III. The Administration of Xinjiang by the Successive Central Governments

The close ties between Xinjiang and the Central Plains have existed for a long time. In the early years of the Western Han Dynasty, the Western Regions were under the rule of the Xiongnu. In 138 B.C., the imperial court of the Han Dynasty sent Zhang Qian to the Western Regions as an envoy in an attempt to forge alliances which would stop raids by the Xiongnu on the dynasty’s borders. In 121 B.C., a Han army inflicted a crushing defeat on the Xiongnu troops stationed along the Gansu Corridor. After that, the Han Dynasty set up the four prefectures of Wuwei, Zhangye, Jiuquan and Dunhuang in the region. In 101 B.C., the Western Han Dynasty stationed hundreds of garrison troops in Luntai and Quli, south of the Tianshan Mountains, and appointed a local “envoy commander” to command them. The title “envoy commander” was later changed to “envoy for protecting the region west of Shanshan (Qarqan).”

In 60 B.C. (the second year of the Shenjue reign period of Emperor Xuandi of the Han Dynasty), the Western Regions Frontier Command was established. At about the same time, an internal disturbance occurred among the Xiongnu ruling clique, and Xian Shan, Prince Rizhu of the Xiongnu stationed in the Western Regions, led a cavalry of several ten thousand strong to pledge allegiance to the Han imperial court. The Western Han court appointed Zheng Ji as the Frontier Commander of the Western Regions, with his headquarters in Urli (in modern Luntai County), to administer over the whole region. The local chieftains and principal officials in all parts of the Western Regions all accepted official seals from the Western Han court. The establishment of the Western Regions Frontier Command indicated that the Western Han had begun to exercise state sovereignty over the Western Regions, and that Xinjiang had become a component part of the unitary multi-ethnic Chinese nation.

The government of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) appointed first a Frontier Commander, and then a Governor, of the Western Regions to continue to exercise military and political administration over all parts of the western territory both north and south of the Tianshan Mountains. In 221, the kingdom of Wei (220-265) of the Three Kingdoms Period (220-265, the other two kingdoms being Shu and Wu) inherited the Han practice, stationing a garrison commander at Gaochang (Turpan) to rule the Western Regions. Later, it also appointed a governor to administer affairs concerning the ethnic groups in the Western Regions. In the last years of the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316), Zhang Jun, founder of the Former Liang Regime (301-376), sent an expedition to the Western Regions, occupied the Gaochang area and established Gaochang Prefecture. The Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) set up Shanshan and Yanqi garrison commands to strengthen its administration of the Western Regions.

During the Sui and Tang dynasties, the central government strengthened its rule over Xinjiang. In the last years of the sixth century, the Sui Dynasty (581-618) unified the Central Plains. When Emperor Yangdi (r. 604-618) ascended the throne, one of his first acts was to send Pei Ju, Vice-Minister of Personnel, to Zhangye and Wuwei to supervise trade with the Western Regions and investigate local conditions. In 608, troops of the Sui Dynasty occupied Yiwu (Aratürük), built a city wall there, and established the three prefectures of Shanshan (modern Ruoqiang, or Qarkilik), Qiemo (southwest of modern Qiemo) and Yiwu (within the territory of modern Hami).

In the early seventh century, the Tang Dynasty replaced the Sui. In 630, Yiwu, together with the seven cities under its jurisdiction, changed its allegiance from the Western Turks to the Tang Dynasty, which established Western Yizhou Prefecture (later Yizhou Prefecture). In 640, Tang troops crushed a rebellion staged by the Qu ruling house (501-640) of the Gaochang Kingdom in collusion with the Turks, and established a Xizhou Prefecture in Gaochang and a Tingzhou (Bexibalik) Prefecture in Kaganbu (modern Jimsar). In the same year, the Tang court set up the Anxi Frontier Command in Gaochang. This was the first high-ranking military and administrative organ established by the Tang Dynasty in the Western Regions. Later, it was moved to Kuche, and its name was changed to the Grand Anxi Frontier Command.

