Borderland Capitalism
Turkestan Produce, Qing Silver, and the Birth of an Eastern Market
Kwangmin Kim



In 1754, when the British entered into a fight with the French in the Ohio Valley that would become the Seven Year’s War (1754–63), halfway around the globe the Qing Empire launched an attack on its archrival, the Zunghar Mongols. To their surprise, the invading Qing army found a group of Muslim natives who were eager to offer their assistance to the “Chinese” ruler in the desert oasis terrain of Central Asia. The Qing were fortunate to acquire their alliance. As the major landlords in the Qing-controlled region, these individuals, called begs, wielded the political power that could dictate the fortunes of any empire or state seeking to establish itself in the region. They developed land, moved goods, organized capital, and, most important, controlled human labor in the oases. Their families produced secular leaders called hākim (a governor or head of local civil administration) and religious leaders called akhūnds (spiritual leaders) and mullās (Muslim scholars) for the Islamic establishment.1 They became the lifelines of the Qing Empire in Central Asia (see Map I.1).

This book examines the beg alliance with the Qing within the broader context of the expansion of global trade in the sixteenth century and the emerging interconnections and coherence of the early modern world facilitated by it. Because the begs had been well connected to the rhythm of expanding world trade through China since the sixteenth century, this book argues that they allied and supported the Qing in order to promote the agenda of the capitalist transformation of the oasis political economy in response to expanding global commerce. This partnership also helped the begs to weather the social, demographic, and political volatility inherent in the capitalist transformation. In this way, the Qing Empire became the patron of the borderland capitalists and their interests in Central Asia.

This view from the periphery, or bottom up, opens up a vastly expanded historical horizon for understanding the Qing imperial expansion into Central Asia. No longer a merely parochial event in Chinese history, it rather reflects a global event at large—an event embedded in the capitalist transformations of local societies occurring all over the world from the time of the expansion of world trade in the sixteenth century, and a development occurring simultaneously in many parts of the world, from Europe to the Americas and Eurasia, if in different fashions. The needs of Eurasia’s borderland society undergoing such significant change contributed to the success of Qing expansion into Central Asia, as much as, if not more than, did the Qing state’s security forces. Chinese expansion was the story of “borderland capitalism.”

Map I.1. Qing Central Asia (Xinjiang) in Eurasia, ca. 1800.

What is at stake in this book in terms of broader implications is a fundamental question—namely, the location of Qing history or early modern Chinese history within the broader sweep of the global history of imperialism and capitalism in the early modern period. This book challenges the “European exceptionalism” model that considers the interconnected development of imperialism and capitalism as a fundamentally unique European phenomenon, one that paved the way to European hegemony in the world beginning in the sixteenth century. By showing the Qing Empire as a quintessentially early-modern empire that emerged at the crossroads of world-scale commercialization and agrarian and imperial expansion from the year 1500, this book seeks to deprioritize the European experience in the historical narrative of global capitalism and imperialism. Especially by highlighting the pivotal role of the Qing state in agrarian development in Qing Central Asia—a pattern that had strong parallels in British North India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—this book articulates the simultaneous (even coeval) paths to imperialism and capitalism in the colonies and borderlands taken by the European and Chinese empires.

Commercial Agriculture in the Oasis: Stage and Actors

The home of oasis capitalism was southern Xinjiang, or Eastern Turkestan, a 350,000-square-mile area, about two times the size of California. It comprised eight major oasis systems (from Turfan in the east to Kashgar in the west), located on the rim of the Taklamakan Desert. The Zungharia steppe to the north, also in Xinjiang, remained a world apart, one dominated primarily by Chinese settlers and merchants, although it was never completely isolated from the southern oases. This book examines the political dynamics of agrarian development in Muslim Xinjiang, but in no way comprehensively studies the economic history of Qing Xinjiang. Rather, it concentrates specifically on the events occurring within the geography of the oases in southern Xinjiang, where the majority of the Muslim population resided (see Map I.2).

Map I.2. Eastern Turkestan and Its Mining Resources. Source: Forsyth, Report of a Mission to Yarkund, pp. 32–62; GPYSA; MLZZ, QL49/4/12, DG1/7/8, DG5/10/23, DG11/4/21; MW, vols. 156, 241, 247, 252, 265; SYD/XF, vol. 8. Note: Mining resources: Yarkand, jade; Kashgar, copper; Khotan, jade, gold; Aksu, lead, copper, sulphur, coal; Kucha, copper; Qarashar, lead, copper, silver; Tarbagatai (in northern Xinjiang), gold.

Each oasis system constituted an expanding constellation of agricultural settlements, organized around the nucleus of a central market (bazaar), which in turn was closely linked to the web of international trade connecting the Chinese, Central Asian, Indian, and Russian markets. In the aggregate, each system linked into the regional and long-distance trade nexus penetrating Eurasia. Surrounding each bazaar were a cluster of suburban settlements and rural villages, interspersed with vast spreads of dry wildlands. The people residing in the urban centers included merchants, handicraft workers, and officials. The oasis people in the suburbs and rural villages maintained their livelihoods by farming and cultivating cash crops, including fruit, vegetables, and cotton. They also raised livestock for the consumption of the urban population. In theory, this oasis system could expand endlessly, as long as the waterways carrying water to the farmland likewise expanded. However, in reality, in Eastern Turkestan, geographical features of the land curtailed such progress sharply. The high mountains of Tianshan, Pamir, and Kunlun enveloped the Tarim Basin on the north, west, and south. And the Taklamakan Desert, at the center of the basin, would set another fierce physical boundary, also inhibiting new development profoundly.2

In the mountains and foothills lived various nomads such as the Kirghiz, also known as the Burut, and the Kazakh, raising sheep and horses. Also present were hardy small polities of Tajik (mountain people of Persian descent), who cultivated various crops suitable to high-altitude agriculture. These various mountain nomads and farming communities interlinked with the oasis people in the Tarim Basin through trade, usually buying cotton and selling livestock. The mountain enclaves also engaged with the oasis economy through underground means as well. They often enriched themselves by preying on the caravan merchants traveling through the mountain passes.

