opium crisis with the British) concluded that in most areas of southern Xinjiang, new lands reclaimed by the state should be given to local Uyghurs to farm, thus raising the tax base, as there were simply no Chinese around to farm them. In Karashahr and Barchuq (outside Kashgar) some Chinese colonists secured a foothold in these decades, but they were mostly killed or driven out by the uprisings of the 1860s. As we will see in the next chapter, moreover, Uyghurs also ended up farming lands promoted for reclamation by the Qing after it reconquered Xinjiang in 1879. Qing officials on the spot in Xinjiang were primarily concerned about revenue and stability. Although after 1831 Qing authorities saw Chinese colonists as an ideal means to achieve this, settling and taxing Uyghur farmers on new or abandoned lands could serve the same purposes.

Imperial Ideology

In recent years, some historians have approached the subject of European imperialism by studying ideology and rhetoric, the ways in which imperial powers thought and spoke of themselves, of the peoples they colonised, of their mutual relationship, and the ways in which empire was represented and commemorated. Following the Enlightenment and in tandem with scientific developments that reflected a new outlook towards the natural world in general, Europeans applied new concepts and technologies to the lands and peoples they encountered in Eurasia, Africa and America, thinking about them in ways very different than, say, Marco Polo had a few centuries previously. Besides the political and economic goals of empire (extending dominion, extracting wealth), early-modern and modern Europeans sought also to map, categorise, catalogue and curate the flora, fauna, landforms, cultures and languages of places newly under their control. This was the period when such disciplines as modern cartography, ethnography, historical linguistics and comparative biology got their start, relying upon the wealth of data available from the colonies. This endeavour has been described as the ‘imperial gaze’ or the assembly of an ‘imperial archive’. Edward Said coined the term ‘Orientalism’ to describe European scholarly work on the Islamic world and Asia that was distorted by the inequality of power relations between coloniser and colonised. The term may be applied to analogous phenomena elsewhere.

The Qing engaged in a similar imperial project, aside from its tangible efforts to control and finance the occupation of Xinjiang. The court produced massive volumes to codify knowledge about the region. These include dictionaries of Xinjiang place names and the genealogies of its ruling élites; lengthy works of history, geography and local description; large scale maps of the empire produced with the latest cartographic technology under supervision of European Jesuits in the Qing court; a series of engravings depicting key battles of the conquest, so detailed that military historians use them to study contemporary weaponry; and ethnographic accounts of the various peoples in Xinjiang. That these works were meant to commemorate conquest, as well as collect knowledge, is clear from the triumphant poems by the Qing emperor that serve as prefaces to court-sponsored works. There were also essays carved on tall stone steles, portraits of meritorious generals, lyric poems and ceremonial parades and executions of Central Asian ‘rebels’. Though the nuances differ, and though the Qing seldom espoused a ‘civilising mission’ or ‘manifest destiny’ in Xinjiang (that would come later, under the Chinese Republic and People’s Republic), there are ample similarities between Qing and various European imperial projects to justify comparison.

And what about Sinocentric ideology? Until recently many historians of China accepted without question the notion that the tribute system (discussed in Chapter 2) and the process of sinicisation governed China’s relations with neighbouring countries and non-Chinese peoples. The concept of sinicisation is a problematic one, however. It has been used in at least two senses. First, it was once assumed that both neighbouring peoples and conquerors of China acculturated spontaneously to the superior Chinese civilisation once they encountered it. This idea, derived from classical Chinese texts, has been dismissed or highly qualified on both empirical and theoretical grounds.

The second sense of ‘sinicisation’ is that of direct state attempts to eradicate non-Chinese cultural elements and convert a people or region to Chinese ways. Qing officials occasionally implemented such assimilative policies among Miao groups in south-western China. Uyghur exile groups and their sympathisers often accuse the PRC government of such a project in Xinjiang today—a question we will take up below—and some assume the Qing was interested in doing the same thing. In fact, however, as mentioned above, before the mid-nineteenth century the Qing operated parallel administrations and legal systems for Turkic Muslim, Mongol and Chinese inhabitants of the region, and maintained a loose segregation of the populations, restricting Chinese farmers to northern and eastern Xinjiang. This was a deliberate policy to limit Chinese influence, and the friction it would cause, in the Tarim Basin. Moreover, such an approach was in keeping with the efforts of the Qing rulers in Tibetan and Mongol areas to rule not as an emperor in the Chinese mode, but as an Inner Asian great khan, with legitimacy derived from Chinggisid descent and patronage of the Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhist church. The 1830s policy to encourage Chinese settlement in the Tarim marked the beginnings of a shift away from this stance; by the end of the century some Chinese literati would be advocating the full-scale assimilation of Xinjiang to Chinese norms as a means of securing the territory, an approach to which the Qing court would increasingly acquiesce.