After defeating the Western Turks, the Tang Dynasty unified all parts of the Western Regions, and in 702 established the Beiting Frontier Command in Tingzhou (later upgraded to Grand Beiting Frontier Command) to take charge of military and administrative affairs in the north of the Tianshan Mountains and the east of Xinjiang, while the Grand Anxi Frontier Command supervised military and administrative affairs in the vast areas south of the Tianshan Mountains and west of the Congling Mountain Range. Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-756) of the Tang Dynasty established a Qixi Military Governorship to supervise both frontier commands. Qixi was one of the eight major military governorships at that time in the country.

The Tang central government instituted a system of separate administrations for the Han and the people of the other ethnic groups in the Western Regions. That is, it adopted the same administrative system of prefecture, sub-prefecture, county, township and li (neighborhood or village) as in the inland areas in Yizhou, Xizhou and Tingzhou, where most Han were concentrated. In addition, the equal-field system (the farmland system of the Tang Dynasty) and taxation system of payment in kind and labor were adopted, as well as the system of prefectural military commands. In the areas inhabited by other ethnic groups, the Tang rulers governed through the traditional chiefs and headmen, who were granted civil and military titles but allowed to manage local affairs according to their own customs. At the same time, the central government stationed garrisons in Qiuci, Yutian, Shule and Suiye (or Suyab, formerly Yanqi), which were known as the “four garrison commands of Anxi.”

Internal strife in the Central Plains during the Five Dynasties period, and the Song, Liao and Jin dynasties distracted the attention of rulers of the Central Plains from the Western Regions, resulting in several local regimes existing side by side in the Western Regions. The local governments of Gaochang, Karahan and Yutian exercised a great degree of autonomy, but they all maintained close ties with the ruling dynasties in the Central Plains.

The Gaochang and Karahan were local regimes established by the Uighurs, who had moved west to the Western Regions together with other Turki-speaking tribes after the Mobei Uighur Khanate collapsed in 840. The Gaochang had the Turpan area as its center while the Karahan controlled the vast areas south of the Tianshan Mountains and Hezhong (Samarkand) in Central Asia.

The Uighur local regimes had very close relations with the ruling dynasties in the Central Plains. The ruler of the Karahan Kingdom called himself the “Peach Stone Khan,” meaning “Chinese Khan,” to indicate that he was a Chinese subject. In 1009, after occupying Yutian, Karahan sent envoys with tribute to the emperor of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). In 1063, the Northern Song conferred upon the ruler of Karahan the title of “King of Sworn Allegiance.” In the third year after the founding of the Northern Song Dynasty, the Gaochang Uighurs sent 42 envoys bearing tribute to the Northern Song court.

Yutian was the habitat of the Sai people. In recognition of its maintaining close ties with the Central Plains, the Tang Dynasty conferred an official title on the ruling clan of Yutian, which then changed its surname from Yuchi to Li, the surname of the Tang ruling house. In 938, Emperor Gaozu of the Later Jin Dynasty sent Zhang Kuangye and Gao Juhui to Yutian as envoys to confer on Li Shengtian, Yutian’s ruler, the title of “King of the Great Treasure Yutian State.” In the early years of the Northern Song Dynasty, envoys and monks from Yutian brought tribute to the Song Dynasty court from time to time.

The founder of the Yuan Dynasty, Genghis Khan, completed the political unification of the regions north and south of the Tianshan Mountains. He first set up military and administrative organs like “Dargaq” (a Mongolian official title, meaning “garrison officer”) and “Bexibalik Secretariat” to take charge of the military and administrative affairs of the Western Regions.

After the Yuan Dynasty was proclaimed, while giving attention to socio-economic development in the Western Regions, it appointed a judicial commissioner in the Turpan region. Later, a treasury and printing house for banknotes were established there, together with a Bexibalik Command to administer the Turpan area, which was garrisoned by soldiers of the vanquished Southern Song Dynasty army, who were also there to open up wasteland. At the same time, the Yuan court sent soldiers to Hotan and Qiemo for garrison and reclamation duties, set up a foundry in Bexibalik to make farm tools, and instituted a land tax system in the Uighur areas.