Water, or the lack thereof, predetermined the scope of all economic activity in this region. Annual rainfall on the oasis of the Tarim Basin ran a scant 100 mm, or four inches, a degree of aridity extreme even by the standards of Central Asia and the Middle East, known for their dry climates. Iran and Afghanistan, for instance, receive 300 to 500 mm of rainfall annually.3 Even worse in the basin was the absence of good rivers, unlike the Fergana Valley on the opposite side of the Tianshan from Kashgar, which benefited from the flow of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya rivers. Any effort to develop oasis agriculture then would rely heavily on artificial irrigation, to secure water resources from either inadequate river systems or mountaintop water melt during the summer. Major canals (ustāng) were built to pull water from main rivers to farming areas; branch canals were built to carry water from the major canals into homesteads. Therefore, basic rural communities (mahalla) comprising four to eighty farming households were formed along each branch canal. In turn, several mahallas, established along the branch canals originating from the same major canal, formed a larger rural community called a yaz (village). Above the yaz was the känt (rural settlement), a conglomeration of two to three or more yazs.4

Development and upkeep of such artificial irrigation systems required substantial investments of capital and labor. This outlay in turn prompted the development of high-profit commercial agriculture ventures, so as to garner as much profit as possible per unit of cultivation. Also found in this region were a few highly coveted mineral resources: gold, copper, and lead, scattered across the oasis valley floors and the mountains of the Tarim Basin, as well as the Zungharia steppe located on the north. The most important mining commodity, however, was jade, concentrated in sites on the two westernmost oases of the Tarim Basin, Khotan and Yarkand. Khotan was the larger center of the two. The jade market in China and Central Asia was huge, and the deposits made these two destinations an important node of the Eurasian trade network (see Map I.2, above).

The begs, by initiating the development of commercial agriculture, ranching, and mining in the Tarim Basin, walked tall in the desert oasis region of Eastern Turkestan. In fact, the name itself literally translates as “lords,” and these figures would head various oasis settler communities scattered in the oasis towns and countryside (comprising, for example, Sufi migrants, former nomadic tribesmen, and caravan merchants). These heads of settler communities began to emerge as a new group of commercially oriented entrepreneurial landlords from the sixteenth century onward, and especially under Qing rule (1759–1864). The begs built a highly diversified commercial enterprise comprising three major interlocking sectors—revenue farming, mining, and agriculture—aimed at local, regional, and international markets (China, Russia, India, and the Middle East). They invested capital to expand their production. They built canals and dikes and organized new land reclamation and mining enterprises. In order to facilitate this development, they purchased land, slaves, and wage laborers. They also aggressively expanded their private domination of formerly common resources such as wildland and water, in spite of resistance from the rural village communities.

Distinctive to the begs’ initiative to expand commercial enterprise was the heavy reliance on their political connection to the Qing. The latter could and did provide stable access to the vast China market. As the ultimate owner of all the undeveloped resources in the oasis, the Qing emperor provided the begs privileged access to untapped land and mines. Because the local Qing administration needed the begs as much as the begs needed the administration, in order to develop resources and raise military revenue regionally, the Qing state willingly shared the fruits of the development, leaving the begs substantial surpluses to be reinvested in local agriculture and commerce.

The Qing emperor’s land grant played an especially crucial role in the begs’ development. The Qing emperor awarded the begs who served him grants of wildland, cash, and yanqis. The latter were oasis farming households required to pay certain dues to the begs to which they were assigned, not the Qing. These grants helped the begs to secure the right to develop vast wildlands into large-scale commercial farms and the necessary labor forces to cultivate them. Often the begs claimed more wildland and yanqis than were officially awarded by the Qing. They recruited wealthy farmers as yanqi, legally and illegally, by promoting the benefits the Qing allowed to yanqis—namely, an exemption from the onerous tax and corvée labor obligation owed to the empire. The begs utilized the recruited yanqi farmers as partners in their land development projects.5

The size of these enterprises was substantial to say the least. For instance, one prominent individual amassed at least 8,459 acres (200 batman) scattered across the oasis region by the time of his death in 1778; that is approximately the size of Stanford University’s campus.6 He also had conducted a thriving jade smuggling business, which had sent fifty tons (76,000 jin) a year into China.7 Another notable beg family was able to invest 6,560,000 taels (liang) of silver in trading with China in the late nineteenth century. This family stationed their own commercial agents in various locations there and also held trading relations with India, the Mongols, and Russia.8

The begs’ growth in commercial enterprises elicited a political reaction from the oasis farmers, the second major actor on stage in the political and social history of Qing Central Asia. The development of commercial agriculture provided opportunity and danger to this group simultaneously. Taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the increasing commercialization of the oasis economy, some oasis farmers thrived; others, who experienced bad luck, however, increasingly could barely sustain a livelihood, and desperately hired themselves out to the begs. Moreover, as the latter encroached on their communal dominion over the wildlands and waters in the rural hinterland, the village communities, the units that retained customary rights over such common resources, spiraled into serious trouble. This pressure, in large part, contributed to the dislocation of oasis farmers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Many, facing personal disaster of various sorts, chose to flee into the surrounding high mountains to form outsider, refugee communities. From there they would threaten the security of the begs and their protector, the Qing Empire, throughout the nineteenth century, attacking caravan merchants passing through the mountain recesses and developing a lucrative smuggling business. They would eventually organize a menacing war against the begs and Qing in the early nineteenth century, feeding off the oasis villagers’ constant discontent with the begs’ agrarian development. The tension and contention between these rural and mountain refugee communities, on the one hand, and the oasis begs and their “Chinese” protector, on the other, informed the trajectory of Qing imperial politics in Central Asia.

