Read China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia by Peter C. Perdue Free Online
Book Title: China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia|
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The author of the book: Peter C. Perdue
Edition: Belknap Press
Date of issue: April 30th 2005
ISBN 13: 9780674016842
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 5.36 MB
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(The Zhungar warrior Ayuxi, Giuseppe Castiglione. National Palace Museum, Taiwan. pg. 277.)
You have conquered the empire on horseback; but can you rule it on horseback?
-Lu Jia, to the Gaozu Emperor 'Liu Bang' (r. 202-195 BCE)
The Zunghar Empire is not one which will provoke many glimmers of recognition. Yet somehow in the process of writing the first English language study of this little corner of Central Eurasia and its conquest by the Qing Empire, Dr. Perdue has somehow turned this topic into a brick of a book, addressing everything from economics and logistics to the future role of the Qing Empire in world history.
The first part of the book is a prelude, which describes the environment of Central Eurasia, and the rise of the Zunghar Khanate. It was a state which rapidly became sandwiched between two expanding frontier empires - the Manchu-Qing Empire from the east, and the Muscovite Russian kingdom from the West.
(Map of the Zunghar Empire, pg. 3. Please expand for further detail.)
The Ming previously focused on grand military expeditions which promised prestige but were often extremely expensive and produced little or no gain. The nomadic nature of the Zunghars (and other Mongol groups) made such campaigns a logistical nightmare.
Here, Perdue asserts that it is the vast Central Eurasian steppe which is the common element in the formation of three states - Manchu, Mongol, and Russian. It is through the combination of multiple traditions and methods of governance which led to the formation of state-building, not just the simple melding of two concepts. For the Russians, it could be steppe diplomacy, cavalry, as well as Orthodox Christianity. For the Manchu-Qing, it could be Mongolian leadership, horsemanship, as well as Chinese language and Manchu kinship structures.
The second part of the book discusses the military narrative itself, stretching from 1670-1771. A central focus in this part of the book is the campaign against the Mongol leader Galdan led by the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661-1722). This emperor was one of the most able in history). During his reign, he suppressed a Ming rebellion, made peace with Vietnam, and overran all of Taiwan, Mongolia, and Tibet, ordered the compilations of Tang poetry and a Chinese dictionary, and cemented territorial expansions which no other Chinese emperor had ever achieved in centuries, or even held in the long term. The French paid him their highest honor and compared him favorably to Louis XIV.
In the case of the campaign against the Zunghars, he led the campaign personally, and much of his correspondence survives, an invaluable historical source. Despite achieving the logistical miracle of sending multiple armies into Mongolia, his campaign is only a partial strategic victory, ending with the death of his Mongol counterpart by plague, and barely saved from starvation with the seizure of the Mongol army's supplies.
(The Kangxi Emperor wearing armor. The Palace Museum, Beijing. p. 136)
It would take another campaign continued by the illustrious Qianlong Emperor to crush the Zunghars entirely, but the Kangxi emperor made substantial inroads, including the skillful use of diplomacy to create a schism between the Mongol tribes. The Treaty of Nerchinsk, between Qing and Russia, further delineated the borders and sealed the Zunghar's fate. By the late 18th century, the Zunghar Khanate was dismembered, and the Qing and Muscovites had control over the central steppe. It was a political arrangement which would survive (albeit in Soviet-Maoist form) until 1991. The era of steppe nomads was over.
The book then moves from a narrative history to an analytic.
Part Three addresses economic basis of the Qing Empire, and Perdue characterizes the war as an exercise in competitive state-building. The Zunghars attempted to extract agricultural and mining resourcecs from their territories and attempted to control their own dominions with greater speed and accuracy. The Qing, of course, outnumbered them, and so did all of the preceding Chinese dynasties. Their success was in their improved logistics and transportation system, much improved over the Ming's. This was how the Kangxi emperor was able to march three armies into Mongolia and Zungharia, and transport cannons and gunpowder overland as well.
Of course, it also helps that the Kangxi and Xianlong emperors presided over periods of economic growth and increased grain production. When wide famines occurred over the mid-18th century, there was even a disaster management system which prevented the worst of the famines (again in a limited and haphazard manner).
The fourth part of the book addresses changes in the historiography of the subject. I can only comment on this partially, as I am unfamiliar with the other writings (by Owen Lattimore and others). However, it is particularly interesting to note the changes in the Qing historiography of events, by subtly rearranging the dates and other events to create a more cohesive organization of events. The death of Galdan, for example, occurred before a decisive battle, not after, but this was changed to reflect a divinely ordained series of events. The Qing also produced monuments in the hinterland as well as the frontier, commemorating and making visible reminders of their victory.
The fifth and final part of the book is about the legacies of these northern frontier wars, and a re-interpretation of the role of the Qing Empire and its influence on Modern China.
The territory which is now comprised by the People's Republic was not always a grand unified cohesive whole, (nor was there always a single Chinese state), but in this case a multi-ethnic empire. Perhaps like the Russians or the Ottomans, but on a vaster scale, with wide stretches of inhospitable terrain and an enormous population, comprising some 300,000,000 by the beginning of the 19th century.
As stated earlier, this was an exercise in competitive nation-building, and the Qing were exceedingly able at it at their peak. They could split apart and sow discord among their enemies, and could use mercantile power where otherwise military means would have failed. The northwestern frontier, now known as Xinjiang (literally meaning New Frontier), was pacified through various forms of settlement and grain shipments, as the area did not always have agricultural lands and was not always self-sustaining. What was never before a part of China became an integral part of it, and the successor states to the Qing never really let go to all of their territorial claims and influences.
Perdue emphasizes that this is also a story of frontier expansion as well as state-building, and that comparisons can be made with the Russian and American marches to the Pacific. However, when this conquest was complete, the military and other state-building apparatuses were dismantled. The Qing gave up on being a colonial empire too early.
In addition to this, there is a further explanation for their relative decline. How could a power so vast, with such advanced weaponry and a modern political apparatus, be brought so low by the end of the 19th century? Perdue emphasizes that it is political corruption, not ecological determinism. He also addresses the explanations brought up by Pomeranz et al., saying that the Qing had the resources and the administrative apparatus necessary to begin an industrial revolution at roughly the same time as the Western Europeans did.
This is a vast and ambitious study, and aims to upend the old myths of nationalist but also Euro-centric history. There are less than 200 pages on the military narrative, and almost all of the rest are on the repercussions thereof.
This is also a largely Sino-centric history, and some others might ask if an alternate perspective was possible. The use of primary sources becomes increasingly difficult with the broader scope I'm asking. I mean, the author already knows Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian, and some Japanese. For an expanded version or companion volume, I'd have to hazard a guess that more Russian, Tibetan, maybe Persian/Tajik, and some of the Turkic languages would be places to start. But I can't even fathom how could such a project be done. How much more can one man do?
I strongly recommended this book for specialists, Sinologists, and everybody at grad student level or above. In the mountain range of books about China, this one is about as easy to tackle as the north face of the Eiger, but it is exhilarating if you can take it.
The book is finely made. The hardcover has fine glossy paper, multiple full-color illustrations, large detailed maps, and a decent price for all those features ($35). With a little digging, you could likely find a used copy for cheaper.
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