The Chu Army (Chinese: 楚勇; pinyin: Chǔ Yǒng; lit. 'Chu (state) braves') was a standing regional army organized by Zuo Zongtang (左宗棠). The name is taken from the Hunan region where the Army was raised. The Army was financed through local nobles and gentry, as opposed to the central government.
The Chu Army was one of two armies known as the Hunan Army. Another Hunan Army, called the Xiang Army, was created by Zeng Guofan to fight in the Taiping Rebellion. Remnants of the Xiang Army which also fought in the war were then called the "Old Hunan Army".
The Xiang Army was part of a new series of original armies called "Yung-ying" in Qing dynasty China, separate from the Manchu Eight Banners and Green Standard Army. The main points of difference were in their regional affiliations, since these forces were often raised and led via kinship and local networks; and their contravention of the normal Chinese military policy where army generals were frequently rotated to prevent ambitious commanders building power bases. In the case of the yung-ying, the need for unit cohesion meant that officers were appointed by commanders and remained in command of their units throughout entire campaigns.
General Zuo Zongtang commanded the Hunan Army in the Dungan revolt, In December 1872 sending 3,000 of them to Suzhou in Gansu.
In Hunan, the scholar literi were "militarized", and more commoners enlisted as officers in the army.
Zuo raised a 55,000 man army from Hunan before he began the final push to reconquer Gansu from the Dungan rebels, they participated along with other regional armies (the Sichuan, Anhui, and Henan armies also joined the battle).
The Hunan Army was extensively infiltrated by the anti Qing Gelaohui secret society, who started several mutinies during the Dungan revolt, delaying crucial offensives. Zuo put down the mutinies and executed those involved.
Another commander of the Hunan Army during the revolt was the Manchu To-lung-a (Dolonga), who had been transferred from a Manchu banner. His leadership over the Hunan forces defeated the Muslim rebels and totally destroyed their position in Shaanxi province, expelling them to Gansu.
Another Commander under To-long-a was Lei Cheng-kuan, who fought successfully against the rebels, enabling Gansu roads to be reopened after capturing crucial cities.
Hunan Army troops were also stationed in Taiwan. They were commanded by Liu Ao, and numbered 16 battalions, and came under Liu Mingchuan's command after he became governor of Taiwan. Another army which was stationed on Taiwan was the Anhui Army. They were given modern, breechloading guns, and trained in modern warfare. Western instructors were brought in. Liu had stated that the two armies were "strong crossbows, the strength of which has been spent". He said on the rifles that "Unless the sights of the firearms are set accurately, the aim cannot be gauged for either distance or height : to have a rifle would then be the same as having none".
By the end of the Nien War in 1868, a new kind of military force had emerged as the Ch'ing dynasty's chief bulwark of security. Often referred to by historians as regional armies, these forces were generally described at the time as yung-ying (lit. 'brave battalions'). In the 1860s, such forces throughout all the empire totalled more than 300,000 men, They included the remnants of the old Hunan Army (Hsiang-chün) founded by Tseng Kuo-fan, the resuscitated Hunan Army (usually called Ch'u-chün) under Tso Tsung-t'ang, and the Anhwei Army (Huai-chün) coordinated by Li Hung-chang. There were also smaller forces of a similar nature in Honan (Yü-chün), Shantung, (Tung-chün), Yunnan (Tien-chün) and Szechwan (Ch'uan-chün). These forces were distinguished generally by their greater use of Western weapons and they were more costly to maintain. More fundamentally they capitalized for military purposes on the particularistic loyalties of the traditional society. Both the strength and the weakness of the yung-ying were to be found in the close personal bonds that were formed between the higher and lower officers and between officers and men. In this respect they differed from the traditional Ch'ing imperial armies - both the banner forces and the Green Standard Army.