In the midst of the mountain refugees were the khwajas who could provide the political capacity to organize these motley elements into concerted action.9 These khwajas descended from an influential branch of the Naqshbandī Sufi Order, which had dominated the politics, economy, and religion in the oasis region in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (the Āfāq faction, or “White Mountaineers”). When the Qing conquered the Xinjiang oases, the majority of the Sufi leaders and khwajas made a decision to join the Qing, primarily because of their interests in the agrarian development of the region; they became a central constituency of the pro-Qing begs. However, these “White Mountaineer” khwajas made a different political choice. Taking advantage of the transfer of overlordship from the Zunghar to the Qing in the mid-eighteenth century, they had tried to wrestle independence from the Qing but failed and consequently were expelled from the oasis. On the run, dispersing to northern India and various Central Asian cities (such as Samarqand, Bukhara, and Khoqand), the sons and grandsons of these dead khwajas traveled far and wide. They would finally find a home and a similar calling in the Tianshan and Pamir mountains, among the mountain refugees and Kirghiz. There they would lead the refugees’ attacks on the oasis valleys.

Global Capitalism and the Qing Empire Reconsidered

The oasis economy of Eastern Turkestan was capitalist, this book argues, because it featured the expansion of the class relations and rural production relations that were characteristic of capitalist economy. Begs, the center of agrarian production in the oasis, were the commercially oriented capitalist landlord gentry. They invested capital to bolster production. They expanded their private claims over rural resources, and utilized hired laborers, whether they were wage laborers or slaves. They accumulated land and recruited resources through expanding the capitalistic institutions of private property and wage labor. They even managed to appropriate the nomadic “feudal” institution of the ruler’s land grants for their commercial purpose, and developed large-scale commercial farming and ranching operations. This book, therefore, contributes to a non-Eurocentric view of the formation of global capitalism, by exploring the expansion of capitalist commercial enterprises in the most unexpected of places—landlocked Central Asia.

For the past few decades, historians have pushed for a global understanding of capitalism. Historians in various parts of the world have explored whether capitalism, understood as the fundamental essence of modernity, had local roots in the historical trajectory of non-European societies, implying that the modernity of the European model was not merely derivative on the local end—that is, a simple transplant transferred from Europe at the time of nineteenth-century European imperialism. Drawing upon empirical dates from China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and the like, these scholars persuasively show that the trajectory of local economies of non-European societies displayed strong similarities with the European one until the watershed moment of the “great divergence” in the eighteenth century. At that time, the expansion of commercially oriented European imperialism and the origin of opportunistic industrial development happening in Western Europe catapulted the latter into a hegemonic force in the global capitalist world order.10

Obviously, these studies tremendously enrich our understanding of capitalist development on a world scale. However, the comparative approach employed by these works may unintentionally tempt scholars into the fundamental methodological pitfall of Eurocentrism. If one defines the existence of capitalism with indexes drawn from the specificity of Western European development and institutions, such measures conceptually elevate the relative European mode of economic production as well as its social and political formations into a universal mode of capitalism, one that is categorically bound to fail in identifying the presence of capitalism in the non-European world. There will always be a “defect” or “absence” in capitalist development in different parts of the world that makes it imperfect at best, or an utter failure at worst. European development was historically specific, and can not be found with exactly the same parameters in other parts of the world. Therefore, by narrowly defining capitalism as a specific mode of production existing in the European core historically, one is likely to forfeit a global interpretation.

What is needed is a more organic and historical definition of capitalism that takes serious account of European experience but does not conceptually privilege it. If the specific historical form of European capitalism of the sixteenth century and onward was a mode of response of local society to maximize profit from the expansion of world trade, it is for us more profitable to examine whether other parts of the world displayed similar development in orientation, if not in institutional specificities, and to capture the complex realities of the transformations as different but interconnected forms of global capitalism. Indeed, Fernand Braudel, one of the prime theorists of the origin of modern capitalism, suggested such a broad, global definition of capitalism—namely, an interconnected system of expansionist, transformative commercial enterprises that re/organized local economy and society in order to make maximum profit from the emerging global trade. At the heart of such capitalist enterprises was the commercial class (landlords, merchants, and industrialists) who considered as their ultimate goal the accumulation of profit vis-à-vis, say, accumulation of power. To achieve their goal, they appropriated every possible resource—commerce, agriculture, and industries—and every kind of preexisting social formation including slavery, feudalism, and even an “Asiatic mode of production.” The existence of specific institutions and social structures similar to those of the West was not essential, as long as the local political economy transformed itself in a way to secure advantage in the growing commercialization of the world. This book adopts and tests this global and interconnective definition of capitalism in an Eastern context, and explores whether the expansion in world trade also resulted in the formation of such capitalist enterprises in the greater Chinese world.11

