Section G: About Colonization

Preliminary Report on the Trip Undertaken by Imperial Order Across Chinese Turkestan and the Northern Provinces of China to Peking in 1906–07 and 1908 by Col. Baron Mannerheim

Pages 159-170

A colonization movement of the Chinese in the northwest from the northern curve of the Yellow River has been going on for a hundred years. Moving slowly to the west along the slope of the Nanshan Mountains, the Chinese little by little have inhabited all cultural oases in that direction up to Dunhuang forcing out all other tribes. Though they had to undertake a difficult struggle with harsh natural conditions and lack of water, the borders of the oases have been expanded. Converting low ranking servicemen of disbanded military units into colonists has been a favourite method of colonization for ages. The scale on which this system was practiced can be seen in the names of military units given to villages in various localities, e.g., in the region of Anxi where a lot of villages have such names as zuo-in, yu-ing, etc. to commemorate the troops of General Yang Yuzhung, disbanded during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. The names of villages in many other localities, e.g., Dunhuang, where such villages as Taozhou, Ningzhou, Kuyuan, Lanzhou can be found, confirm that their population are not native but moved there.

Having crossed the desert, the Chinese colonization lost its intensity and stopped removing local people from the locality where they settled. This so-called “New Line” policy produced its impact here: until recent times purely Chinese individuals have comprised only a small percent of the total population of this large province.

Manchurian garrisons were scattered along the northern slope of the Tian Shan range, in the Ili Valley and in colonies grouped around them. The Chinese population there, with an admixture of Dungans [Hui], was increasing little by little at the expense of those exiled from inner China. Mandarins and city garrisons were followed by clerks and merchants who settled in small Chinese colonies in the cities of Kashgaria. It seems that the Chinese population never made up a great percentage of the population in Xinjiang province, and the predominance of Chinese men over women can be explained by the fact that the greater part of the Chinese stayed there only temporarily.

The carnage during and after the Muslim mutiny uprooted almost completely the small non-Chinese population including the Dungans [Hui]. Those who escaped the riot fled, having abandoned their land and property. Only some of them managed to survive, having adopted Islam as was the case with the Manchurian population in Ili. Villages were turned into ruins, irrigation canals got covered with vegetation and a large cultivated area became desert. Having captured the region again, the Chinese undertook some measures to secure it for themselves. The fortresses built near the cities inhabited by native population provided security for the Chinese population. Most of the troops here were disbanded, the plots of land taken away from the Muslims being distributed among low ranking serviceman. Following the troops, former residents who survived returned and new colonists attracted by some privileges also came to the place. Gradually the region returned to life.

Judging by the size of some soldiers’ colonies of that time, colonization of the region by the Chinese was going on intensively during the initial period following the conquest. The danger was over. Outstanding wartime figures were replaced by others and the interests of the Chinese policy were replaced by personal interests of omnipotent mandarins. The colonization was not active and consistent enough to allow further extension. Soon it seems to have acquired the form of a small but more or less normal annual influx of Chinese. The state of the Chinese colonization was similar to that during my travels across Xinjiang province in 1906 and 1907.

A major part of the Chinese agricultural population inhabits the northern slope of the Tian Shan range from the Barkul district to the Ili region where there is a relatively significant population of Manchurian tribes. Of the localities mentioned, I myself saw the Ili region where I spent some time and a greater part of the northern slope of the Tian Shan Mountains from Urumqi to Barkul.

Ili is sparsely populated but considering the abundance of water in the network of rivers it will undoubtedly be the focus of the authorities for intensive colonization of the land. This will inevitably result in a conflict of interests of the nomadic Kalmyks and Kyrgyz occupying all the valleys of Tekes, Kungues, Tsaigma and others; the nomads’ camps will have to be moved to the mountains and less fertile gorges, a part of the Kalmyks and Kyrgyz will become settled and the agricultural population of the region will increase. Even now one can see the Kalmyks engaged in agriculture in some places of the Tekes Valley.

The northern slope of the Tian Shan Mountains has small rivers running from the mountains northwards. Cultivated areas stretch along the valleys, depending on the amount of water available. In localities visited by me, the width of the cultivated belt along the north to south axis does not exceed 20 to 25 miles. The oases are separated and some have little vegetation. North to the Muli-he Valley (two passes to the east of the city of Gucheng) and to the west of the suburbs of Shiho the locality becomes increasingly deserted and population is very sparse. The climate of Barkul is severe and the population is engaged mainly in cattle farming. The agricultural population of the entire belt is almost exclusively Chinese. The native Sarts [Uyghurs] are scattered in various cities where they are involved in trading and they are rarely found in villages.

