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Mohammedan Rebellian - 1857-1878

Quite independently, apparently of the "Panthay" rebellion in Yunnan, there broke out an insurrection in the provinces of Shensi and Kansuh, which spread into Central Asia and inflamed the ever-restless ambition of the tribes of Kashgaria. While there was no kind of connection or intercommunication between the Mohammedans of Yunnan and their coreligionists in northwestern China, a wave of rebellion should have swept over the provinces of Shensi and Kansu at the same time that Ma and Tu were raising the standard of revolt in the southwest. At this time, 1857, the T'aip'ing Rebellion was so fully occupying the attention of the Chinese Government that they were unable to do more than hold in check the revolted followers of the Prophet, and it was not until five years afterward that an act of treachery on the part of the Chinese fanned the smouldering ashes of discontent into a flame. The position now required more stringent measures than had hitherto been taken, and two Chinese commissioners were dispatched to restore order in the disturbed districts. In an ill-fated moment a plot was laid for the murder of these men, and while one escaped, the other suffered death at the hands of the assassins.

The murderer, when taken, was done to death with the utmost refinement of cruelty, and a decree was issued by the young emperor, T'ungchih, ordering a general massacre of all those who should persist in following the creed of Islam. With considerable and unwonted success the emperor's forces suppressed the rebellion within the frontier of China proper. In some cities the order given for a general massacre of all followers of Islam was averted by the Muhamadans turning the tables on their assailants and in Khokand a surviving son of Jehangir raised the standard of rebellion, aided by a much more efficient soldier than himself, the famous Yakoob Khan.

Beyond the Great Wall stretches a dreary waste as far as Aksu, which is dotted at distant and lonely intervals by cities, held in the name of the "Son of Heaven." These garrisons were mostly Mohammedan, and, infected with the desire of throwing off the Chinese yoke, they broke out into a simultaneous revolt. In these wild districts there are always elements of disorder lying dormant, but ready to rise into action at a moment's notice, and on all sides the pretenders to lost thrones and aspirants to chieftainships took up arms against the paramount power in the hope that in the prevailing disorder they might be able to satisfy their ambitions. By the surviving loyal garrisons T'ungchih's truculent order was, however, faithfully obeyed, though in one instance at least the tables were turned on the would-be murderers.

It had been arranged by the Chinese garrisons in Yarkand that they should at a given hour put all their Mohammedan fellow-soldiers to the sword, and this would doubtless have been done, had not the followers of the Prophet taken time by the forelock and risen against the too dilatory Chinese. At Khokand the last surviving son of Jehangir, who had been Taokwang's restless opponent, attempted to wrest from the Chinese the city which he pretended to regard as his own. Had this man been left to fight his own battles his career would probably have been a still shorter one than it was. But with the assistance of Yakoob Khan, an able and energetic officer, he succeeded in establishing himself as ruler in Khokand. He had no sooner, however, reached the pinnacle of his ambition than he was deposed by Yakoob, who, having won the laurels of victory, thought himself entitled to wear the crown of empire. In the East such acts of treachery receive no condemnation so long as they are successful, and Yakoob's sovereignty received the seal of general recognition by a solemn act in which the title of Athalik Ghazi, "The Champion Father," was conferred on him at the hands of the Amir of Bokhara.

Unfortunately for the Chinese, the movement which had swept over the wide regions south of the T'ienshan Mountains spread into the province erf Hi, where occurred a repetition of all those unspeakable horrors which usually accompany Asiatic outbreaks. In this case, however, the rebels and their opponents came into contact with a power which has not on all occasions shown itself friendly to the cause of the " Son of Heaven." For some time Russia endured in silence the local disturbances which broke out across her frontier and ignored the raids which were not unfrequently made into her territory by flying rebels or retreating imperialists. At length the disorders reached a point, or the Russians were satisfied to think that they, had done so, when they could no longer be endured, and the Muscovite authorities gave formal notice to the Chinese Government that they were about at once to march in and take possession of the province until such time as the Chinese Government was able effectively to reoccupy the territory. Meanwhile, the Chinese Government was moving up troops preparatory to a regular campaign against the rebels farther south.

Tso Chungt'ang, who had served against the T'aip'ings with distinction and honor, was made viceroy of Shensi and Kansu, with complete control over the military movements. Fortunately Tso was a man of proved ability and of great steadfastness of purpose. The task before him was one of supreme importance, and practically meant the recovery to the Chinese Crown of the whole of central Asia, as well as the pacification of the two provinces over which he was directly called upon to preside. With indefatigable energy he set about the gigantic undertaking, and was fortunate in the choice of his subordinate, General Kinshun, who throughout the campaign showed marked military ability. By the end of 1872 Tso had closely besieged the important city of Suchow, which ultimately surrendered to his arms. Having achieved this success it was arranged that he should remain at the base to organize the expeditionary forces, while Kinshun should march across the dreary desert of Gobi, which lies between the frontier of China proper and Barkul. Without meeting with any serious resistance he captured that town, and then, returning to Kami, succeeded in adding the capture of that stronghold to his triumphs.

With the force at his command, however, he felt unable to advance farther into the rebel country, and in conjunction with Tso desired the establishment of communications over the three or four hundred miles which separate Kami from Suchow. Then followed one of those episodes which only the Orient can produce and which was particularly typical of China. Chinese methods occasionally grind surely, but they always grind slowly, and with the most leisurely indifference the two chiefs arranged that on the several oases in the desert crops should be grown for the supply of the expedition which was to be dispatched into central Asia. For the time being the soldiers were turned into farm laborers. They sowed their seed, they watered their fields, and when the autumn sun had ripened their crops they reaped their harvests. By this time, 1876, Tso's legions were ready to advance.

After a successful march Kinshun's troops appeared before Urumtsi, which, to their surprise and relief, surrendered without striking a blow. Manas was the next objective of the imperial forces. Here the defense was ably conducted, and it was only by closely besieging the walls that at length the garrison was starved into the act of surrender. Experience had probably taught the rebels that a vanquished foe had no mercy to expect from Chinese soldiers, and when, therefore, the time came to surrender the city, the garrison marched out in fighting order, and with their women and children enclosed within solid phalanxes of men. Their object in adopting this order was obvious, and was put beyond doubt by a desperate charge which they made to force their way through the Chinese lines. In this they were unsuccessful, and while the lives of the women and children were spared by the special orders of Kinshun, no restraining hand was put on the soldiers to prevent the slaughter of the garrison. From this point onward the Chinese triumphed all along the line, and though Yakoob Khan intervened on behalf of the rebels, he failed utterly to turn back the tide of war.

After several defeats this celebrated leader returned to Korla, where he died from disease, or, as was broadly stated at the time, by a dose of poison. Aksu, Yarkand, Kashgar, and Khoten fell before the victorious Chinese generals, who thus, in the year 1878, were able to report to the throne that the emperor was again master of his own. Honors were showered on the successful commanders, and Tso was admitted to the Grand Secretariat, was made a member of the Tsungli Yamen, and was promoted to be viceroy of the two Kiang provinces.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:28:44 ZULU