The beg enterprise fits this description of capitalism very well. It was expansionist, because it insatiably absorbed available resources and labor into the ever-expanding agrarian production in the oasis. It was transformative, for the begs’ efforts set the oasis economy on the path of unprecedented economic growth. Arable land doubled during Qing rule, even using a conservative measure. In 1772, land under cultivation was recorded as 3.4 to 3.5 million mu. By the 1850s–60s, that had expanded to 6.8 million mu. The actual figure was larger, though, because the official number excluded land belonging to the religious facilities (mazārs [shrines], khanqas [Sufi meeting places], madrasas [Islamic schools], and mosques), bestowed as religious endowments (waqf)—a prominent portion of property holdings in oasis society. During the same period, the oasis population increased more than threefold, again using a conservative measure.12 While the population estimate of 1772 stood at a little under 200,000, it rose to 1,015,000 in the 1850s–70s (see Appendixes A-1 and A-2).13

And the beg enterprise was a part of the interconnected developments of commercial agriculture then occurring across the world; it was stimulated by the expansion of global trade—the same commercial growth that contributed to the rapid multiplication of New World plantations, for instance. In the global trade occurring in Chinese Central Asia, the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) empires, respectively, played a significant role. The two dynasties facilitated the flow of New World silver and globally circulated Chinese goods (such as tea and silk) into Central Asia from the east through their operation of the tribute system, a scheme of ceremonial gift exchanges and trade, and their financial investment in military ventures in the region.14 The availability of silver and the opportunities for tribute trade with China had prompted many of the beg families to migrate to and settle in Eastern Turkestan in the first place. Furthermore, the eighteenth-century Qing occupation of the area consolidated the area’s Chinese connections on a firm ground, providing the region a constant supply of silver as well as new Chinese market outlets.

The beg enterprise in turn made the post-sixteenth-century oasis economy radically different from the earlier one. Located on the Silk Road, the oasis economy had long been well connected to the rhythm of global trade even prior to the period. However, the earlier Silk Road trade did not stimulate local production in the earlier trade. Xinjiang oases had served as nodal points for long-distance transit trade between China and the Middle East/India, organized by transregional “intermediary merchants,” who transported Chinese luxury goods such as silk and ceramic but did not have production bases in the oasis.15 However, locally based beg capitalists, who emerged as the new organizers of commerce and agriculture in the oasis, produced local goods (jade, horses, livestock, cotton, and grain) to meet the increasing demands of the Chinese state and market.

In the broad picture, then, this book highlights a remarkable but often ignored development during the age of global commerce—namely, the expansion of a China-centered eastern market and the formation of an indigenous capitalist venture in the greater Chinese world. Emergence of China as a major anchor of global trade––the biggest consumer of silver and the provider of globally traded goods such as ceramics and tea––from the sixteenth century helped the inland Eurasian frontier to be integrated into the circuit of world trade and influenced the trajectory of economic development in broader Eurasia. This formation of Eastern capitalist ventures in Chinese Central Asia was in turn a part of the widespread emergence of commercial agriculture across Muslim Eurasia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as well. From the Middle East to South Asia, commercially oriented landlord gentries, known respectively as ayan in Ottoman and zamindar in Mughal contexts, conducted energetic agrarian development within the context of the growing commercialization of their societies. These ayan and zamindar also made significant progress in bringing new lands into commercial cultivation, and augmenting their private domination over once commonly held resources, all the while causing conflict with rural village communities, as did the Xinjiang begs.16

Most interesting, though, this book’s finding regarding the begs’ reliance on their political connections to an outside empire—Qing—and its state (military) building prerogative in advancing their capitalist agenda, has a strong parallel in British northern India, a point that will be explained in more detail in the Conclusion.17 Notably, the symbiotic relations between the beg capitalists and the Chinese empire, so to speak, also provides a fresh new insight into the fundamental interconnection between early modern imperial expansion and capitalism from the perspective of Eurasian borderlands. Scholars have been making a causal linkage between the capitalist transformation of society and imperial expansion from a metropolitan perspective. Kenneth Pomeranz argues that capitalist development caused major ecological pressures in the major economies, which became the metropoles of the European empires, such as that of Britain; such ecological pressure in the Western European metropole from the time of the sixteenth century encouraged the metropolitan states to increasingly expand their search for land and resources, as well as sites of migration to relieve overcrowding in metropole populations vulnerable to the Malthusian trap. This development created the metropolitan vector of imperial expansion.18

What the story of oasis capitalism highlights is another aspect of the liaison between capitalism and imperialism. Not only the European metropolitan society but also the frontier society, becoming the colony of the Chinese empire in the eighteenth century needed imperial power in its midst to address economic and ecological needs. In addition to constant access to the market in the metropoles, state military power, more importantly, would assist the borderland capitalists to secure new resources and weather the social tension inherent in the capitalist transformation of their underdeveloped economy and ecology. In other words, the same capitalist transformation that created the metropolitan vector of the European imperial expansion may have forced the borderland elites to ally with the expanding Chinese empire, thus creating the periphery vector of the imperial expansion as well.

