Military of the Qing dynasty
Flag of the Qing dynasty
The Qianlong Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Twelve: Return to the Palace (detail), 1764–1770, by Xu Yang
Foundedc. 1644
Disbandedc. 1912
Service branches
EmperorXuantong (last)
Minister of WarWang Shizhen (last)
Minister of the NavySa Zhenbing (last)
Active personnel800,000 personnels
Related articles
RanksMilitary ranks of Imperial China

The Qing dynasty (1644–1912) was established by conquest and maintained by armed force. The founding emperors personally organized and led the armies, and the continued cultural and political legitimacy of the dynasty depended on their ability to defend the country from invasion and expand its territory. Therefore, military institutions, leadership, and finance were fundamental to the dynasty's initial success and ultimate decay. The early military system centered on the Eight Banners, a hybrid institution that also played social, economic, and political roles.[1]

The use of gunpowder during the High Qing can compete with the three gunpowder empires in western Asia.[2] However, The military technology of the European Industrial Revolution made China's armament and military rapidly obsolete. By the middle of the 18th century, the military of the Qing dynasty numbered over 800,000 (200,000 bannermen and 600,000 Green Standard troops).[3]

The Qing navy became the largest in East Asia, but its organization and logistics were inadequate, officer training was deficient, and corruption widespread. The Beiyang Fleet was virtually destroyed and the modernized ground forces defeated in the 1895 First Sino-Japanese War. The Qing created a New Army, but could not prevent the Eight Nation Alliance from invading China to put down the Boxer Uprising in 1900. The revolt of a New Army corps in 1911 led to the fall of the dynasty.


The Qianlong Emperor in ceremonial armour on horseback, by Giuseppe Castiglione.

The Banner system was developed on an informal basis as early as 1601, and formally established in 1615 by Jurchen leader Nurhaci (1559–1626), the retrospectively recognized founder of the Qing. His son Hong Taiji (1592–1643), who renamed the Jurchens "Manchus", created eight Mongol banners to mirror the Manchu ones and eight "Han-martial" (漢軍; Hànjūn) banners manned by Han troops who surrendered to the Qing before the full-fledged conquest of China proper began in 1644. After 1644, the Ming troops that surrendered to the Qing were integrated into the Green Standard Army, a corps that eventually outnumbered the Banners by three to one.

After the Qing captured Beijing in 1644 and rapidly gained control of large tracts of former Ming territory, the relatively small Banner armies were further augmented by remnants of Ming forces that surrendered to the Qing. Some of these troops were first accepted into the Chinese-martial banners, but after 1645 they were integrated a new military unit called the Green Standard Army, named after the color of their battle pennants.[4] Even though the Manchu banners were the most effective fighting force during the Qing conquest of the Ming, most of the fighting was done by Chinese banners and Green Standard troops, especially in southern China where Manchu cavalry could play less of a role.[5] The banners also performed badly during the revolt of the Three Feudatories that erupted in southern China in 1673.[6] It was regular Chinese troops, albeit led by Manchu and Chinese officers, who helped the Qing to defeat their enemies in 1681 and thus consolidate their control over all of China.[6] Green Standard troops also formed the main personnel of the naval forces that defeated the Southern Ming dynasty resistance in Taiwan.[7]

Manchu imperial princes led the Banners in defeating the Ming armies, but after lasting peace was established starting in 1683, both the Banners and the Green Standard Armies started to lose their efficiency. The Qing thought that Han Chinese were superior at battling other Han people and so used the Green Standard Army as the dominant and majority army for crushing the rebels, instead of bannermen.[8] In northwestern China against Wang Fuchen, the Qing put bannermen in the rear as reserves while they used Han Chinese Green Standard Army soldiers and Han Chinese generals like Zhang Liangdong, Wang Jinbao, and Zhang Yong as the primary military forces, considering Han troops as better at fighting other Han people, and these Han generals achieved victory over the rebels.[9] Sichuan and southern Shaanxi were retaken by the Han Chinese Green Standard Army under Wang Jinbao and Zhao Liangdong in 1680, with Manchus only participating in dealing with logistics and provisions.[10] 400,000 Green Standard Army soldiers and 150,000 Bannermen served on the Qing side during the war.[10] 213 Han Chinese Banner companies, and 527 companies of Mongol and Manchu Banners were mobilized by the Qing during the revolt.[11] The Qing had the support of the majority of Han Chinese soldiers and Han elite against the Three Feudatories, since they refused to join Wu Sangui in the revolt, while the Eight Banners and Manchu officers fared poorly against Wu Sangui, so the Qing responded with using a massive army of more than 900,000 Han Chinese (non-Banner) instead of the Eight Banners, to fight and crush the Three Feudatories.[12] Wu Sangui's forces were crushed by the Green Standard Army, made out of defected Ming soldiers.[13]

The frontier in the south-west was extended slowly. In 1701 the Qing defeated Tibetans at the Battle of Dartsedo. The Dzungar Khanate conquered the Uyghurs in the Dzungar conquest of Altishahr and seized control of Tibet. Han Chinese Green Standard Army soldiers and Manchu bannermen were commanded by the Han Chinese General Yue Zhongqi in the Chinese expedition to Tibet (1720) which expelled the Dzungars from Tibet and placed it under Qing rule. At multiple places such as Lhasa, Batang, Dartsendo, Lhari, Chamdo, and Litang, Green Standard troops were garrisoned throughout the Dzungar war.[14] Green Standard Army troops and Manchu bannermen were both part of the Qing force who fought in Tibet in the war against the Dzungars.[15] It was said that the Sichuan commander Yue Zhongqi (a descendant of Yue Fei) entered Lhasa first when the 2,000 Green Standard soldiers and 1,000 Manchu soldiers of the "Sichuan route" seized Lhasa.[16] According to Mark C. Elliott, after 1728 the Qing used Green Standard Army troops to man the garrison in Lhasa rather than bannermen.[17] According to Evelyn S. Rawski both Green Standard Army and bannermen made up the Qing garrison in Tibet.[18] According to Sabine Dabringhaus, Green Standard Chinese soldiers numbering more than 1,300 were stationed by the Qing in Tibet to support the 3,000 strong Tibetan army.[19] Garrisoned in cities, soldiers had few occasions to drill. The Qing nonetheless used superior armament and logistics to expand deeply into Inner Asia, defeat the Dzungar Mongols in 1759, and complete their conquest of Xinjiang. Despite the dynasty's pride in the Ten Great Campaigns of the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735–1796), the Qing armies became largely ineffective by the end of the 18th century.