The annual influx of Chinese colonists in the district of Urumqi is distributed between the village of Mu-li-he in the east and the suburbs of Manas city in the west. This is the richest district. As has already been mentioned, new colonists usually settle down in a village, expanding its cultural area. Few new villages have set up during the last decade and I did not see any villages set up during the last three or four years.

The great number of small rivers will undoubtedly allow the Chinese to colonize this area. This assumption is confirmed by the many abandoned villages along the entire road, attesting to the horrors of the Muslim mutiny. My brief acquaintance with the region and lack of Chinese data on the issue prevent me from making a definite conclusion concerning the scale of the further possible colonization. It depends on the amount of snowmelt from the mountains. After a winter with little snow, farmers have to reduce sown areas.

There are some Chinese colonies in the districts of Yangishar, Yarkand, Maralbashi and Aksu of Kashgaria. They are small and most were settled following the reconquest of the district by turning demobilized soldiers into colonists. Later they expanded the irrigational canals of the Yarkand and Maralbashi districts and they attempted to hand over the new lands mainly to the Chinese. The desired impact however was not achieved. Old soldiers turned out to be unsuitable for colonization and they had to give a greater part of those plots of land to the Sarts [Uyghurs]. A recent attempt to do the same with retired soldiers in the Aksu district was also a failure.

The shortage of water in that part of the province was so great that if they succeed in increasing the cultivated area it will be insignificant and only in some places. The districts of Yarkand, Maralbashi, Aksu, Lop Nor and Karashar are in a similar condition, although more of the soil there is saline and can be cultivated only in some places. In general, expansion of cultivation in Kashgaria is difficult and depends completely on well developed irrigation facilities, major investment and application of necessary technical knowledge.

As to the rise in the Chinese population due to expansion of the cultivated areas, it will not be significant. The Sart [Uyghur] population is so well established that there is no possibility to expand the irrigation system and cultivated areas for additional population. If they want to increase the Chinese population, they will have to take away land from the Sarts [Uyghurs] and give it to the Chinese. However, there were no signs of such a policy up to now; on the contrary, for a long time the Sarts [Uyghurs] have been allowed to expand their farming lands within limits, e.g., the entire Uch-Turfan district was inhabited by the Sarts [Uyghurs] not so long ago and the names of their settlements were taken from the names of cities of the districts from which they had arrived (Khotan, Yangi-hissar, etc.). During recent times if it was possible to expand the cultivated area and if there were no Chinese, land was given to the Sarts [Uyghurs]. Finally, for several years Lop Nor colonization has been going on so intensively that it was singled out as an individual district but all the agricultural population there consists of Sarts [Uyghurs] from the southern districts of Kashgaria. The few Chinese living in that locality are engaged exclusively in trading.

Crossing the desert along the only road, I tried to establish the approximate size of the annual influx of the Chinese from inner China to Xinjiang province and their movement back. Proceeding from the information received by me in 11 shelter houses and at Jiayuguan, the gate of the Great Wall where they make records of all individual arriving there, it can be concluded that the average number of people arriving in the locality and leaving it is about 7,000 and 1,000 a year respectively. The movement across the desert to the west takes place from March to late September and that in the eastern direction from August to late October. It is also of interest to mention the minimum size of wheeled transport in that section. I calculated that the average number of bullock carts was 600 to 700 in the west direction and 300 to 400 to the east. The latter figure is less than the first one due to poor export of goods from the Xinjiang province to the east. The lack of wheeled transportation is explained by the fact that merchants bringing their goods from inner China to Xinjiang province prefer using a caravan road across Guihua [Hohhot]. It is somewhat cheaper and free of extortions of officials at the numerous customs posts scattered along the main road.

I was told that the figures on the influx and out-migration of the Chinese are more or less stable in recent years. No rise in immigration rates has been noted during the last years. Not all of the 7,000 Chinese mentioned above are engaged in agriculture. I think that a great part, if not a majority, of them move to towns to get involved in some business. The annual out-migration is due to this. People arriving to settle usually stay in the region of the Tian Shan Mountains, either on its north slopes or in Ili.

