Muslim Rebellions in China

Growing tensions in China between ethnic Chinese and a Muslim minority erupted in a series of three distinct Muslim rebellions, at the same time that the Qing Dynasty was being threatened by two other major rebellions. The violent suppression and defeat of the Muslim rebels ensured China’s territorial integrity and contributed to the Qings’ preservation of imperial power.

Summary of Event

During the early 1850’s, conflicts arose in China when the ruling Manchu Qing Dynasty attempted to impose mainstream Chinese religious traditions upon the Islamic population, which was composed mostly of an ethnic minority known as the Hui. Resistance to this imposition was centered in the Muslim population centers of the northwest and southwest. Many Muslims objected to economic and political discrimination, as Qing officials increased taxation. The rise of a radical new form of fundamentalist Islam called New Teaching added fuel to the religious conflict. The conquest of Xinjiang by the Qianlong Emperor by 1759 had brought Turkish Muslims into China, and their influence continued to spread. China;Muslim rebellions
Islam;in China[China]
Qing Dynasty;and Muslim rebellions[Muslim rebellions]
China;Qing Dynasty
Hui Minorities’ War
Yakub Beg
Du Wenxiu
[kw]Muslim Rebellions in China (Winter, 1855-Jan. 2, 1878)
[kw]Rebellions in China, Muslim (Winter, 1855-Jan. 2, 1878)
[kw]China, Muslim Rebellions in (Winter, 1855-Jan. 2, 1878)
China;Muslim rebellions
Islam;in China[China]
Qing Dynasty;and Muslim rebellions[Muslim rebellions]
China;Qing Dynasty
Hui Minorities’ War
Yakub Beg
Du Wenxiu
[g]China;Winter, 1855-Jan. 2, 1878: Muslim Rebellions in China[3080]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Winter, 1855-Jan. 2, 1878: Muslim Rebellions in China[3080]
[c]Religion and theology;Winter, 1855-Jan. 2, 1878: Muslim Rebellions in China[3080]
[c]Government and politics;Winter, 1855-Jan. 2, 1878: Muslim Rebellions in China[3080]
Zuo Zongtang
Cen Yuying
Bai Yanhu
Ma Hualong

In 1851, the Taiping Qing Dynasty;and Taiping Rebellion[Taiping Rebellion]
Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864)
China;Taiping Rebellion Rebellion began, taking the Qing by utter surprise. In 1853, the Taiping conquered Nanjing, and the Nian Rebellion China;Nian Rebellion
Nian Rebellion (1853-1868) broke out to the north of this city. Next, with Qing authority severely weakened, the first Muslim rebellion erupted in Yunnan Province. This revolt, known as the Panthay Rebellion Panthay Rebellion (1851)
China;Panthay Rebellion , began when ethnic Chinese attempted to seize a Muslim gold mine in the winter of 1855. In February, 1856, the Chinese burned Muslim villages and tried to kill Muslims in Yunnan. Under the spiritual guidance of Imam Yusuf Ma Yusuf Ma (Ma being used as the Chinese form for Muḥammad) and the military leadership of Ma Rulong Ma Rulong , the Muslims rose and besieged Kunming.

As the rebellions spread, Muslim rebel leader Du Wenxiu captured the city of Dali in 1858. A fierce adherent of the New Teaching, he founded his own sultanate at Dali, also called Pingnan Guo (“Southern Pacified Kingdom”). To Westerners, he became known as Sultan Sulayman. He set up an Islamic court and imposed Sharia law. However, the Muslim rebels were divided over the New Teaching. In 1861, Ma Rulong accepted the rank of Chinese general and occupied Kunming for the Qing. Yusuf Ma also made peace with the Chinese, with Du Wenxiu continuing the rebellion.