It took almost ten years and huge financial waste to defeat the badly equipped White Lotus Rebellion (1795–1804), partly by legitimizing militias led by local Han elites. The Taiping Rebellion (1850–1864), a large-scale uprising that started in southern China, marched to within miles of Beijing in 1853. The Qing court was forced to let its Han governors-general, first led by Zeng Guofan, raise regional armies. This new type of army and leadership defeated the rebels but signaled the end of Manchu dominance of the military establishment.

Eighteenth century

Mail armour, Qing dynasty

See also: Ten Great Campaigns

Early during the Taiping Rebellion, Qing forces suffered a series of disastrous defeats culminating in the loss of the regional capital city of Nanjing in 1853. The rebels massacred the entire Manchu garrison and their families in the city and made it their capital.[20] Shortly thereafter, a Taiping expeditionary force penetrated as far north as the suburbs of Tianjin in what was considered the imperial heartlands. In desperation the Qing court ordered a Chinese mandarin, Zeng Guofan, to organize regional (simplified Chinese: 团勇; traditional Chinese: 團勇; pinyin: tuányǒng) and village (simplified Chinese: 乡勇; traditional Chinese: 鄉勇; pinyin: xiāngyǒng) militias into a standing army called tuanlian to contain the rebellion. Zeng Guofan's strategy was to rely on local gentries to raise a new type of military organization from those provinces that the Taiping rebels directly threatened. This new force became known as the Xiang Army, named after the Hunan region where it was raised. The Xiang Army was a hybrid of local militia and a standing army. It was given professional training, but was paid for out of regional coffers and funds its commanders — mostly members of the Chinese gentry — could muster. The Xiang Army and its successor, the Huai Army, created by Zeng Guofan's colleague and student Li Hongzhang, were collectively called the "Yong Ying" (Brave Camp).[21]

Before forming and commanding the Xiang Army, Zeng Guofan had no military experience. Being a classically educated Mandarin, his blueprint for the Xiang Army was taken from a historical source — the Ming general Qi Jiguang, who, because of the weakness of regular Ming troops, had decided to form his own "private" army to repel raiding Japanese pirates in the mid-16th century. Qi Jiguang's doctrine was based on Neo-Confucian ideas of binding troops' loyalty to their immediate superiors and also to the regions in which they were raised. This initially gave the troops an excellent esprit de corps. Qi Jiguang's army was an ad hoc solution to the specific problem of combating pirates, as was Zeng Guofan's original intention for the Xiang Army, which was raise to eradicate the Taiping rebels. However, circumstances led to the Yongying system becoming a permanent institution within the Qing military, which in the long run created problems of its own for the beleaguered central government.

In 1894–1895, fighting over influence in Korea, Japanese troops defeated Qing forces.

First, the Yongying system signaled the end of Manchu dominance in Qing military establishment. Although the Banners and Green Standard armies lingered on as parasites depleting resources, henceforth the Yongying corps became the Qing government's de facto first-line troops. Secondly the Yongying corps were financed through provincial coffers and were led by regional commanders. This devolution of power weakened the central government's grip on the whole country, a weakness further aggravated by foreign powers vying to carve up autonomous colonial territories in different parts of the Qing Empire in the later half of the 19th century. Despite these serious negative effects, the measure was deemed necessary as tax revenue from provinces occupied and threatened by rebels had ceased to reach the cash-strapped central government. Finally, the nature of Yongying command structure fostered nepotism and cronyism amongst its commanders, whom, as they ascended the bureaucratic ranks laid the seeds to Qing's eventual demise and the outbreak of regional warlordism in China during the first half of the 20th century.[21]

The Qing government's decision to turn the banner troops into a professional force whose every welfare and need was met by state coffers brought wealth, and with it corruption, to the rank and file of the Manchu banners and hastened its decline as a fighting force. Bannermen frequently went into debt as a result of drinking, gambling, and spending time at theaters and brothels, leading to a general ban on theater-going within the Eight Banners.[22]

A battle between Qing troops and Uyghur Khojas near Lake Eshilkul in 1759.

At the same time, a similar decline was occurring in the Green Standard Army. In peacetime, soldiering became merely a source of supplementary income. Soldiers and commanders alike neglected training in pursuit of their own economic gains. Corruption was rampant as regional unit commanders submitted pay and supply requisitions based on exaggerated head counts to the quartermaster department and pocketed the difference. When Green Standard troops proved unable to fire their guns accurately while suppressing a rebellion of White Lotus followers under Wang Lun in 1774, the governor-general blamed the failure on enemy magic, prompting a furious reply from the Qianlong Emperor in which he described incompetence with firearms as a "common and pervasive disease" of the Green Standard Army, whose gunners were full of excuses.[23]

Qing emperors attempted to reverse the decline of the military through a variety of means. Although it was under the Qianlong Emperor that the empire expanded to its greatest extent, the emperor and his officers frequently made note of the decline of martial discipline among the troops.[24][25] Qianlong reinstituted the annual hunt at Mulan as a form of military training. Thousands of troops participated in these massive exercises, selected from among Eight Banners troops of both the capital and the garrisons.[26] Qianlong also promoted military culture, directing his court painters to produce a large number of works on military themes, including victories in battle, the grand inspections of the army, and the imperial hunt at Mulan.[27] In 1860 British and French forces in the Second Opium War captured Beijing and sacked the Summer Palace. The shaken court attempted to modernize its military and industrial institutions by buying European technology. This Self-Strengthening Movement established shipyards (notably the Jiangnan Arsenal and the Foochow Arsenal) and bought modern guns and battleships in Europe.