This discovery also radically revises our understanding of the Qing imperial history of Central Asia. Previous scholarship has explained the Qing expansion into Central Asia from a distinctively Chinese point of view, focusing on the dynamics of Qing state-building and Chinese migrations.19 The standard narrative chronicling these events starts in the late seventeenth century, when the Kangxi emperor (r. 1661–1722) dispatched his elite force, the Banner Troops, to the Central Asian frontier to respond to threats from a new Mongol state, the Zunghar. The Qing troops subjugated them in spite of all odds and with much difficulty, in 1754. Eastern Turkestan also fell to Qing rule because it had been a former Zunghar domain. After overcoming initial local Muslim opposition led by khwajas in 1759, the Qing then implemented a set of partially successful policies to ensure the peace and security of its rule in the oasis. The first measure taken was a military buildup. The Qing stationed tens of thousands of troops in Xinjiang to defend its western regions and adopted innovative fiscal policies that would transform the frontier economies by allowing them to provision the troops.20 The second measure set up a semblance of multicultural representation in the administration of Qing imperial authority in the oasis. The Qing emperors did not present themselves as alien “Chinese” conquerors but posed instead as patrons of the Islamic faith—that is, as the sultan and as the Mongol grand khan—two familiar modes of political legitimation in local culture.21 Additionally, the Qing rulers opted the institution of indirect rule, permitting a degree of ethnic autonomy. Under this system, the Qing entrusted civil administration of the oasis to local secular authority and the legal decisions for intracommunal affairs to the local Islamic establishment, while handling military and foreign affairs themselves.22 In spite of initial reluctance, Qing rulers also decided to encourage Chinese migration to Xinjiang and to utilize the financial and political support of these settlers and merchants to sustain their rule in Eastern Turkestan, especially from the early part of the nineteenth century.23

At this time Qing rule started to decline when its military power weakened under increasing pressures from Central Asian powers such as the Khoqand and Russia, as well as the Muslims’ rising uneasiness with the growing Chinese presence.24 Descendants of the resistant khwaja who had been expelled by the Qing troops at the time of the initial conquest would lead a series of revolts against the Qing Empire, a development that weakened Qing power decisively over time. It failed to respond adequately to the uprisings because of its weakening military power and, more important, its failure to develop a successful ethnic and religious policy toward Muslims and Islam.25 In this sense, the Qing rulers’ problem in Central Asia became fundamental. Elsewhere the emperors might pose as patrons of Tibetan Buddhism without themselves becoming lamas (high priests of Tibetan Buddhism), but it was impossible for infidels truly to become Islamic sultans, at least in the eyes of local Muslims.26 Eventually, the Qing fell in 1864 amid an Islamic religious war, a “holy war (jihad) in China” that swept across all of Eastern Turkestan; in its wake Ya‘qūb Beg (1820–77), a military adventurer from the neighboring Khoqand country, established an “Islamic state” that replaced the Qing Empire in Central Asia.27

However, this China-centered narrative is not sufficient to fully explain the success and tenacity of Qing rule in the oasis. In spite of the intensifying challenges to their military power in this region from the early nineteenth century, the Qing did survive until 1864 and would subsequently resurrect their power in 1877. And the strength of Han Chinese migration cannot explain that phenomenon, simply because the massive Chinese influx to the area would not begin until the early twentieth century. Furthermore, in contrast to the northern part of Xinjiang, Han Chinese settlers were never a major force in Eastern Turkestan during the Qing Period. Even the adroit deployment of multicultural political symbols by Qing rulers, the answer favored by the most recent scholarship, does not explain the success. As scholars admit, the Qing rulers’ cultural representation as sultan, the protector of the Islamic faith, was weak at best.28

This book will show instead that the borderland begs played a critical role in both the consolidation of the Qing Empire as well as its later unraveling, and will highlight the embeddedness of the empire within the local political, social, and economic oasis nexus. The Qing Empire sustained itself as long as it did because the local begs extended their support to it in direct proportion to the benefits that the empire offered them; the empire broke down as the social tensions caused by the begs’ agrarian development intensified. In the broader scheme of events, then, the Qing Empire thus reflected a network of power that was itself integrated into the warp and weft of commerce and agriculture that local begs wove across the vast tapestry of desert terrain in Eastern Turkestan.

In other words, Qing rule was as much drawn into the social and ecological disorder of the borderlands by the expanding trade as it was by the extension of its frontier territories. The unstable dynamics of the reorganization of the oasis economy into a capitalistic agriculture provided the conditions for its initial success in the region in the eighteenth century, as well as its temporary fall in 1864. At the same time, through its involvement in the process of the capitalist transformation of the oases, the Qing state transformed itself into an integral element of the borderlands’ local political economy as well. Its rule thus became a necessary structural factor in the emerging relations of capitalist production in oasis agriculture, with or without intending it.


1. Laura Newby, “The Begs of Xinjiang: Between Two Worlds,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 61:1 (1998), p. 284. For a detailed examination of the Qing conquest of Xinjiang, see Jifa Zhuang, Qing Gaozong shiquan wugong yanjiu [Study on the Ten Military Accomplishments of the Qing Gaozong, Qianlong Emperor] (Taipei: Guoli gugong bowuyuan, 1982); Peter C. Perdue, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005). For the Seven Years’ War, see Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 17541766 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000); P. J. Marshall, The Making and Unmaking of Empires: Britain, India, and America, c. 17501783 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

2. Sanada Yasushi, “Toshi, noson yuboku [City, Rural Villages, and Pastoral Nomadism],” in Kōza Isuramu [Lectures on Islam], vol. 3 (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1986), pp. 108–48; idem, “Oashisu ba-za-ru no seitaienkyū—jūkyū seiki gohan Kashugariano ba’ai [Static Study of the Oasis Bazaar: The Case of Kashgaria in the Late Nineteenth Century],” Chūō daigaku daigakuin kenkyū nenpō 6 (1977), pp. 207–20; Owen Lattimore, Pivot of Asia: Sinkiang and the Inner Asian Frontiers of China and Russia (Boston: Little, Brown, 1950), pp. 152; 165–70.