Even before that, however, Qing imperium suffered from an ideological shortcoming in the Tarim Basin. Descent from a great khanal line, like that of the Turks or especially the Mongol Chinggis Khan, had long been a major component underpinning the legitimacy of rulers in Xinjiang. This the Qing emperors could claim, and they were known in local Muslim sources as Khaqan-i Chin (Khaghan of China) or Ulugh Khan (Great Khan). Since the Qarakhanids, however, Chinggisid descent had been complemented, and was ultimately eclipsed by the religious charisma of those claiming descent from the prophet Muhammad or lineages of Sufi saints, especially the Makhdumzadas. As Joseph Fletcher and Kim Hodong have pointed out, despite some patronage of Islamic sites and the employment of local Islamic beg officials, as non-Muslims, the Manchus could not co-opt Islamic sources of legitimacy

The Ush Uprising

Ideology aside, the Qing position in Xinjiang in the mid-eighteenth century suffered from two serious weaknesses. The first was the scanty military deployment in southern Xinjiang. The second was the failure of the Xinjiang tax-base to support fully the Qing military government, and the consequent need for annual silver stipends that the dynasty, by the early nineteenth century in increasingly straitened fiscal circumstances, could ill afford. The first of these flaws left the south-western Tarim vulnerable to invasions from Central Asia, which could be repulsed only by expensive mobilisation of troops from elsewhere in Xinjiang and even China proper. The second flaw made such repeated mobilisations an unattractive option from Beijing’s point of view, but it also made increasing troop strength in Kasgharia fiscally difficult to implement and maintain.

However, the first outbreak of unrest in Xinjiang after the Qing conquest was not directly related to these factors, but rather to egregious misrule and exploitation by local officials in the first years after the conquest. ‘Abd Allah, younger brother of the Hami ruler, was appointed Hakim Beg of Ush Turfan in the western Tarim Basin (not to be confused with Turfan). He and his retainers used his position to extort money from the population. Meanwhile, the Manchu amban, Sucheng, and his son were abducting local Muslim women into their compound and holding them there for months. As one Manchu observer put it, ’Ush Muslims had long wanted to sleep on [Sucheng and son’s] hides and eat their flesh.’ When in 1765 Sucheng decided to join an official caravan conveying official gifts to Beijing, and dragooned 240 men to carry his luggage, the porters and townspeople rebelled. When the Qing court learned the reasons for the uprising it was initially not unsympathetic, and expected that the situation could be quickly returned to normal. After the fortified town held off a besieging Qing force for several months, however, the emperor became enraged and ordered a massacre. When starvation finally drove the townspeople to turn their leaders over to the Qing and open the gates, some 2, 350 surviving adult men were executed, and around 8, 000 women and children sent to Yili and enslaved, thus depopulating the town. The Qing then undertook a reform of the beg system, cutting corvée taxes, restricting higher Beg’s’ privileges and opportunities for collusion with Qing military officials, and intensifying supervision. The court issued stern warnings and rebukes to Manchu and Mongol as well as Uyghur officials in Xinjiang.

