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date: 07 May 2021

Xinjiang Under the Qinglocked

  • Kwangmin KimKwangmin KimDepartment of History, University of Colorado at Boulder

Summary

Xinjiang is a 642,800-square-mile area about the size of Iran, comprised of two different ecological zones (northern steppe and southern oases) in the heart of Eurasia. After subjugating the Zunghar Mongols, based in the area, in 1754–1759, the Qing stationed 25,000–45,000 troops there. The empire transferred 850,000–4,000,000 taels of silver from China annually for the financial support of the troops. The Qing also encouraged migration of Han and Muslim Chinese (Tungan) merchants and colonists to develop the underpopulated north, and they relied on oasis Muslim (or “Uyghur”) landlords (beg) to do the same in the south. For the first sixty years, the region witnessed the unprecedented expansion of local economy and the rise of a new regional identity. However, the Qing faced stiff challenges to their authority from the 1820s to the 1860s, as the former ruler of the area of southwestern oases, the Islamic saintly family (khwaja) that lived in exile in Central Asia after the Qing conquest, invaded Kashgar and Yarkand, often supported by the opportunistic ruler of the neighboring Khoqand khanate. The Qing was eventually able to fend off the khwaja challenge. However, the discontinuation of the silver transfer from China during the Taiping Rebellion (1851–1864) led to the fall of Qing rule in 1864. Tungans and native Muslims rose in revolt in the name of holy war, which culminated in the formation of an independent Islamic state presided over by the Khoqandi general Ya’kūb Beg. After the Qing empire reconquered Xinjiang in 1877, the Qing transformed Xinjiang into a Chinese province (sheng) in 1884, largely in response to the increasing activities of the Russia empire, driven by its commercial and territorial ambition. However, the subsequent opening of numerous “treaty ports” across Xinjiang, where extraterritorial condition prevailed, rendered the Qing government’s territorial control over the region incomplete.

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