By the late 19th century, China was fast descending into a semi-colonial state. Even the most conservative elements within the Qing court could no longer ignore China's military weakness in contrast to the foreign "barbarians" literally beating down its gates. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the capital Beijing was captured and the Summer Palace sacked by a relatively small Anglo-French coalition force numbering 25,000.

Self-Strengthening: military modernization

Main article: Self-Strengthening Movement

Several notable figures such as Zaitao, Zaixun, Xu Shichang, Sheng Xuanhuai, Zaizhen, and Yinchang

Although the Chinese invented gunpowder, and firearms had been in continual use in Chinese warfare since as far back as the Song dynasty, the advent of modern weaponry resulting from the European Industrial Revolution had rendered China's traditionally trained and equipped army and navy obsolete.

After the humiliating capture of Beijing and the sack of the Summer Palace in 1860, officials like Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang, and the Manchu Wenxiang made efforts to acquire advanced western weapons and copy western military organization.[28] Special brigades of Chinese soldiers equipped with modern rifles and commanded by foreign officers (one example is the Ever Victorious Army commanded by Frederick Townsend Ward and later Charles George Gordon) helped Zeng and Li to defeat the Taiping rebels.[28] Li Hongzhang's Huai Army also acquired western rifles and incorporated some western drills.[28] Meanwhile, in Beijing, Prince Gong and Wenxiang created an elite army, the "Peking Field Force", which was armed with Russian rifles and French cannon and drilled by British officers.[29] When this force of 2,500 bannermen defeated a bandit army more than ten times more numerous, they seemed to prove Wenxiang's point that a small but well-trained and well-equipped banner army would be sufficient to defend the capital in the future.[30]

One major emphasis of the reforms was to improve the weaponry of Chinese armies. In order to produce modern rifles, artillery, and ammunition, Zeng Guofan created an arsenal in Suzhou, which was moved to Shanghai and expanded into the Jiangnan Arsenal (which was completed in 1865).[31] In 1866, the sophisticated Fuzhou Shipyard was created under the leadership of Zuo Zongtang, its focus being the building of modern warships for coastal defense.[31] From 1867 to 1874 it built fifteen new ships.[32] Other arsenals were created in Nanjing, Tianjin (it served as a major source of ammunition for northern Chinese armies in the 1870s and 1880s), Lanzhou (to support Zuo Zongtang's quelling of a large Muslim uprising in the northwest), Sichuan, and Shandong.[31] Prosper Giquel, a French naval officer who served as adviser at the Fuzhou Shipyard, wrote in 1872 that China was quickly becoming a formidable rival to western powers.[33]

Thanks to these reforms and improvements, the Qing government gained a major advantage over domestic rebels.[34] After vanquishing the Taiping in 1864, the newly equipped armies defeated the Nian Rebellion in 1868, the Guizhou Miao in 1873, the Panthay Rebellion in Yunnan in 1873, and in 1877 the massive Muslim uprising that had engulfed Xinjiang since 1862.[34] In addition to quelling domestic revolts, the Qing also fought foreign powers with relative success. Qing armies managed to solve the 1874 crisis with Japan over Taiwan diplomatically, forced the Russians out of the Ili River valley in 1881, and fought the French to a standstill in the Sino-French War of 1884–1885 despite many failures in naval warfare.[35]

Chinese infantry

Foreign observers reported that, when their training was complete, the troops stationed in the Wuchang garrison were the equal of contemporary European forces.[36] Mass media in the west during this era portrayed China as a rising military power due to its modernization programs and as a major threat to the western world, invoking fears that China would successfully conquer western colonies like Australia. Chinese armies were praised by John Russell Young, US envoy, who commented that "nothing seemed more perfect" in military capabilities, predicting a future confrontation between America and China."[37] The Russian military observer D. V. Putiatia visited China in 1888 and found that in Northeastern China (Manchuria) along the Chinese-Russian border, the Chinese soldiers were potentially able to become adept at "European tactics" under certain circumstances, and the Chinese soldiers were armed with modern weapons like Krupp artillery, Winchester carbines, and Mauser rifles.[38] On the eve of the First Sino-Japanese War, the German General Staff predicted a Japanese defeat and William Lang, who was a British advisor to the Chinese military, praised Chinese training, ships, guns, and fortifications, stating that "in the end, there is no doubt that Japan must be utterly crushed".[39]

The military improvements that resulted from modernizing reforms were substantial, but they still proved insufficient, as the Qing was soundly defeated by Meiji Japan in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895.[40] Even China's best troops the Huai Army and the Beiyang Fleet, both commanded by Li Hongzhang were no match for Japan's better-trained, better led, and faster army and navy.[41]

When it was first developed by Empress Dowager Cixi, the Beiyang Fleet was said to be the strongest navy in East Asia. Before her adopted son, Emperor Guangxu, took over the throne in 1889, Cixi wrote out explicit orders that the navy should continue to develop and expand gradually.[42] However, after Cixi went into retirement, all naval and military development came to a drastic halt. Japan's victories over China has often been falsely rumored to be the fault of Cixi.[43] Many believed that Cixi was the cause of the navy's defeat by embezzling funds from the navy in order to build the Summer Palace in Beijing. However, extensive research by Chinese historians revealed that Cixi was not the cause of the Chinese navy's decline. In actuality, China's defeat was caused by Emperor Guangxu's lack of interest in developing and maintaining the military.[42] His close adviser, Grand Tutor Weng Tonghe, advised Guangxu to cut all funding to the navy and army, because he did not see Japan as a true threat, and there were several natural disasters during the early 1890s which the emperor thought to be more pressing to expend funds on.[42]

The military defeats suffered by China has been attributed to the factionalism of regional military governors. For instance, the Beiyang Fleet refused to participate in the Sino-French War in 1884,[44] the Nanyang Fleet retaliating by refusing to deploy during the Sino-Japanese War of 1895.[45] Li Hongzhang wanted to personally maintain control of this fleet, many top vessels among its number, by keeping it in northern China and not let it slip into the control of southern factions.[46] China did not have a single admiralty in charge of all the Chinese navies before 1885;[47] the northern and southern Chinese navies did not cooperate, therefore enemy navies needed only to fight a segment of China's navy.[48]

First Sino-Japanese war

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The below table has been later evaluated as having likely over estimated the Green Standard Army and underestimating the size of the trained army. However, it is impossible to obtain a complete and accurate record of the forces of the Qing dynasty on the eve on the conflict.[49]


Main article: Eight Banners

Early Qing dynasty helmet, mid to late 17th c.
Qing helmet, 17th-18th c.