The Khoja and Khoqandi Invasions

The main threat to Qing rule in Xinjiang before 1864 did not in fact arise directly from the Uyghur population itself, but from Central Asia. One reason for the heightened Qing anxiety that led to the Ush massacre were rumours that the leaders of the Ush rebellion had communicated with other oases and with Central Asian Muslim monarchs, from whom they expected aid. During the siege Qing forces went so far as to round up the leaders of nearby Kirghiz tribes to prevent the nomads from joining the revolt. In the early 1760s the states and tribal powers in Central Asia had reacted to the Qing arrival on their doorstep with alarm and some talk of holy war ‘to deliver the Muslim world from the attack of the unbelievers’. Did the advance of the Manchu forces seem like a repeat of the Mongol onslaught on Transoxiana five and a half centuries earlier? Whatever the case, the powerful Ahmad Shah of Afghanistan massed his troops and corresponded with other Central Asian rulers to raise a united resistance. These efforts came to naught when the Qing appeared content to stop at the Pamirs, but Ahmad Shah, in alliance with Bukhara, invaded Badakhshan and killed its ruler, citing as justification the fact that the Badakhshani Sultan Shah had betrayed Burhan ad-Din and Khoja Jahan to the Qing.

One Central Asian power which benefited from the new situation was Khoqand, centred in the Ferghana valley over the passes west of Kashgar. The Qing conquest had eliminated the Zunghars as military threat and as intermediaries in the China trade, and brought Chinese goods right up to Khoqand’s back door. Khoqandi rulers began calling themselves khan and expanding their territory. They petitioned the Qing for trading privileges, not always adopting the proper honorific forms of address, a fact which Xinjiang translators concealed when they transmitted the documents to the capital. (Khoqandi rulers referred to themselves as ‘khan’ and, with appalling lèse-majesté, to the Manchu emperor as dost, ‘friend’.) The trade in Chinese products became especially profitable from 1785 to 1792, when the Qing closed the market at Khiakhta on the Mongolian-Russian border, and Khoqand could trans-ship Chinese tea and rhubarb to supply frustrated Russian buyers. Rhubarb, or, more precisely, the dried yellow root of a strain of rhubarb that grows best in the highlands of Gansu and Qinghai, was highly valued in early modern Europe as an efficacious astringent, purgative and all-round wonder drug, almost as important a commodity as tea.

As early as 1760 Khoqandi rulers sought to secure relief for their merchants from Qing customs taxes and repeated these demands through subsequent decades. Later they would seek the right to levy the tax themselves on Khoqandi and other non-Chinese merchants in Kash-garia. Khoqand had some leverage in dealings with the Qing, moreover, because the descendents of the Afaqi Khoja clan lived in Khoqand under their control, and enjoyed a following both locally and within Kashgaria. Together, Khoqand and these Afaqi revanchists who sought to restore their ancestral control over the Tarim Basin would be the primary source of instability in Xinjiang till the 1860s.

Sarimsaq, Burhan ad-Din Khoja’s son, began communicating with supporters in Xinjiang and raising funds in the 1780s. It was not until the time of Sarimsaq’s own son, Jahangir, that open Khoja attacks on Kashgaria began. In 1820 Jahangir escaped and led a band of Kirghiz living in the mountains north on a raid into the Kashgar region. He was driven back by Qing forces, only to escape from house arrest again two years later following an earthquake and lead another failed raid in 1825. From a base in the mountains outside Kashgar Jahangir maintained secret contact with Afaqis in Kashgaria, who sent him money for the war effort. In the summer of 1826, when Jahangir and a larger army of Kirghiz and Khoqandis invaded again, they had local support. After stopping in Artush to visit the shrine of Satuq Bughra Khan (the Qarakhanid convert to Islam—see Chapter 2), Jahangir took Kashgar’s old city, and, with the help of local Muslims, captured Yengisar, Yarkand, Khotan and Aqsu as well. The Qing garrison citadels in each city held out for a time, but after lengthy sieges the forts fell in every city but Aqsu, with much slaughter of Qing troops, Chinese merchants and Uyghur Beg’s. The following spring Qing reinforcements finally arrived from the north and east, defeated Jahangir’s army, and eventually managed with the help of spies to capture him in the mountains.

Jahangir was transported back to Beijing for execution by slicing. A special commissioner to Xinjiang, Nayanceng, then undertook a review of fiscal, military and administrative regimes in the territory. The review resulted in major changes, including an increase in troop levels in Kashgaria and a punitive boycott on Khoqandi trade. Using moneys confiscated from Khoqandi merchants and local Jahangir supporters, the Qing rebuilt its westernmost cities and constructed stronger fortifications behind high tamped earth walls at some remove from the old Muslim quarters of the towns. Chinese merchants then located their shops and houses in between the old and new cities, on land the government now rented to them. The lingering effects of this pattern of settlement are still visible today in Kashgar, where as one proceeds east from the old town around the Id Kah Mosque the neighbourhoods become newer and more heavily inhabited by Han residents. Notably, the Qing took no measures for the defence of the native Uyghur sections of these cities.