In the northwest, the Qings’ war against the Taiping Qing Dynasty;and Taiping Rebellion[Taiping Rebellion]
Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864)
China;Taiping Rebellion affected the Muslim population of the provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. First clashes with the Chinese began in 1861. In June, 1862, a disbanded Muslim militia clashed with a Chinese merchant near Xian in Shaanxi. Chinese militias burned Muslim villages and killed Muslims. This triggered another Muslim rebellion, sometimes referred to as the Dungan Revolt China;Dungan Revolt , led by Ma Hualong Ma Hualong and Bai Bai Yanhu Yanhu.

The Muslims established contact with the Taiping in the summer of 1862 and soon controlled the countryside of Shaanxi. In 1863, the Manchu general Dorongga arrived and rolled back the rebels, killing two Taiping commanders. Bai Yanhu fled west into Gansu, where he incited further Muslim revolts. General Dorongga was killed in battle in May, 1864, and Qing fortunes deteriorated.

Muslims spread rumors into Xinjiang that the Chinese planned to murder all Muslims of this territory. On the night of June 3-4, 1864, the Muslims of Kucha, Xinjiang, rebelled, killing more than one thousand Chinese. From Kucha, Muslims called for a jihad, or holy war, against the Chinese. In Urumchi, the Muslim Tuo Ming from Gansu used weapons stored in a mosque for an uprising on June 26, 1864. After he captured Urumchi, Tuo proclaimed a kingdom of Islam with himself as its king.

One city after another in Xinjiang fell to the Muslims, who controlled the entire territory by the end of 1864. While the Taiping were defeated by this point, the Nian Rebellion China;Nian Rebellion
Nian Rebellion (1853-1868) continued. In Yunnan, moreover, Du Wenxiu refused to surrender. In January, 1865, the Muslim adventurer Yakub Beg entered western Xinjiang (Kashgar) with a small expeditionary force from Khokand. Fighting both the remaining Chinese and those Muslims refusing his authority, Yakub established himself as ruler of Kashgar in the spring of 1866.

In August, 1868, the Nian Rebellion was crushed. While Du Wenxiu renewed his assault on Kunming, one of the best Chinese military leaders, Zuo Zongtang, Zuo Zongtang arrived in Xian in November, 1868. In April, 1869, Zuo’s troops cleared the approach to the Muslim stronghold of Jinjibao. In the fall of 1869, the siege of Kunming was lifted. Du Wenxiu retreated to Dali. The Chinese commander Cen Yuying, Cen Yuying aided by the former rebel Ma Rulong, continued his pursuit.

In the spring of 1870, Zuo laid siege to Jinjibao. In Xinjiang, Yakub Beg conquered Urumchi and Turfan from other Muslims. In February, 1871, Ma Hualong Ma Hualong surrendered starving Jinjibao. Zuo had him and his family sliced to death, as well as executing his officials. Thousands of Muslims were deported to eastern Manchuria Manchuria;Muslims in . Zuo turned his army south to Hezhou, where Bai Yanhu had fled.

With the rebels faltering in Yunnan in 1872, they turned to Great Britain and Turkey for support. Both countries refused. After defeating Zuo’s army in February 1872, Ma Zhanao of Gansu decided to submit to him. In exchange, he was made a Qing general and his Muslim troops were integrated in the Chinese army. Bai Bai Yanhu Yanhu escaped. In Xinjiang, Yakub Beg received diplomatic recognition from Russia with a trade treaty on June 20, 1872. He also nominally submitted to the sultan of Turkey in May, 1873.

In January, 1873, Cen Yuying Cen Yuying captured Dali after fierce fighting. Du Wenxiu died by suicide or execution. Zuo reconquered Suzhou in November, 1873, and executed and deported many Muslims. The Muslim rebellions in Yunnan, Shaanxi, and Gansu were suppressed, at great costs for both sides, by 1874. China then turned its attention to Xinjiang. On April 13, Yakub Beg concluded a commercial treaty with Britain. Japan then invaded Taiwan. Both events threatened the Qing, leading to a fierce Chinese debate as to which enemy to confront first. In Spring, 1875, Zuo Zongtang Zuo Zongtang won the debate, arguing that China concentrate first on fighting the rebels. Russia, in spite of its treaty with Kashgar, sold him much-needed grain. In the summer of 1875, Zuo’s forces captured the first eastern Xinjiang cities.