3. Hori Sunao, “Shindai Kaikyō no suiri kangai: 19–20 seiki no Yaarukanto wo chūshin to shite [Irrigation in the Muslim Domain during the Qing Period: Case of Yarkand in the Nineteenth and the Twentieth Centuries],” Journal of Otemae College 14 (1980), p. 73; Lattimore, Pivot of Asia, p. 152.

4. Sanada Yasushi, “Oashisu ba-za-ru no seitaienkyū,” pp. 208–9; idem, “Toshi, noson yuboku,” 3:116–17, 120–21. See also Hori Sunao, “Shindai Yarukando no noson to suiro [Rural Villages and Waterways in Yarkand during the Qing Rule],” Kōnan daigaku kiyō: bungakuhen 139 (2004): 153–91; idem, “Shindai Kaikyō no suiri kangai: 19–20 seiki no Yaarukanto wo chūshin to shite,” pp. 72–99. The Qing Empire also built their local administration around this hierarchy of oasis settlements. The Qing used the känt as the basic unit of rural administrative unit, naming it rural subdistrict (zongzhuang [“controlling village”]) and appointing the native officials (hākim beg or ming beg) there. The native officials were required to collect taxes from the headmen of the mahalla (ming bash; yuz bash) and transmit them to the Qing administration located in the central city. In the meantime, city districts (called halla or mahalla) formed the basic unit of the political, spiritual, and social life in the main city. These were formed around guild organizations. They were the basic unit of the Qing administration in the city. See Sanada, “Toshi, noson yuboku” p. 119.

5. This book’s examination challenges the previous scholarship’s understanding of the social and economic development of Eastern Turkestan under Qing rule. Dominated by the Marxist historians of Russia and Japan, previous scholars have generally agreed that the political economy in Eastern Turkestan under the Qing was stagnant and feudal. Those scholars understood the begs to be nomadic “feudal lords,” who drew revenue from the land, while not being involved in the agrarian process at all. The begs received from the Qing emperor land grants as well as the yanqi (conceptualized by these historians as “serfs”), who tilled the land; the begs collected dues from the yanqi, as previous generations of nomadic nobles in the region had done. Therefore, the basic farming unit remained small scale, conducted by the yanqi households, also as it had been under the previous nomadic regime in the area. In so doing, the Qing sustained and even expanded the oppressively “backward” agrarian system and production relations that had existed for so long in the Muslim society of Xinjiang. For a thesis of feudal society, see L. I. Duman, Agrarnaia Politika Tsinskogo (Manchzhurskogo) Pravitel’stva v Sin’tsziane v Kontse XVIII Veka [Qing Government’s Agrarian Policy in Xinjiang in the Early Eighteenth Century] (Moskva: Izd-vo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1936); idem, “Feodal’nyj Institut Jan’ci v Vostočnom Turkestane v XVIII Veke [Feudal Institution of Yanci, in Eastern Turkestan in the Eighteenth Century],” Zapiski Instituta Institut vostokovedeniia Akademii nauk SSSR 3, pp. 87–100; idem, “The Qing Conquest of Junggariye and Eastern Turkestan,” in Manzhou Rule in China (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1983), pp. 235–56; Saguchi Tōru, “Higashi Torukisutan hōken shakai josetsu: Hoja jidai no ichi kōsatsu [Introduction to the History of the Feudal Society in Eastern Turkestan: An Examination of the Khoja Period],” Rekishigaku kenkyū [Research on History] 134 (1948); Kubota Bunji, “Shindai Higashi Torukisutan nogyo mondai ni kansuru ichi kokoromi [Agriculture in Eastern Turkestan during the Qing Period],” Shichō 71 (1960), pp. 36–48. For a most recent articulation of this thesis of “feudal society,” see Zhang Shicai, “Qingdai Tianshan nanbu weiwuer shehui de ‘yanqi dimu’ [The “Yanqi Land” of the Uyghur Society in the Southern Xinjiang during the Qing Period],” Xinjiang daxue xuebao (Zhexue shehui kexue ban) 4 (2006); idem, “Qingdai Xinjiang Tianshan nanlu Wei-wu-er shehui jiegou yu bianqian [The Social Structure of Uyghurs in Tianshan Nanlu in Xinjiang (Eastern Turkestan) and Its Transformation during the Qing Period],” Xiyu yanjiu [Research on Western Regions] 3 (2012).

6. This acreage is calculated by the conversion rate of 1 mu = 0.6609 acre; 1 batman = 64 mu = 42.2936 acres.

7. Zhongguo di 1 lishi dang’an guan (hereafter GPYSA), Ye-er-qiang banshi dachen Gao Pu simai yushi an [(Corruption) Case of the Grand Minister Superintendent Gao Pu], in Qianlong chao chengban tanwu dang’an xuanbian (Beijing Shi: Zhonghua shuju, 1994), doc. 301, QL43/11/21, Edict.