The boycott of Khoqand proved an abject foreign policy failure. Three years later the Khojas were back, this time in the person of Muhammad Yusuf Khoj a, Jahangir ‘s brother. Unlike Jahangir’s, this 1830 invasion was primarily the work of Khoqand, who made Yusuf nominal head of an army of Khoqandi merchants and other refugees from Kashgar, with Khoqandi generals as real commanders. This time, though the invaders sacked the old Muslim quarter of Kashgar, Yarkand’s Uyghurs offered stiff resistance, and in neither city did the Qing citadel fall. Yarkand had long been a bastion of the anti-Afaqi Ishaqi branch of the Makhdum-zada Khojas (see above), and Ishaqis in Kashgar actually took refuge in the Qing fortress (there over-zealous Chinese merchant militia, who refused to distinguish between ‘good Muslims’ and ‘bad Muslims’ massacred many Ishaqis despite orders from Manchu officials to desist). It was in great part the ferocity with which the Chinese merchant community in Kashgar and Yarkand resisted the Khoqandi and Afaqi Khoja invaders that led the Qing court to revise its policy and allow permanent Chinese settlement and farming in the Tarim Basin (see ‘Infras true turai and economic development’above).

Following these debacles the Qing was again forced to reassess its policies towards Khoqand. As the Qing official who oversaw the defence of Yarkand analysed the situation, ‘The officials in Kashgaria are, so to speak, shepherds, the [Uyghur] Muslims are sheep, Khoqand is a wolf and the Qirghiz, surrounding us, are like dogs. In 1826 and 1830 Khoqand invaded the frontier again, and the dogs, following the wolf, also devoured our sheep. Therefore, even the barking of the dogs is hard to trust.’

The problem thus derived primarily not from unrest among Uyghurs, but from Khoqand, and involved foreign trade and frontier defence. Starting in 1827 the Qing court and officialdom debated the question of retrenchment from the western half of the Tarim Basin (as far as Aqsu), the Daoguang Emperor himself even cautiously embracing the idea at one point. It was determined, however, that there was no secure place east of Kashgar to establish a new boundary.

Thus the empire was forced to accede to Khoqandi demands, which would be far cheaper than further emergency mobilisations (the 1830—1 campaign had cost the state 8 million ounces of silver, and the military requisitions of grain, draught animals and carts caused great hardship throughout the region). Having abandoned trade sanctions as a policy tool, between 1832 and 1835 the Qing agreed to pardon Kashgari supporters of Khoqand, indemnified Khoqandi merchants for confiscated land and goods, and granted Khoqandi and other foreign merchants the right to trade tax-free in Xinjiang.

Though forced upon the Qing, this arrangement was really not detrimental. In effect the Manchu authorities in Kashgar allowed control of the bazaar to pass from the hands of Beg’s in the Qing system to similar figures, known as aqsaqals, or white-beards, in the employ of Khoqand. Both powers now shared an interest in border stability and the smooth functioning of commerce, and this showed in the region’s relative quiet over the next two decades. Qing duties on foreign imports to Xinjiang had been low to non-existent since 1760 in any case; the dynasty did not tax Xinjiang’s exports. In fact the Qing taxed the considerable Silk Road trade through Xinjiang only indirectly by charging rents and levying property taxes on those Chinese merchants who set up shop in Tarim Basin cities. Uyghurs and foreign merchants had always been exempt from local commercial taxes. Thus the Qing was giving up little by allowing Khoqand to trade freely in south-west Xinjiang.