In 1876, Yakub Beg tried a diplomatic solution, approaching the Chinese in vain. They took Urumchi on August 19 and reached their next objectives before winter. In early 1877, Yakub Beg sought British mediation with China, to which Great Britain agreed. On the battlefield, however, Zuo’s army advanced toward Kashgar. On May 29, 1877, Yakub Beg died at Kurla. Most historians believe he had suffered a stroke the previous day after flogging to death one of his men. His death left the Muslims in disarray. Their cities fell rapidly to the Chinese. By the end of October, Bai Bai Yanhu Yanhu and thousands of his people fled into Russia. On December 18, 1877, Chinese troops entered Kashgar. The fall of Khotan on January 2, 1878, marked the end of the Muslim rebellions in China.


The Panthay Panthay Rebellion (1851)
China;Panthay Rebellion Rebellion and the Dungan Revolt seriously shook China culturally and politically, coinciding as they did with two other major rebellions and with the humiliation of China by the British and French in 1860. These Muslim rebellions (referred to by the modern Chinese government as the Hui Minorities’ War) had the potential to evolve into a general civil war that could have led to the disintegration of the Qing empire.

The ability of some Qing leaders to exploit Muslim divisions and the shift in the balance of power after the end of the Taiping Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864);and Muslim rebellions[Muslim rebellions] and Nian Rebellions Nian Rebellion (1853-1868)
Nian Rebellion (1853-1868);and Muslim rebellions[Rebellions] allowed China to suppress the Muslim rebellions. Because of Zuo’s focus on internal enemies, China reconquered Xinjiang. Russia and Britain had toyed with the idea of supporting an Islamic buffer state there, which would certainly have weakened China.

As it was, Russia Russia;and China[China]
China;and Russia[Russia] exploited the Muslim rebellions by occupying the northernmost valley of the Ili River, in Xinjiang, in 1871. At a peace treaty in St. Petersburg in 1879, Russian diplomats tricked the Chinese envoy, Chong Hou Chong Hou , into ceding 70 percent of the territory. A second mission led by Zeng Jize, son of the illustrious Zeng Guofan, secured a better treaty in 1880. However, conflict with Russia over territory bordering Xinjiang continued into the twentieth century. China made Xinjiang a province in 1884, with a significant Muslim population under Chinese rule. During the early twenty-first century, aggressive settlement of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region gave Han Chinese a 40 percent share of the population.

Further Reading

  • Chu, Wen-djang. The Moslem Rebellion in Northwest China, 1862-1878: A Study in Government Minority Policy. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton Press, 1966. First comprehensive study of the event in English, drawing on many original sources. Notes, index, bibliography.
  • Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. The Rise of Modern China. 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Places the rebellions in the context of Qing Dynasty survival and nineteenth century Chinese international relations with Western powers. Notes, index.
  • Kim, Hodong. Holy War in China: The Muslim Rebellion and State in Chinese Central Asia, 1864-1877. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2004. Focuses on the Muslim rebellion in Xinjiang and on Yakub Beg. The Shaanxi and Gansu rebellions are briefly mentioned in the context of Zuo Zongtang’s campaign. Illustrated, maps, tables, notes, bibliography.
  • Spence, Jonathan. The Search for Modern China. 2d ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. The most widely available book on modern Chinese history in English. The end of chapter 8 discusses the Muslim rebellions in Yunnan, Shaanxi, and Gansu; does not deal with the rebellion in Xinjiang. Maps, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.
  • Wright, Mary Clabaugh. The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism: The T’ung Chich Restoration, 1862-1874. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1957. Chapter 6 discusses the suppression of the Muslim revolts of Yunnan, Shaanxi, and Gansu in the context of the Qing restoration. Notes, bibliography, index.

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