Tso Tsung-t'ang moved into his governor-general's seat at Lanchow in August 1872. . . But Tso concentraded first on Hsi-ning, 120 miles north-west of Lanchow, especially because in 1872 it was under the control of Shensi Muslim leaders, including Pai Yen-hu who had been Ma Hua-ling's partisan and now had more than 10,000 seasoned Muslim fighters at his disposal. The task of attacking Hsi-ning was undertaken by Liu Chin-t'ang in August. It took Liu three months to penetrate the difficult and well-defended terrain into Hsi-ning, but he prevailed at last. He annihilated the 10,000 Muslim partisans, but Pai Yen-hu escaped. Ma Kuei-yuan, the 'Muslim gentry leader' of Hsi-ning who protected the New Teaching, was tracked down in the Tsinghai Salar territory.81. . . .All this time Tso had in fact been preparing for the crucial assault on Su-chou, where the New Teaching commander Ma Wen-lu (originally form Hsi-ning) numerous tungan leaders had gathered. To add to Hsu Chan-piao's forces, Tso sent to Su-chou 3,000 men from his own Hunan Army in December 1872, and at his request both Sung Ch'ing and chang Yueh of the Honan Army were ordered by the throne to join the campaign. Chin-shun, the recently appointed general-in-chief at Uliasutai, also participated. Tso had his hands full arranging finances and supplies, including the establishment of a modest arsenal at Lanchow where Lai Ch'ang, a Cantonese and a talented army officer with some knowledge of ardnance, began manufacturing extra shells for the German siege guns.82 Tso was obsessed with the organization of the war, yet both conscience and policy called for making arrangements for the livelihood of 'good Muslims', with a view to removing the root causes of communal conflict.
the cases of Hunan particulartly illustrates this widespread militarization of the scholar class. . .Such was also the case of Liu Ming-ch'uan who rose form smuggling salt to leading an army in Anhwei, and finally to the governorship of the province of Taiwan (see chapter 4). . . Until 1856 most of the officers of the Hunan Army were scholars, The proportion dropped sharply for commissions given after this date. . . Holders of official titles and degrees accounted for only 12 per cent of the military command of the Huai Army, and at most a third of the core of the Huai clique, that is the trop commanders of the eleven army corps.
Tso's preparations for his offensive in Kansu were nearly complete. From Hunan, his veteran officers had recruited a new force totalling some 55,000 men. In addition, Tseng Kuo-fan had transferred to Shensi in 1867 the only unit of his Hunan Army that was not disbanded - about 10,000 men under Liu Sung-shan, one of Tseng's best generals. The throne had also assigned to Tso's command 10,000 men from the Szechawn Army (Ch'uan-chün) under Huang Ting; 7,000 men of the Anhwei provincial army (Wan-chün) under Kuo Pao-ch'ang; and 6,500 men of the Honan Army (Yü-chün) under Chang Yueh. These forces all had experience in fighting the Taipings of the Niens, and they included a total of 7,500 cavalry, reinforcing the 5,000 mounts Tso himself procured.55 However, apart from employing Manchu officers from Kirin to instruct his cavalry. Tso seems to have paid little attention to the training of his forces. He appreciated the fact that Liu Sung-shan's troops were adept in tactical formations and in sharpshooting. But from his own experience in the Taiping Rebellion, Tso was convinced that the two essentials for victory were courageous men and ample rations.
The most serious crisis was internal, for in March and April 1869, at the same time as the victory at Tung-chih-yuan, two alarming mutinies occurred in the best forces under Tso's command. In late March, after Liu Sung-shan had cut through northern Shensi and approached the Kansu-Ninghsia border, a mutiny took place at Sui-te (about seventy-five miles north-east of Yenan), where he had left behind 4,500 troops to guard a supply depot. Several hundred troops, including those who later confessed to being members of the Elder Brothers Society (Ko-lao hui), robbed the grain depot and took control of Sui-te city. Among the mutineers were as many as four company officers, also said to be Elder Brother members.66 The revolt was quickly suppressed after Liu himself hurried back to Sui-te in early April, but meanwhile, an apparently unrelated mutiny had broken out in I-chün in central Shensi, eight miles north of Sian, involving the murder of a t'ung-ling commander. Again the several hundred rebellious soldiers included members of the Elder Brothers Society. Four company officers and a battalion officer who joined them were also said to be members. The mutineers were captured, however, by Tso's loyal forces. Tso personally executed five of the ringleaders. He