Joseph Fletcher suggested that the terms of the 1832 agreement with Khoqand were later echoed in the Qing concessions made to Western traders following the 1839-41 Opium War with Britain. Moreover, many of the same Qing officials in Xinjiang during the Jahangir crisis were also involved in negotiating and implementing the terms of the later Treaty of Nanjing (Nanking) with the British. He argues, further, that major elements of this ‘unequal treaty’, including extraterritoriality, most-favoured-nation, and the ceding of tariff collection to a foreign power were in fact not new in the 1840s, but had been tried and found workable in Kashgaria for a decade. (Laura Newby, with the benefit of Qing archival materials, argues that the Qing never ceded to Khoqand the right to collect taxes from foreign merchants in Xinjiang, though Khoqand in various sources seems to have claimed this right.) One should not downplay the arrogance and might-makes-right attitudes of Western imperialists, who despite much mouthing of high principles did after all use gunboats to open China’s markets to Western drug dealers, and eagerly banked the laundered profits at home. Nonetheless, Fletcher’s and Newby’s studies of this incident suggest that the Qing exercised a good deal of influence in shaping the agreements with both Khoqand and Britain, managing to insert into the treaties elements drawn from a traditional Chinese repertoire of techniques used to manage foreign trade and traders. The British were but red-faced aqsaqals with boats.

Despite the Qing’s convenient arrangement with Khoqand, Khoja revanchists continued to cause trouble. Small bands of Kashgari exiles and Kirghiz under the Khoja Wali Khan and others staged attacks on Kashgar in 1847, 1852, 1855 and 1857. In the last Khoja invasion, Wali Khan led a band of Khoqandi and Kirghiz adventurers to Kashgar, surprised the Qing guard (who’d been smoking opium) and rode into the old city through Kashgar’s Qum Darwaza, Sand Gate. The usual massacres of Chinese merchants ensued, and their wares and women were divided up among Wali Khan’s men. But in the seventy-seven days before the Qing army arrived, Wali Khan was unable to take the citadels of Kashgar or nearby cities, though he did make the most of his brief reign: gathering a harem, staying intoxicated on bhang, and erecting a pile of skulls (including that of one European) on the banks of the Qizil River. When the Qing reinforcements arrived, Wali Khan escaped and the imperial forces slaked their own bloodlust with hundreds of executions of local Muslims. Ahmad Shaikh, caretaker of Satuq Bughra Khan’s shrine in Artush, ‘was crimped from heel to head and disembowelled; and his heart plucked out, whilest yet beating with life, was thrown to the dogs. He was then decapitated, and his head exposed in a cage on the main road leading to the city, together with a long row of those of other victims of Chinese revenge.’

The pillage of the invaders and the reprisals by Qing soldiers and Chinese militia led local Uyghurs to become disaffected with the Khojas. As Kim Hodong’s research shows, Islamic sources also abhorred Wali Khan’s brutality, viewing his minaret of skulls with distaste. The Khoqandi khan threatened to execute Wali Khan for massacring fellow Muslims, and reprieved him only after the ‘ulama intervened on the grounds that Wali Khan was a sayyid, a descendent of the prophet. With support from neither Khoqand nor the populace of Kashgaria, their jihad tarnished by indiscriminate bloodshed and plunder, the Khoja cause slipped into irrelevance and oblivion. Future movements against Qing and Chinese rule in Xinjiang would share no direct link to those of 1826-57.

The Rebellions of 1864 and the Emirate of Ya’qub Beg

The 1864 Rebellions

The spark for the 1864 uprisings in Xinjiang came not from the Uyghurs (Turkic Muslims) but from the Tungans or Hui (Chinese Muslims). Tungan rebellion against the Qing had been raging since 1862 in Gansu and Shanxi provinces. Tens of thousands of Tungans originally from these provinces were now in Xinjiang farming, running small businesses, or serving in the Qing military. Tensions between the Tungans and Han Chinese and Mongol and Manchu authorities had grown in Xinjiang as well, until in June of 1864 a rumour spread that the Qing Tongzhi emperor had ordered authorities to massacre Tungans in Xinjiang cities as a pre-emptive measure. Tungans rebelled first in Kucha, followed rapidly by Urumchi, Yarkand, Kashgar and Yengisar. Manas, Changji, Qutubi, Jimsar and Gucheng, north and east of Urumchi, all rose over the next few months. Other cities fell as expeditions from Kucha helped topple Qing hold-outs in the Turfan-Hami region, in Karashahr, Ush Turfan, Bai and Aqsu. In the complex of cities in the Yili valley, Tungans and Taranchis attacked Qing authorities in November 1864. In Khotan, where there were few Tungans, Uyghurs rebelled in the same period. In fact, though Tungans generally rose first, they were quickly followed everywhere by Turkic Muslims, and leadership of local rebellions soon shifted from Tungans to local Turkic elites, except in eastern cities where Tungans were in the majority.