8. Su Beihai and Jianhua Huang, Hami Tulufan Weiwu’er wang lishi: Qingchao zhi Minguo [History of Uyghur Kings of Hami and Turfan: From the Qing Period to the Republican Period] (Wulumuqi: Xinjiang daxue chubanshe, 1993), pp. 57–59. It is difficult to compare the size of the pro-Qing begs’ landholdings and those of prominent Sufis of the pre-Qing Period, because data for the latter are largely unavailable. To give some sense of the scale, the land confiscated by the Qing from Khwaja Jahan (youngest of the Kashgar khwaja brothers who offered a stiff resistance against the Qing conquest in 1759) was 900 to 1,000 batman (38,000 to 43,000 acres), depending on the records—a level that probably was not replicated by any beg official or Sufi leader during the Qing rule (HJZ) [8 vol. version], vol. 4; Kun’gang, ed., Qinding Da Qing huidian shili (Guangxu chao) (Shanghai: Shangwu yinshu guan, 1908), vol. 163. A one-time waqf land donation by a nomadic khan to a prominent Sufi’s khanqa was 60 batman, approximately 2,538 acres. See Zhongguo Xinjiang diqu Yisilanjiao shi bianxiezu, ed., Zhongguo Xinjiang diqu Yisilan jiao shi [History of Islam in Xinjiang, China] (Wulumuqi Shi: Xinjiang renmin chubanshe, 2000), p. 274.

9. In terms of original definition, khwaja refers to Sufi holy men, the descendants of Ali through his wives other than Prophet Muhammad’s daughter, Fatima, whose descendants were referred to as sayyid. However, in a Central Asian context, this distinction between khwaja and sayyid was not rigid, and the word khwaja refers to anyone who claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad. Various prominent Sufi leaders claimed this title.

10. For examples of the studies of capitalistic developments in Asia, see Anthony Reid, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 14501680 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), pp. 267–68; Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: Europe, China, and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000; Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent, and Roy Bin Wong. Before and beyond Divergence: The Politics of Economic Change in China and Europe. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).

11. Fernand Braudel, The Wheels of Commerce, trans. Siân Reynold (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); idem, The Perspective of the World: Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, vol. 3, trans. Siân Reynold (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 65.

12. For a foundational study of the tribute system that emphasizes the system’s focus on the security function, see John King Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast: The Opening of the Treaty Ports, 18421854 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969). For an excellent recent rearticulation on Fairbank’s view on the security-driven nature of the tribute system, see Peter C. Perdue, “A Frontier View of Chineseness,” in The Resurgence of East Asia: 500, 150, and 50 Year Perspectives, ed. by Giovanni Arrighi, Hamashita Takeshi, and Mark Selden (New York: Routledge, 2003). For an excellent study on the reality of the working of the tribute system in an East Asian context, see John King Fairbank and Ta-tuan Chen, The Chinese World Order: Traditional China’s Foreign Relations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968). For classic studies highlighting the economic function of the tribute system, see Frederic Wakeman, Jr., “The Canton Trade and the Opium War,” in The Cambridge History of China, vol. 10, pt. 1, ed. by Denis Twitchett and John K. Fairbank (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp. 163–212; Morris Rossabi, “Ming China’s Relations with Hami and Central Asia, 1404–1513: A Reexamination of Traditional Chinese Foreign Policy” (diss., Columbia University, 1970). For recent studies highlighting the economic function of the tribute system, see Hamashita Takeshi, Kindai Chūgoku no kokusaiteki keiki: Chōkō bōeki shisutemu to kindai Ajia [Transnational Moments of the Modern China: Tribute Trade System and the Modern Asia] (Tokyo: Tokyo daigaku shuppankai, 1990); idem, Chōkō shisutemu to kindai Ajia [Tribute Trade System and the Modern Asia] (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1997); Kishimoto Mio, “Higashi Ajia Tōnan Ajia dentō shakai no keisei [Formation of the Traditional Societies of East Asia and Southeast Asia],” in Iwanami kōza sekai rekishi [Iwanami Lecture Series on World History], rev. ed., vol. 13 (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1998), pp. 3–73; idem, “Shinchō to Yūrashia [Qing Dynasty and Eurasia],” in Koza sekaishi [Lectures on World History], vol. 2, ed. by Rekishigaku kenkyuōkai (Japan) (Tokyo: Tokyo daigaku shuppankai, 1995); idem, Higashi Ajia no “kinsei” [Early Modernity of East Asia] (Tokyo: Yamakawa shuppansha, 1998). For Central Asian merchants’ obsession with silver payment in the tribute trade with the Qing, see Perdue, China Marches West, pp. 263, 265. For a recent Chinese study on the tribute system, see Li Yunquan, Chaogong zhidu shilun [History of Tribute System] (Beijing: Xinhua chubanshe, 2004).

13. Isenbike Togan, “Inner Asian Muslim Merchants at the Closure of the Silk Routes in the Seventeenth Century,” In The Silk Roads: Highways of Culture and Commerce (New York: Berghahn Books, 2000), p. 248.

14. The numbers regarding the Qing Period should not be considered as precise. In addition to the fact that they are compiled by the Qing administration for tax collection purposes, the records often do not provide direct numbers for population or farmland. Thus, the figures presented were calculated indirectly from the number of households and the amount of land tax quota for a given time. Nevertheless, the figures are good enough to provide a general sense of the overall scale of the oasis economy and the trajectory of its change from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century.

15. In other words, the period of Qing-beg rule initiated a long-term phase of overall economic expansion from at least 1750 to 1950. This realization sheds new light on the importance of the Qing era (1759–1864) within the long-term transformation of the oasis borderland. Contrary to our assumption that the rapid expansion of the oasis economy was the function of the Chinese migrations that began in earnest in the late nineteenth century, the Qing rule marked the beginning of the new expansive phase in oasis economy that continued even after the initial fall of its empire in the region in 1864. There was a Muslim vector in the long expansive conjuncture of the oasis economy.

16. For a detailed explanation of the pivotal role of China in anchoring the early modern global trade, see Andre Gunder Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). For a detailed explanation of the transformation of the economy of Muslim Eurasia, see Christopher Alan Bayly, Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World, 17801830 (New York: Longman, 1989.)