In 1406, the Ming Dynasty set up a Hami Garrison Command, and appointed the heads of the leading families in Hami as officials to manage local military and administrative affairs, so as to keep the trade routes to the West open and bring the other areas of the Western Regions under its control.

The Qing government consolidated unified jurisdiction over the Western Regions. In 1757, the Qing imperial court crushed the long-standing Junggar separatist regime in the Northwest. Two years later, it quelled a rebellion launched by the Islamic Aktaglik Sect leaders Burhanidin and Hojajahan, thus consolidating its military and administrative jurisdiction over all parts of the Western Regions.

The post of Ili General was established in 1762 to exercise unified military and administrative jurisdiction over the regions both south and north of the Tianshan Mountains, with the headquarters in Huiyuan (in modern Huocheng County) and staffed with officials like supervisors, consultants, superintendents and commissioners.

In accordance with the principle of “doing what is appropriate in the light of local conditions” and “exercising administration according to local customs,” the Qing government adopted the system of prefectures and counties in the region north of the Tianshan Mountains inhabited by people of the Han and Hui ethnic groups, and maintained the local “Baeg system” (a Turki term for local officials) for the Uygurs in the Ili region and the region south of the Tianshan Mountains.

Even in the latter region, however, the central government reserved the power to make official appointments and removals with the strict separation of religion from politics. It adopted the system of “Jasak” (a Mongolian term for governor) by conferring the hereditary titles of princes and dukes on Mongolians and the Uygurs in the Hami and Turpan regions. It also recruited officials from other ethnic groups besides the Manchus.

In economic affairs, the Qing promoted the simultaneous development of farming and livestock breeding, with the emphasis on farming. It also reduced taxes and fixed quotas for financial subsidies. Xinjiang witnessed steady social and economic development under the Qing Dynasty.

Following the Opium War of 1840, Xinjiang was subject to aggression from Tsarist Russia and other powers. In 1875, Zuo Zongtang, governor-general of Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, was appointed imperial commissioner to supervise the affairs of Xinjiang.

By the end of 1877, Qing troops had recovered the areas north and south of the Tianshan Mountains which had been occupied by Yakubbae of Central Asia’s Kokand Khanate (Fergana). In February 1881, the Qing government recovered Ili, which had been forcibly occupied by Tsarist Russia for 11 years.

In 1884, it formally established a province in the Western Regions and renamed the area as Xinjiang (meaning “old territory returned to the motherland”). The establishment of Xinjiang as a province was a significant reform, on the part of the Qing government, of the administration of Xinjiang by the previous dynasties.

From then on, the provincial governor oversaw all military and administrative affairs in Xinjiang, and the military and administrative center of Xinjiang was moved from Ili to Dihua (modern Urumqi). By 1909, under the jurisdiction of Xinjiang Province were 4 dao (circuit), under which were 6 prefectures, 10 ting (sub-circuits), 3 sub-prefectures and 21 counties or sub-counties. The administrative organization in Xinjiang was exactly the same as in the inland areas.

In the year following the Revolution of 1911, insurrectionary revolutionaries in Xinjiang set up the New Ili Grand Military Government, marking the end of the political rule of the Qing Dynasty in the Ili region. After the Republic of China was founded, it constantly strengthened the defense of Xinjiang.

Xinjiang was peacefully liberated on September 25, 1949. As the liberation struggle gained momentum across the country and the revolutionary struggle of the people of all ethnic groups surged forward in Xinjiang, Tao Zhiyue, Garrison Commander of Xinjiang, and Burhan, Chairman of the Xinjiang Provincial Government, renounced their allegiance to the Kuomintang and welcomed in the First Army Group of the First Field Army of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), led by General Wang Zhen. The people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang greeted the founding of the People’s Republic of China together with the rest of the Chinese people on October 1, 1949.

To sum up, since the Han Dynasty established the Western Regions Frontier Command in Xinjiang in 60 B.C., the Chinese central governments of all historical periods exercised military and administrative jurisdiction over Xinjiang. The jurisdiction of the central governments over the Xinjiang region was at times strong and at other times weak, depending on the stability of the period. The people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang actively safeguarded their relations with the central governments, thus making their own contributions to the formation and consolidation of the great family of the Chinese nation.