The 1864 rebellions are now often treated as a Uyghur independence movement. While certainly fuelled by hatred of the Qing regime and its Beg’s, and cast by Muslim writers such as Molla Musa Sairami in the rhetoric of holy war, such depictions greatly oversimplify a complex and confusing series of events, involving a variety of mutually antagonistic actors. Moreover, Ya’qub Beg was no Uyghur freedom fighter, but a Khoqandi who imposed his regime upon the populace of the Tarim Basin.

In most cities the Tungans rebelled first, and were later joined and displaced by Turkic Muslims. Thereafter, a variety of candidates for local and regional power took leadership positions. These included Tungan military figures; Uyghur, Tungan and one Afghani scion of noble families; Sufi shaykhs; former Beg’s; and other would-be padishahs and khans, most with religious credentials. Notably absent were the Afaqi Khojas. Results of the rebellions were specific to particular cities. In Tarbaghatai Muslim rebels were victorious, but then fled south, leaving the city to a group of Mongols. In Yili the Tungan rebellion gave way to a Taranchi government that endured until Russian intervention in 1871 (Taranchi was the name used for those Turkic Muslims brought from the Tarim by the Zunghars and the Qing to farm the Yili valley). Kucha, under the leadership of Rashidin Khoja, a descendent of Arshad al-Din, attempted to dominate the other oases, dispatching armies east as far as Hami, west as far as Kashgar and south to Yarkand and Khotan. Far from being a unified movement, Xinjiang in 1864-5 is more reminiscent of Afghanistan in the immediate post-Soviet period, with its warlords, inter-ethnic and inter-regional rivalries.

Nor should these rebellions be viewed as motivated primarily by religious concerns. Islam did provide the unifying ideology that joined Tungans with Turkic Muslims and rulers of different oases, albeit only briefly, and contemporary Muslim writers described the hostilities as a holy war to rid the land of infidel occupiers. However, Xinjiang Muslims had lived in relative peace and stability under Qing rule for a century before these events, and faith in Islam did not lead to unrest in that period. It was economic distress and rampant misrule from the 1850s that created the conditions underlying the uprisings.

Ya‘qub Beg’s Emirate

Powers to the west of the Pamirs closely observed the collapse of the Qing regime in the Tarim Basin and endeavoured to take advantage of it. In 1865 Alim Quli, ruler of Khoqand, itself lately free of Bukharan occupation, sent a Makhdumzada Khoja, Buzurg, under the direction of a military official, Ya’qub Beg, with an army to join the Kirghiz who had besieged and then plundered the Muslim town of Kashgar.

Details of Ya’qub Beg’s background are obscured by myths: that as a young man he worked the teahouses as a dancing boy, and that later, after appointment to serve as beg of an important trade entrepôt, he led local forces in a heroic resistance to the Russian invasion of Aq Masjid. Whatever the truth of these stories, he proved a successful commander and shrewd ruler in Kashgaria, soon displacing Buzurg. In 1865 Ya’qub Beg drove the unpopular Kirghiz out of Kashgar, and soon thereafter took Yengishahr (Yengihissar). (When this city fell, Ya’qub presented his patron, Alim Quli, with a tribute in the traditional Turko-Mongolian manner, in multiples of nine: nine Chinese cannon, nine Chinese charming virgins, nine young Chinese boys, eighty-one silver ounces, eighty-one horses and eighty-one porcelains.) He finally took the Qing fortress in Kashgar after striking a secret deal with the Tungans within the city. His forces massacred thousands of Chinese merchants and militia, and the Manchu officials blew themselves up with the powder stores. Over the next year Ya’qub conquered the cities to his south-east, including Khotan, where thousands of Uyghur defenders died, and then in the north-east, where his advance was hastened by internal strife among the male relatives of Rashidin Khoja, the Kucha ruler.