One of the keys to Nurhaci's successful unification of Jurchen tribes and his challenge to the Ming dynasty in the early seventeenth century was the formation of the Eight Banners, a uniquely Manchu institution that was militarily efficient, but also played economic, social, and political roles.[50] As early as 1601 and possibly a few years earlier, Nurhaci made his soldiers and their families register into permanent companies known as niru, the same name as the smaller hunting parties in which Jurchen men traditionally joined to practice military operations and wage war.[51] Sometime before 1607, these companies were themselves grouped into larger units called gūsa, or "banners", differentiated by colors: yellow, white, red, and blue.[52] In 1615 a red border was added to each flag (except for the red banner, to which a white border was added) to form a total of eight banners that Jurchen troops carried into battles.[52] The banner system allowed Nurhaci's new state to absorb defeated Jurchen tribes simply by adding companies; this integration in turn helped to reorganize Jurchen society beyond petty clan affiliations.[53]

As Qing power expanded north of the Great Wall, the Banner system kept expanding too. Soon after defeating the Chahar Mongols with the help of other Mongol tribes in 1635, Nurhaci's son and successor Hong Taiji incorporated his new Mongol subjects and allies into the Mongol Eight Banners, which ran parallel to the original Manchu banners.[54] Hong Taiji was more prudent in integrating Chinese troops.[55] In 1629, he first created a "Chinese army" (Manchu: ᠨᡳᡴᠠᠨ
nikan cooha; Chinese: 漢軍; pinyin: Hànjūn) of about 3000 men.[56] In 1631 these Chinese units absorbed men that could build and operate European-style cannon, and were therefore renamed "Heavy Troops" (M.: ujen cooha; Chinese: 重軍; pinyin: Zhòngjūn).[57] By 1633 they counted about 20 companies and 4,500 men fighting under black standards.[57] These Chinese companies were grouped into two banners in 1637, four in 1639, and finally eight banners in 1642.[54] These "Hanjun" banners are known as the "Chinese" or "Chinese-martial" banners.[58]

Select groups of Han Chinese bannermen were mass-transferred into Manchu Banners by the Qing, changing their ethnicity from Han Chinese to Manchu. Han Chinese bannermen of Tai Nikan 台尼堪 (watchpost Chinese) and Fusi Nikan 抚顺尼堪 (Fushun Chinese)[59] backgrounds merged into the Manchu banners in 1740 by order of the Qing Qianlong emperor.[60] It was between 1618 and 1629 when the Han Chinese from Liaodong who later became the Fushun Nikan and Tai Nikan defected to the Jurchen (Manchus).[61]

Manchu clans of Han Chinese origin continued to use their Han surnames and were marked as of Han origin on Qing lists of Manchu clans. Manchu families adopted Han Chinese sons from families of bondservant Booi Aha (baoyi) origin and they served in Manchu company registers as detached household Manchus and the Qing imperial court found this out in 1729. Manchu bannermen who needed money helped falsify registration for Han Chinese servants being adopted into the Manchu banners and Manchu families who lacked sons were allowed to adopt their servants' sons, or the servants themselves.[62] The Manchu families were paid to adopt Han Chinese sons from bondservant families by those families. The Qing Imperial Guard captain Batu was furious at Manchus who adopted Han Chinese from slave and bondservant families in exchange for money, and expressed his displeasure at them adopting Han Chinese instead of other Manchus.[63] These Han Chinese who infiltrated the Manchu Banners by adoption were known as "secondary-status bannermen" and "false Manchus" or "separate-register Manchus", and there were eventually so many of them that they took over military positions in the Banners that would have been reserved for Manchus. Han Chinese foster-son and separate-register bannermen made up 800 of 1,600 soldiers in the Mongol Banners and Manchu Banners of Hangzhou in 1740, which was nearly 50%. Han Chinese foster-sons made up 220 out of 1,600 unsalaried troops at Jingzhou in 1747 and an assortment of Han Chinese separate-register, Mongol, and Manchu bannermen made up the remainder. Han Chinese secondary status bannermen made up 180 of 3,600 troop households in Ningxia, while Han Chinese separate-registers made up 380 of 2,700 Manchu soldiers in Liangzhou. Because Han Chinese Manchus filled up military positions, few Manchus gained positions as soldiers in the Banner armies. The Han Chinese were said to be good military troops and their marching and archery skills were up to par; the Zhapu lieutenant general couldn't differentiate them from true Manchus in terms of military skills.[64] Manchu Banners contained a lot of "false Manchus" who were from Han Chinese civilian families but were adopted by Manchu bannermen after the Yongzheng reign. The Jingkou and Jiangning Mongol banners and Manchu Banners had 1,795 adopted Han Chinese and the Beijing Mongol Banners and Manchu Banners had 2,400 adopted Han Chinese in statistics taken from the 1821 census. Despite Qing attempts to differentiate adopted Han Chinese from normal Manchu bannermen the differences between them became hazy.[65] These adopted Han Chinese bondservants who managed to get themselves into Manchu banner roles were called kaihu ren (開戶人) in Chinese and dangse faksalaha urse in Manchu. Other Manchus were called jingkini Manjusa.