believed that the Elder Brothers Society had originated in Szechwan and Kweichow but had affected the Hunan Army through surrender Taipings who were natives of these two provinces, or through 'disbanded mercenaries' (san-yung) of other provinces who had come to Shensi for adventure. He hoped that such 'venomous and devilishly elusive creatures' were very few among his forces/67 However, the Elder Brothers Society was long to persist in Tso's armies, as an underground mutual aid group performing both legal and illegal deeds. Interrupted by the mutinies and their aftermath, operations against Chin-chi-pao were not resumed until mid-August. Liu Sung-shan, advancing from northern Shensi, reached the vicinity of Ling-chou in early September. Ma Hua-lung probably had no illusions about his own power as compared with Tso's. He wrote to Tso and negotiated for peace, but his overture was firmly rejected.68 In November, Ling-chou was occupied by Liu Sung-shan; Tso's forces in the south, having captured such cities as Ku-yuan, moved continuously northward,
The Ch'ing began to win only with the arrival of To-lung-a (1817–64) as imperial commissioner. Originally a Manchu banner officer, To-lung-a had, through the patronage of Hu Lin-i, risen to be a commander of the Hunan Army (the force under him being identified as the Ch'u-yung).40 In 1861, To-lung-a helped Tseng Kuo-ch'üan to recover Anking from the Taipings and, on his own, captured Lu-chou in 1862. His yung-ying force proved to be equally effective against the Muslims. In March 1863, his battalions captured two market towns that formed the principal Tungan base in eastern Shensi. He broke the blockade around Sian in August and pursued the Muslims to western Shensi. By the time of his death in March 1864, in a battle against Szechwanese Taipings who invaded Shensi, he had broken the back of the Muslim Rebellion in that province. A great man Shensi Muslims had, however, escaped to Kansu, adding to the numerous Muslim forces which had already risen there.
In mid-1864, Lei Cheng-kuan, a Hunan Army officer who had come with To-lung-a to Shensi and now fought in Kansu, captured both Ku-yuan and P'ing-liang, with the result that government highways were re-opened between the Wei River and western and central Kansu.
Taipei and Tainan and sea cables linking Taiwan, the Pescadores and Foochow - all considered militarily indispensable. Under contract with the German firm of Telge and Company and the British firm of Jardine, Matheson and Company respectively, both lines were completed in 1887 - five years after Li Hung-chang had founded the Imperial Telegraph Administration at Tientsin.156 As in the days when he fought the Taipings and the Niens, Liu Ming-ch'uan, the non-literati commander, was not only receptive to Western weapons, but was also eager to provide his troops with Western-style drill. Liu considered the Green Standard troops on Taiwan to be the worst in the Ch'ing empire. With a nominal quote of 14,000 men, their actual number was only 4,500in 1884-5. Liu started a retraining programme, selecting new officers from the skilled marksmen in the ranks. Neither was Liu satisfied with the yung-ying armies on Taiwan. He memorialized in 1885 that the Hunan and Anhwei armies had become 'strong crossbows, the strength of which has been spent'. He considered fresh training absolutely necessary, especially now that breechloading firearms had been introduced. 'Unless the sights of the firearms are set accurately, the aim cannot be gauged for either distance or height : to have a rifle would then be the same as having none.' 157 In late1885, there had been sixteen Hunan Army (Ch'u-yung) battalions on Taiwan, under Liu Ao, formerly one of Tso Tsung-t'ang's commanders, who served as the Taiwan taotai 1881-5. Liu Ming-ch'uan now took control of Liu Ao's hunanese force, as well as ten battalions of the Anhwei Army which he himself had brought to Taiwan. Replenishment of the Anhwei Army, chiefly from Liu Ming-ch'uan's native Ho-fei, gave him a total by 1888 of forty-three battalions of about 22,000 men. Two European instructors drilled his troops.158 Liu realized that he could not rely on the 800,000-tael annual revenue assistance for more than the stipulated five years. He saw a chance, however, of producing revenue by making the real owners of agricultural land pay more taxes. This reform called first of all for a cadastral survey, which was never carried out on a province-wide basis during the Ch'ing dynasty except in newly created Sinkiang and Taiwan. Having in mind the entrenched vested interests in rural China, Li Hung-chang had remarked categorically in 1870, after he came governor-general of Chihli, 'a cadastral survey for an entire province is certainly impossible to accomplish.',