Kucha fell in the spring of 1867. A few years later conflict broke out between Ya’qub Beg and the Tungan regime in the Urumchi and Turfan area. The events leading to Ya’qub Beg’s conquest of Urumchi well illustrate the opportunism that governed military alliances among the various actors in Xinjiang in this period. In his first attack on the Tungan-held city, in 1870, Ya’qub Beg was joined by Xu Xuegong, a non-Muslim Han Chinese militia leader who had taken to the hills with 1, 500 troops following the Tungan uprising. The Tungan leader in Urumchi, Tuo Ming (Daud Khalifa) surrendered after a siege; however, he later again took up arms against Ya’qub, and this time Xu and the Han guerrillas joined forces with the Tungans. After he once again took Urumchi, in the early summer of 1871, Ya’qub Beg controlled all of southern Xinjiang, from Kashgar to Turfan. He also enjoyed some influence among the Mongols nomadising in Zungharia, but the Yili valley remained under the separate Muslim rulership of’Ala Khan, a ‘Taranchi’.

Ya’qub Beg established his Kashgar orda (camp or, here, court) in the ’new city’ built by the Qing after the Jahangir invasion, a multi-gated fortress locally known as the gulbagh, or rose garden. Foreign visitors to the Ataliq ghazi (fatherly holy warrior), as Ya’qub was also known, were led by silk robed attendants through courtyards under the eyes of his ethnically diverse personal guard to a pavilion with potted poplars and lattice-work walls, where the emir received them with a mixture of Central Asian and European ceremony: once seated for the traditional meal of tea, fruits, nuts and bread, one group of English envoys were honoured with a fifteen-gun salute. Not far away in the citadel could be found one of Ya’qub’s three harem quarters (others were in Kashgar proper and Yengisar), where he was said to keep two hundred wives and concubines, a group reputedly just as diverse as his guard, consisting of ‘representatives of almost every people from the cities of China on the east to the markets of Constantinople on the west, and from the steppes of Mongholia on the north to the valleys of the Himalays on the south’. From this imposing court, Ya’qub appointed governors (hakims) and other officials to administer, police and collect taxes in provinces and townships throughout southern Xinjiang.

Having positioned himself as a defender of the faith and holy warrior against the infidel khitay (Chinese), Ya’qub Beg pursued a strict Islamist policy. His officials enforced adherence to Islamic law, cracking down on male and female prostitution, consumption of alcohol, and sale of such haram meats as cat, dog, rat, pig and ass said to be common in the bazaars under Qing rule. Qadi Ra’is (religious judges) patrolled the streets with squads of police to maintain the shar’iah, dealing out floggings to improperly veiled women or men without a turban. Ya’qub Beg also restored, endowed and visited key shrines in the Kashgar area: the tombs of Afaq Khoja, Satuq Bughra Khan and Bibi Miriyam (a locally revered saint, matron of the Qarakhanid Arslan Khans, whose progenitor she conceived immaculately when the Angel Gabriel visited her through the smoke hole of her tent).

Local Uyghurs did not entirely welcome these changes. Not only were they not accustomed to the strict adherence to Islamic law Ya’qub Beg’s regime enforced in its bid for legitimacy, but many suffered from a heavier tax burden and an economy that was slow to recover. The turmoil of 1864-7 had cut off the last trickle of trade from China, putting an end to the important entrepôt business of re-exporting Chinese tea, silver and other items. Even the jade mines were abandoned. Moreover, the population had declined during the wars, especially in Yili and the eastern part of Ya’qub Beg’s domain. Economic crisis was exacerbated by high taxes: provincial and city officials received no salaries, and lived off the population. The regime maintained an army of some 40, 000 soldiers. Unlike the Qing forces, which had been mainly stationed in Zungharia and paid with silver from China, Yaq’ub Beg’s force had to be locally supported in Altishahr, increasing the burden on the population. Indeed, Ya’qub Beg’s was for the most part an occupation regime. As he took control of the oases cities, he eliminated the local religious leaders who had taken power in the immediate aftermath of the 1864 rebellions. The majority of his governors, and the core of his army were Khoqandis, supplemented by Kashmiris, Badakhshis, Afghans, Kirghiz, Mongols, Tungans and even some recent Chinese converts, known as ‘new Muslims’ (yengi Musulman). British envoys in the 1870s, who were for strategic and economic reasons keen on Ya’qub Beg’s state, nonetheless noted that the populace appeared cowed into submission by mounted Khoqandi guards, who were dressed in the Uzbek fashion. Although people still remembered the Qing with hatred, and welcomed the idea of rule by Islamic authorities, some at least grudgingly acknowledged that times were better under the Manchus.