The Manchus sent Han bannermen to fight against Koxinga's Ming loyalists in Fujian.[66] The Qing carried out a seaban, forcing people to evacuate the coast, in order to deprive Koxinga's Ming loyalists of resources. This led to a myth that it was because Manchus were "afraid of water". In Fujian, Han Chinese bannermen were fighting on behalf of the Qing, which disproves the claim that Manchus feared the water.[67] A poem shows northern Han bannermen referring to the Tanka boat people living on the coast and rivers of Southern Fujian as "barbarians".[68]

The banners in their order of precedence were as follows: yellow, bordered yellow, white, red, bordered white, bordered red, blue, and bordered blue. The yellow, bordered yellow, and white banners were collectively known as the "Upper Three Banners" (Chinese: 上三旗; pinyin: shàng sān qí) and were under the direct command of the emperor. Only Manchus belonging to the Upper Three Banners, and selected Han Chinese who had passed the highest level of martial exams, were qualified to serve as the emperor's personal bodyguards. The remaining Banners were known as the "Lower Five Banners" (Chinese: 下五旗; pinyin: xià wǔ qí) and were commanded by hereditary Manchu princes descended from Nurhachi's immediate family, known informally as the "Iron Cap Princes". In Nurhaci's era and the early Hong Taiij era, these princes formed the Deliberative Council of Princes and Ministers as well as high command of the army.[citation needed]

Upper Three Banners
Lower Five Banners

In the mid-1880s the Green Standard was said to be some 447,876 men strong grouped into formations of varying sizes. Six units were below 1,000 men, 29 units between 2,000 and 3,000, 25 between 2,000 and 3,000, 20 between 3,000 and 4,000, 6 between 4,000 and 6,000, 4 units between 6,000 and 7,000, 1 unit between 8,000 and 9,000, 4 units between 9,000 and 10,000 and 1 unit over 10,000. With a further 31 units of an unspecified amount for a total of 127 units with an average of slightly above 3,500 per unit.[70]

According to Boulay the Chinese forces on the eve of the war counted just under 1,100,000 men strong but he notes that this is likely an overstatement and the force is likely smaller in practice.The Chinese trained forces in the war region totalled 92,390 infantry, 23,410 cavalry 7,010 artillerymen both field and garrison 1,090 mine troops (naval) and 1,130 boatmen for the various canals and rivers. The Artillery men were armed with 70mm and 80mm Krupp guns but their training was lacking especially in gunnery.[71]

*approximately 100,000 men of the trained army were simultaneously enrolled in the green standard[72]

An alternative figure is given Volpicelli:

Li Hongzhang commander of the Huai Army and Beiyang fleet the forces responsible for the majority of the fighting of the First Sino-Japanese war.

*There also existed a 170,000 strong Manchurian Army of which there were 12,000 trained infantry 1,500 trained cavalry and 60 guns. Divided equally between the 3 provinces giving each province 4,000 infantry 500 cavalry and 20 guns. This force being organised by Wu Dacheng in the late 1880s but no further training of the remaining 156,500 soldiers was conducted prior to the outbreak of war.[71][74]

The entire Qing army on the eve of the war therefore consisted of 974,641 soldiers (not including the Manchurian army or those on Taiwan). Jowett states that of the nearly 600,000 Green Standard soldiers only 50,000 had received modern training and firearms.[75] The table above does not include the garrison for Taiwan Esposito gives the garrison of Taiwan at 20 Brave battalions or 10,000 men on paper with an additional 14,000 green standard soldiers again on paper. Though during the war reinforcements from mainland China and native levies led to the growth of the strength of the forces on Taiwan to 50,000.[76] Zenone's account states that anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 of the Metropolitan banners were actual soldiers with the ability to fight. Esposito states that 60% of the Banner army was cavalry.[77][78]

The Metropolitan Manchu Banner armies were also further subdivided but there are 2 differing accounts of the size and nature of the subdivision[76][73]

*In Esposito's account there was also 4,000 men of the Imperial Hunting establishment organised in a Tiger-Hunting battalion and operated as a shock force throughout the 19th century.

** In Esposito's account the Peking Field force was a unit where Bannermen were rotated through in order to receive modern training this being in addition to the core force of 7,250 the guns mentioned are also smoothbore guns.

Qing troops facing defeat during the Battle of Yingkou 1895.

During the period between the end of the Taiping Rebellion and the Beginning of the war the Qing government began a process of reform of the Green standard army. The Green Standard army was weak and scattered unable to mobilise men effectively as the payroll was inflated with non-existent soldiers and its soldiers were addicted to opium and gambling. The Qing government sought to recreate the Green Standard Army in a modern fashion with the creation of the 'Disciplined Forces' or Lien-chun. The Lien-Chun drew their men from the Green Standard but operated more like the Braves of the Hunan and Anhui armies. From 1885 onwards frequent Imperial Edicts recommended the reform of the entire Green Standard Army into Lien-Chun however little progress was made. In 1894 the Imperial government dictated that the Green Standard was for policing duties and counter-bandit operations whilst the Braves were for fighting rebellions.[79] The Qing government began a program of re-armament importing weaponry and producing its own weaponry in local arsenals in 1880 alone the Qing government imported 149 heavy and 275 field artillery pieces it also decided to import 26,000 Mauser 1871 rifles and standardise on this rifle in 1882 however this was never achieved. The Chinese government also purchased 151 Maxim guns between 1892 and 1895 and in 1890 the Tianjin arsenal was already producing maxim guns joined in 1892 by the Nanjing arsenal.[80][81] The estimates of the Board of Revenue and Board of War states that the effective strength of the Chinese army was 360,000 including the provincial militia, the defense army (the braves), the Lien-Chun and new style troops. The army during the war was slow to mobilise and move towards the fighting the lack of railways a key factor in this. Therefore, the fighting of the war fell almost entirely upon the forces already present in Manchuria Zhili and Shandong. The armies themselves were predominantly infantry and cavalry with artillery attached to the infantry with support services such as logistics, medical, engineer and signal not existing, hired labour conducted transportation of goods and basic engineering with some civilian workers who acred as quartermasters with some doctors at the rear. The supply of troops was generally left to the provinces in which they fought. This created a chaotic situation with some units being well-supplied with others being hardly supplied with ammunition being poorly distributed and this issue was only exacerbated by the lack of standardisation of weaponry amongst the soldiers. The government arsenals proved insufficient to support the entire Qing military and the government was forced to purchase equipment from abroad.[82] The key issues of the Chinese military was the decentralised command, the lack of specialised formations, the lack of modern training and the shortage of modern weaponry. However, the worst weakness was the severe incompetence at a senior level with basic strategy and tactics completely lacking, the Chinese high command repeatedly used the same basic tactic of a passive defense fortifying a position only for the Japanese to flank the position and rout them[79]