17. Christopher Alan Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen, and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 17701870 (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1983); Frank Perlin, “Of White Whales and Countrymen in the Eighteenth-Century Maratha Deccan: Extended Class Relations, Rights, and the Problem of Rural Autonomy under the Old Regime,” Journal of Peasant Studies 5:2 (1978), pp. 172–237; David Washbrook, “Progress and Problems: South Asian Economic and Social History, c. I720–1860,” Modern Asian Studies 22:1 (1988), pp. 57–96.

18. Pomeranz, The Great Divergence, p. 24.

19. For foundational works in the field providing the narrative framework of the history of Qing Central Asia, see Saguchi Tōru, Jūhachi-jūkyū-seiki Higashi Torukisutan shakaishi kenkyū [Study on the Eastern Turkestan Society during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries] (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 1963); Joseph Fletcher, “Ch’ing Inner Asia, c. 1800,” in The Cambridge History of China, vol. 10, pt. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1978); idem, “The Heyday of the Ch’ing Order in Mongolia, Sinkiang, and Tibet.” For a collection of the works by these foundational scholars, see Joseph Fletcher and Beatrice Forbes Manz, Studies on Chinese and Islamic Inner Asia (Brookfield, VT: Variorum, 1995); Saguchi Tōru, Shinkyō minzokushi kenkyū [Study on the Ethnic History of Xinjiang] (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 1986); idem, Shinkyō Musurimu Kenkyū [Study on the Xinjiang Muslims] (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kobunkan, 1995).

20. For recent studies on the dynamics of the Qing military and the state-building process, see Perdue, China Marches West; James A. Millward, Beyond the Pass: Economy, Ethnicity, and Empire in Qing Central Asia, 17591864 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).

21. For studies of the Qing ruler’s multicultural representation of rulership, see Pamela Kyle Crossley, A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); E. S. Rawski, The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). For a discussion of Qing multiculturalism in the specific context of Qing expansion in Xinjiang, see Perdue, China Marches West. For a Japanese study on the multicultural articulation of Qing emperorship in the Muslim oasis, see Hamada Masami, “‘Shio no gimu’ to ‘seisen’ no aidade [Between the ‘Duty of Salt’ and ‘Holy War’],” Tōyōshi kenkyū [Research on Oriental History] 52:2 (1993). For a study of Qing multiculturalism from the perspective of legal history, see Wang Dongping, “Bo-ke ji qi xiangguan falü zhidu [Beg System and the Laws Concerned with It],” in Qingdai Huijiang falü zhidu yanjiu, 17591884 nian [Study on the Legal System of the Muslim Domain, 1759–1884] (Ha’erbin: Heilongjiang jiaoyu chubanshe, 2003).

22. George Macartney, “Eastern Turkestan: The Chinese as Rulers over an Alien Race” (London: Central Asian Society, 1909), pp. 15–16; Lin Enxian, Qingchao zai Xinjiang di Han Hui geli zhengce [The Qing Dynasty’s Han-Muslim Separation Policy in Xinjiang] (Taibei Shi: Taiwan shangwuyin shuguan, 1988), pp. 71, 93–94.

23. For a discussion of Qing administrative reliance on Chinese merchants in military financing in Xinjiang, see Millward, Beyond the Pass. For a study of the Qing administration’s use of Chinese migrant farmers in developing agriculture in Xinjiang, see Hua Li, Qingdai Xinjiang nongye kaifa shi [History of the Development of Agriculture in Xinjiang during the Qing Period] (Ha’erbin: Heilongjiang jiaoyu chubanshe, 1995). For a recent study on Chinese migration into Xinjiang in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, see Jia Jianfei, Qing Qian Jia Dao shiqi Xinjiang de neidi yimin shehui [Immigrant Society in Xinjiang: Centered on People from China Proper during Qianlong, Jiaqing, and Daoguang Reigns of the Qing Dynasty] (Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 2012).

24. For studies on Qing-Khoqand relations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, see Laura Newby, The Empire and the Khanate: A Political History of Qing Relations with Khoqand, c. 17601860 (Boston: Brill, 2005); Pan Zhiping, Zhongya Haohanguo yu Qingdai Xinjiang [Khoqand in Central Asia and Xinjiang during the Qing Period] (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 1991).

25. For a discussion of the failure of the Qing’s Islam policy and its consequences, see Newby, The Empire and the Khanate, pp. 73–123. For a recent Chinese study on the khwaja revolts, see Pan Xiangming, Qingdai Xinjiang hezhuo panluan yanjiu [Study on the Khwaja Rebellion during the Qing Period] (Beijing: Zhongguo renmin daxue chubanshe, 2011).

26. Fletcher, “The Heyday of the Ch’ing Order in Mongolia, Sinkiang, and Tibet,” p. 407.

27. For a recent study of the Ya‘qūb Beg regime, see Kim Hodong, Holy War in China: The Muslim Rebellion and State in Chinese Central Asia, 18641877 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004). For a study of Qing rule in Xinjiang after the fall of the Ya‘qūb Beg regime, see Kataoka Kazutada, Shinchō Shinkyō tōchi kenkyū [Study on the Qing Rule of Xinjiang] (Tokyo: Yuzankaku, 1991).

28. Fletcher, “Ch’ing Inner Asia, c. 1800”; idem, “The Heyday of the Ch’ing Order in Mongolia, Sinkiang, and Tibet”; Hamada Masami, “‘Shio no gimu’ to ‘Seisen’ no aidade.”