What you see on market day now … is nothing to the life and activity there was in the time of the Khitay [Chinese]. Today the peasantry come in with their fowls and eggs, with their cotton and yarn, or with their sheep and cattle and horses for sale; and they go back with printed cottons, or fur caps, or city made boots, or whatever domestic necessaries they may require, and always with a good dinner inside them, and then we shut up our shops and stow away our goods till next week’s market day brings back our customers. Some of us go out with a small venture in the interim to the rural markets around, but our great day is market day in town. It was very different in the Khitay time. People then bought and sold every day, and market day was a much jollier time. There was no Kazi Rais with his six muhtasib armed with the dira to flog people off to prayers, and drive the women out of the streets, and nobody was bastinadoed for drinking spirits and eating forbidden meats. There were musicians and acrobats, and fortune-tellers and story-tellers, who moved about amongst the crowds and diverted the people. There were flags and banners and all sorts of pictures floating at the shop fronts, and there was the jallab, who painted her face and decked herself in silks and laces to please her customers…. Yes, there were many rogues and gamblers too, and people did get drunk, and have their pockets picked. So they do now, though not so publicly, because we are now under Islam, and the Shariat is strictly enforced.

Even the guardian of Satuq Bughra Khan’s shrine admitted that Muslims could be as brutal as the Qing, the major difference between regimes being the booming trade of earlier days. Of the Khitayhe said, ‘I hate them. But they were not bad rulers. We had everything then. There is nothing now.’

Although he managed to extend and consolidate his power over the Tarim Basin, Urumchi and Turfan, Ya’qub Beg faced many threats. Ya’qub was wary of potential rivals within his own government and army, as such was the way of Central Asian regimes. Russia, which in the 1850s and 1860s had conquered Transoxiana (Turkestan), including Khoqand, loomed over the border, and indeed in 1871 would annex the Yili valley, wiping out the Taranchi rulers in just a few days. The main threat, however, was an expected return of Qing forces. This concern drove Ya’qub Beg’s shrewd and, for a Central Asian regional leader, unprecedented foreign policy. Though his relations with Russia remained tense, he ultimately signed a commercial treaty allowing Russian traders and commercial representatives in his cities (1872). He actively sought out good relations with the British, welcoming their envoys, hosting a 350-member delegation in 1873-4, signing a commercial treaty granting access to British subjects, and posting an ambassador to London. (Unlike Tibet, which would try desperately to achieve this a few decades later, Ya’qub Beg’s emirate enjoyed full diplomatic recognition from the British). In return, Britain provided the emirate with some international support and covert military aid. Ya’qub became famous in the Islamic world as an infidel-fighter, and ultimately accepted a status as emir of the Ottoman sultan, an arrangement that contributed to the aura of both rulers, but which had no effect on Ya’qub’s own autonomy. The Ottomon Porte also proved a more generous source of military aid than the British, providing cannon, thousands of modern and old rifles and military officers to help Ya’qub train his army in the new drill which the Ottomans themselves had acquired from Europe.

Ya’qub Beg, then, is a fascinating transitional figure. On the one hand he was a Central Asian strongman of the familiar type, claiming descent from Tamerlane, patronising the religious establishment, and leading his troops on a group hunt like a tribal chief. Yet on the other hand he was also cognizant of the new strategic situation which left Central Asia struggling for room between expanding British and Russian and the declining Qing and Ottoman empires. Cannily recognising that Chinggisid and Islamic legitimacy and a personally loyal following would be insufficient to sustain his regime under these circumstances, he entered into long-distance diplomacy with the imperial powers and sought to equip his military with modern weapons and techniques. Whether intentionally or not, he garnered international publicity in Europe as well as Central Asia. Under Ya’qub Beg, Xinjiang for the first time became visible to the whole world, merging with the larger drama of imperial expansion and globalisation.