Late Qing armies

Main article: New Army

The Beiyang Army in conducting military exercises, 1910
The Qing New Army in 1905

Losing the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 was a watershed for the Qing government. Japan, a country long regarded by the Chinese as little more than an upstart nation of pirates, had convincingly beaten its larger neighbour and in the process annihilated the Qing government's pride and joy — its modernized Beiyang Fleet, then deemed to be the strongest naval force in Asia. In doing so, Japan became the first Asian country to join the previously exclusively western ranks of colonial powers. The defeat was a rude awakening to the Qing court especially when set in the context that it occurred a mere three decades after the Meiji Restoration set a feudal Japan on course to emulate the Western nations in their economic and technological achievements. Finally, in December 1894, the Qing government took concrete steps to reform military institutions and to re-train selected units in westernized drills, tactics and weaponry. These units were collectively called the New Army. The most successful of these was the Beiyang Army under the overall supervision and control of a former Huai Army commander, General Yuan Shikai, who used his position to eventually become President of the Republic of China and finally emperor of China.[83]

After the end of empire, Sichuan New Army leaving Lhasa in 1912.
The Qing New Army in 1911

During the Boxer Rebellion, Imperial Chinese forces deployed a weapon called "electric mines" on June 15, at the river Hai River before the Battle of Dagu Forts (1900), to prevent the western Eight-Nation Alliance from sending ships to attack. This was reported by American military intelligence in the United States. War Dept. by the United States. Adjutant-General's Office. Military Information Division.[84][85] Different Chinese armies were modernized to different degrees by the Qing dynasty. For example, during the Boxer Rebellion, in contrast to the Manchu and other Chinese soldiers who used arrows and bows, the Muslim Kansu Braves cavalry had the newest carbine rifles.[86] The Muslim Kansu Braves used the weaponry to inflict numerous defeats upon western armies in the Boxer Rebellion, in the Battle of Langfang, and, numerous other engagements around Tianjin.[87] [88] The Times noted that "10,000 European troops were held in check by 15,000 Chinese braves". Chinese artillery fire caused a steady stream of casualties upon the western soldiers. During one engagement, heavy casualties were inflicted on the French and Japanese, and the British and Russians lost some men.[89] Chinese artillerymen during the battle also learned how to use their German bought Krupp artillery accurately, outperforming European gunners. The Chinese artillery shells slammed right on target into the western armies military areas.[90]

The military leaders and the armies formed in the late 19th century continued to dominate politics well into the 20th century. During what was called the Warlord Era (1916–1928) the late-Qing armies became rivals and fought among themselves and with new militarists.[91]

The Qing dynasty in their last series of reforms formed the New army divided into the Lujun (regular army) and the Xunfangdui (reserve/provincial troops). The Lujun was divided into 3 formations the Changbei jun which consisted of 36 divisions with 12,512 men in peacetime and over 21,000 in wartime with a service term of 3 years. The Xubei jun or first reserve with 36 divisions of 9,840 men with a service term of 4 years. The Houbei jun 36 divisions each of 4,960 men with a service term of 4 years.[92]

This gave a total army in wartime of 934,560 with 756,000 in 36 divisions of 21,512 (excluding camp followers) and 178,560 in 36 independent brigades.

Green Standard troops in the 1900s.

The Xunfangdui were organised per province with each province allowed to maintain 5 units either of 3,010 infantry or 1,890 cavalry or a mix of the as long as there are no more than a combined total of 5 infantry and cavalry units. Therefore, the 22 provinces could field a potential maximum of 331,100 (if they fielded all infantry) or a minimum of 207,900. The Xunfangdui would act as a gendarmerie in peacetime and auxiliary units to field units in wartime.[93]

Green Standard Army

Main article: Green Standard Army

A Chinese Green Standard Army soldier
Scale armour with lionhead shoulder guards, Qing dynasty

The Qing created Chinese armies in the regions it conquered. Green Standard armies were created in Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, and Jiangnan in 1645, in Fujian in 1650, in Lianguang (Guangdong and Guangxi) in 1651, in Guizhou in 1658, and in Yunnan in 1659.[94] They maintained their Ming-era ranks and were led by a mix of Banner and Green Standard officers.[95] These Chinese troops eventually outnumbered Banner troops three to one (about 600,000 Green Standard troops to 200,000 bannermen).[citation needed] The Banners and Green Standard troops were standing armies, paid for by the central government. In addition, regional governors from provincial down to village level maintained their own irregular local militias for police duties and disaster relief. These militias were usually granted small annual stipends from regional coffers for part-time service obligations.

The Qing divided the command structure of the Green Standard Army in the provinces between the high-ranking officers and low ranking officers, the best and strongest unit was under the control of the highest-ranking officers but at the same time, these units were outnumbered by other units divided between individual lower ranking officers so none of them could revolt on their own against the Qing because they did not control the entire armies.[96]

Manchu generals and bannermen were initially put to shame by the better performance of the Han Chinese Green Standard Army, who fought better than them against the rebels, and this was noted by the Kangxi Emperor, leading him to task Generals Sun Sike, Wang Jinbao, and Zhao Liangdong to lead Green Standard soldiers to crush the rebels.[97]

The Green standard was divided into 75 groups each commanded by a Brigade-general with an additional 16 marine brigade-generals. Each brigade contained an unspecified number of regiments and each of these contained an unspecified amount of Ying (battalions) which each contained 500 infantry and 250 cavalry. If the Green standard conformed to the organisation of the Lujun each brigade contained 2 regiments which contained 3 battalions thus a brigade contained 6 battalions or 3,000 cavalry and 1,500 cavalry a total of 4,500, this would give a national total of 337,500 land troops and 72,000 marine troops (though marine troops were not marines in the traditional sense but also contained coastal defense troops and its cavalry was not mounted). This would give a total 273,000 infantry and 112,500 mounted cavalry and 24,000 unmounted cavalry.[98]

Garrisons in peacetime

A late-Qing woodblock print representing the "Yangzhou massacre" of May 1645. By the late 19th century, the massacre was used by anti-Qing revolutionaries to arouse anti-Manchu sentiment among the population.

Banner armies were broadly divided along ethnic lines, namely Manchu and Mongol, although the ethnic composition of Manchu banners was far from homogeneous, as they included non-Manchu bondservants registered under the household of their Manchu masters. As the war with the Ming dynasty progressed and the Han Chinese population under Manchu rule increased, Hong Taiji created a separate branch of Han Banners to draw on this new source of manpower. The Six Ministries and other major positions were filled with Han Bannermen chosen by the Qing.[99] It was Han Chinese bannermen who were responsible for the successful Qing takeover of China. They made up the majority of governors in the early Qing and were the ones who governed and administered China after the conquest, stabilizing Qing rule.[100] Han bannermen dominated governor-general posts in the time of the Shunzhi and Kangxi Emperors, as well as governor posts, largely excluding ordinary Han civilians.[101] The political barrier was between non-bannermen and the "conquest elite" of bannermen whether Han Chinese, Mongols or Manchu. It was not ethnicity which was the factor.[102]

The social origins of the Banner system meant that the population of each branch and their sub-divisions was hereditary and rigid. Only under special circumstances sanctioned by imperial edict was miscegenation between banners permitted. In contrast, the Green Standard Army was originally intended to be a professional force.

After defeating the remnants of the Ming forces, the Manchu Banner Army, approximately 200,000 strong at the time, was evenly divided; half was designated the Forbidden Eight Banner Army (Chinese: 禁旅八旗; pinyin: jìnlǚ bāqí) and was stationed in Beijing. It served both as the capital's garrison and the Qing government's main strike force. The remainder of the Banner troops were distributed to guard key cities in China. These were known as the Territorial Eight Banner Army (simplified Chinese: 驻防八旗; traditional Chinese: 駐防八旗; pinyin: zhùfáng bāqí). The Manchu court, keenly aware its own minority status, reinforced a strict policy of racial segregation between the Manchus and Mongols from Han Chinese for fear of being sinicized by the latter. This policy applied directly to the banner garrisons, most of which occupied a separate walled zone within the cities where they were stationed. In cities where there were limitations of space such as in Qingzhou, a new fortified town was purposely erected to house the banner garrison and their families. Beijing being the imperial seat, the regent Dorgon had the entire Chinese population forcibly relocated to the southern suburbs which became known as the "Outer Citadel" (Chinese: 外城; pinyin: wàichéng). The northern walled city, called "Inner Citadel" (Chinese: 內城; pinyin: nèichéng), was portioned out to the remaining Manchu Eight Banners, each responsible for guarding a section of the Inner Citadel surrounding the Forbidden City palace complex.[a][citation needed]

Military training was undertaken by martial artists in the Qing armed forces.[103]

Associations for martial arts were joined by Manchu bannermen in Beijing.[104]

A hall for martial arts was where the military careers of Muslim generals Ma Fulu and Ma Fuxiang started in Hezhou.[105]

Soldiers and officers in the Qing army were taught by the Muslim martial arts instructor Wang Zi-Ping before he fought in the Boxer rebellion. Another teacher of martial arts of the military in Beijing was Wang Xiang Zhai.[106] The army martial arts trainers imhad to deal with a massive assortment of different armaments such as spears and swords.[107] Gunpowder weaponry had been long used by China so the idea that melee combat in China was replaced out of thin air by western guns is a myth.[108] Cavalry were also taught martial arts. Martial arts were part of the exams for military officers.[109] Martial artists were among those who migrated into cities from the countryside.[110] The Qing and Ming military drew on the Shaolin tradition.[111] Techniques and armaments cross fertilized across the army and civilian realms.[112] The army included trainers in martial arts from the Taoists.[113] The Taiping military had martial artists.[114]


Mounted soldier with musket

Qing armies in the eighteenth century may not have been as well-armed as their European counterparts, but under pressure from the imperial throne they proved capable of innovation and efficiency, sometimes in difficult circumstances.

Shi Lang's fleet to crush the Ming resistance in Taiwan incorporated Dutch naval technology.[115]

The Qing dynasty established the Firearm Battalion or Huoqiying as one of the elite military divisions stationed around the capital Beijing. It was a special force that incorporated all the musket and cannon specialists previously subordinated to the Eight Banners.[116] Its role was similar to the Shenjiying of the Ming dynasty. The entire Firearm Battalion practiced firearms training, and the firearms they practiced include shotguns and large cannons. Composed of Eight Banners soldiers, it was responsible for guarding the imperial city of Beijing.

The Qing court restricted the usage of firearms at times. Fishing boats and coastal vessels were forbidden from using them and firearms were reserved for hunting only. Manchu leaders tried to prevent Han Chinese military divisions from using the most powerful handguns while reserving them for Manchu units. In 1778, the Qianlong Emperor criticized the governor of Shandong Province for training militia in the use of firearms. The Manchus themselves appeared to have spent more time practicing with the bow than with firearms. It is suggested that this was due to the traditional role of archery in Manchu culture. [117]

The Eight Banners army armed with bow and arrow going to into battle against Dzungar forces armed with firearms

It is estimated that 30 to 40% of Chinese soldiers at the time of the First Opium War were equipped with firearms, typically matchlock muskets.[118]

General Zeng Guofan


See also: Imperial Chinese Navy

Fujian fleet in the Taiwan Strait

The "sea ban" policy during the early Qing dynasty meant that the development of naval power stagnated. River and coastal naval defence was the responsibility of the waterborne units of the Green Standard Army, which were based at Jingkou (now Zhenjiang) and Hangzhou.

In 1661, a naval unit was established at Jilin to defend against Russian incursions into Manchuria. Naval units were also added to various banner garrisons subsequently, referred to collectively as the "Eight Banners Navy". In 1677, the Qing court re-established the Fujian Fleet in order to combat the Ming-loyalist Kingdom of Tungning based on Taiwan. This conflict culminated in the Qing victory at the Battle of Penghu in 1683 and the surrender of the Tungning shortly after the battle.

The Qing, like the Ming, placed considerable importance on the building of a strong navy. However unlike the Europeans, they did not perceive the need to dominate the open ocean and hence monopolise trade, and instead focused on defending, by means of patrols, their inner sea space. The Qing demarcated and controlled their inner seas in the same manner as land territory.[119]

The Kangxi Emperor and his successors established a four-zone sea defence system consisting of the Bohai Gulf (Dengzhou fleet, Jiaozhou fleet, Lüshun fleet and Tianjin/Daigu fleet), Jiangsu-Zhejiang coast (Jiangnan fleet and Zhejiang fleet), Taiwan Strait (Fujian fleet) and the Guangdong coast (Guangdong Governor's fleet and Guangdong regular fleet). The fleets were supported by a chain of coastal artillery batteries along the coast and "water castles" or naval bases. Qing warships of the Kangxi era had a crew of 40 seamen and were armed with cannons and wall guns of Dutch design.[120]

Although the Qing had invested in naval defences for their adjacent seas in earlier periods, after the death of the Qianlong Emperor in 1799, the navy decayed as more attention was directed to suppressing the Miao Rebellion and White Lotus Rebellion, which left the Qing treasury bankrupt. The remaining naval forces were badly overstretched, undermanned, underfunded and uncoordinated.[121]

8 Banners

The 8 banners were officially organised into 24 kusai with each banner containing 1 Kusai each of Mongol, Manchu and Han though the Manchus cosisted of 75% of the personnel, by the time of the rebellion due to stagnant pay and provisions many did not even possess a mount when allowance was supposed to be sufficient for 3-6 horses. The reality was that this elite army was mostly part-time soldiers who did civilian work to survive and occasionally assembled for a lacklustre series of drills when called upon before being told to fight more akin to a militia army than the elite reserve it was supposed to be.[122]

Each Kusai had 5 battalions (2 for the Mongols) of 1,500 men and subdivided into 5 Niru of 300 though by 1851 most Niru did not number more than 150 or even more than 50 men. Despite this formal organisation reality was often much different with the Bannermen dispersed in various garrisons in various sizes with a force over 3,000 men being commanded by a Tartar-General who was the highest military ranked official in the Viceroyalty where he was stationed, garrisons between 1,000 and 3,000 were commanded by a Deputy-General and those smaller by a Commandant.[122]

Organisation of the Eight Banners 1851[122]
Subdivision name Number Ethnic composition Brief description
6 Capital divisions
Imperial Bodyguard 3,000 Manchu Ceremonial cavalry
Vanguard 1,500-2,000 Manchu and Mongol infantry
Flank division 15,000-16,000 Manchu and Mongol infantry and cavalry
Light division 3,000-4,000 Mongol and Chinese Chinese infantry

Mongolian cavalry

Firearms division 8,000 Manchu and Mongol organised into inner and outer units

inner for Beijing outer for field service

Paid force 66,000 8,250 Mongols

28,875 Manchus 28,875 Chinese

The only combat ready formation of the 6 divisions

predominantly cavalry with 7,000 matchlock men 100 sword and bucklermen and 100 artillerymen

Total 96,500-99,000
Foot force 23,200 15,000 Manchus

4,500 Mongols 3,700 Chinese

Beijing police force mostly infantry with a small

mounted matchlock security force

Imperial Mausolea force 1,250 Garrisoning the Imperial Maosoleum
Metropolitan Garrison 40,000 Garrisoning the 25 cities around Beijing
Yuanmingyuan force 5,800 Garrisoning the Old Summer Palace (also possessed

550 artillery pieces)

Provincial garrisons 80,750-83,250 25 garrisons in the provinces of varying sizes
Grand Total* 250,000

*In 1862 the Peking field force was founded consisting of 3,000 men

Army of the Green Standard

The army of the Green Standard was entirely non-Manchu and despite its name functioned more akin to 18 provincial armies rather than a singular unified army. At the onset of the war the army was inefficient and militarily incapable due to various issues including a lack of training (a ying in Zhoushan having not trained in 8 years), opium usage, corruption and inadequate pay. Despite many concurrent rebellions in the 1850s many Green Standard formations remained chronically understrength many at only one-third strength, by the 1860s the situation improved and most units were at half-strength though it was common practice to hire vagabonds and peasants and enroll them when needed therefore the quality of the army did not increase.[122]

The Army of the Green Standard was divided into 3 types the garrison infantry, the infantry and the cavalry. In 1851 it was estimated that there were 321,900 garrison infantry, 194,800 infantry and 87,100 cavalry and 7,400 officers. In coastal provinces up to a third of the cavalry were actually shuiying or marines and not actual cavalry. The army was organised into Ying nominally of 500 but in reality varying from 50 to 1,000 men in size with a ying subdivided into 2 Shao (patrols) which were further subdivided into between 2 and 4 Si each with each Si containing a varied amount of Peng (squads). However, only 10% of the green standard army was active thus, of a total of over 600,000 only 60,000 or so were actively with the colours at any given point of time.[122]


These were village militias primarily armed with spears, swords bows and eventually sporadically matchlocks as the rebellion progressed. These self-defense militias were primarily used for protecting the immediate territories their men were drawn from and would fight Qing or Taiping forces if needed. Each of the tuanlian possessed between 200 and 500 men in companies of 100 though it was not uncommon for several communities to combine their tuanlian to form a force of several thousand men. Urban regions had their own counterpart the Thou-ping.[122]

See also


  1. ^ Chinese: 紫禁城; pinyin: zǐjìnchéng; Ma: Dabkūri dorgi hoton


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  2. ^ Millward 2007, p. 95.
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Works cited

Further reading