Considering the growth of the Chinese population in Xinjiang, it should be borne in mind that the number of males considerably exceeds that of females. Many Chinese living there for some decades do not take their families with then at all. With mixed marriages and cohabitation between the Chinese and local women fairly common, children of mixed blood are gaining the status of pure Chinese, and unnatural inclinations flourish. Common among the Chinese males, they produce a ruinous impact on the natural growth rate.

On the rest of my trip, I failed to see any significant Chinese colonization in the northern part of Shanxi province or rather in southeastern Mongolia. Some migration of the population of Shandong to Shanxi can be observed but migration from one province to another both of which are purely Chinese is not of interest for us.

Peaceful population movement of the Chinese in northern and western directions from the northern frontiers of Jilin and Shanxi provinces has been going on for more than a thousand years, gradually conquering the lands of adjacent Mongolian tribes and driving them to the north. The Chinese population is increasingly paying no attention to protests of the Mongols who keep insisting that the lands up to the Great Wall belong to them alone. Towns and districts appear one after another on that controversial territory securing them for the Chinese forever. Already, a huge area from Dolong-Nora on the east and the west extending to the northwest curve of the Yellow River has been captured by the Chinese and their influx increases from year to year.

Within recent years, this population movement has increased and now has the character of intensive colonization with a clearly political goal. Six to seven years ago special management boards (kenwutu) were established in Kalgan [Zhangjiakou] and Guihua [Hohhot] which deal with distribution of land among Chinese colonists. Within this short period the activity has increased so much in the district of Guihua [Hohhot] that they had to set up branches in six other places, viz. in Ta-she-tai about 50 miles to the northwest of Baotou; Kuan-hen-xi about 50 miles to the west; Yi-xing-chen about 40 miles further to the west; Zi-yan-ta in the direction to Alashani; not far from San-toho and to the west of Wu-la-he; Hei-lar to the north of Guihua [Hohhot] on that side of the mountains and in Si-tu-chjou about 45 miles to the northwest. These new management boards clearly show the extent of colonization in the district of Guihua [Hohhot].

The following 14 Mongolian tribes are in possession of the Guihua [Hohhot] canzun:
“Tumita” (Thumitha?), 7 Ordos wans, viz. “Otok”, “Chjasan”, “Ushin”, “Hangin”, “Chjungar” and “Galat-wan”, “Durbut-wan”, “Mominga-wan”, 3 huns, viz. “Tun”, “Chjun” and “Xi-gun”.

Taken together, they include lands in the middle area of the Yellow River from Chaharow in the east to Alashan in the west and from the Great Wall in the south to Kalhasts in the north.

Following the appointment of mandarin Yi who arrived in Guihua [Hohhot] as head of the said kenwutu management board, the canzan [Military Governor] is busy colonizing the adjacent Mongolian lands. Guided exclusively by the desire to make profit the new canzan and his executors are ready to do anything.

Plots of land are taken away from the Mongols by falsifying the Bogdokhan’s [Empress Dowager’s] decrees, are sold for a small price to Chinese colonists and if a sufficient number of them are not available the plots are taken from the local Chinese population. The Chinese leasing lands from the Mongols are forced to pay their cost price. Needless to say all money is transferred not to Mongol landowners but to canzan [Military Governor] and his associates. To frighten the Mongols and put an end to the increasing disturbances among them, severe measures are being undertaken, which included execution of an official in Zhungar-wan. The result was the opposite to the desired one: public unrest is increasing rapidly. Scared of the threats of the Ordos Mongols, the canzan [Military Governor] took the decision to ask higher authorities to send troops. Cavalries from Lanzhou, Xi’an and Taiyuan are being sent to the borders of Ordos, but at the same time the central government, which heard protests from the Ordos noblemen, is sending an inspector to Guihua [Hohhot]. This brought to a climax the ambitious work of colonization undertaken by Yi canzan [Military Governor]. He was dismissed from his post and given over to the courts, and to cool down the Mongols they have informed them of the suspension of any further selling of land till completion of the trial.

I arrived in Guihua [Hohhot] from Wutai Shan soon after this. I was able to talk to the Mongols in the two cities mentioned and on my way there. Though reserved in nature, they expressed their indignation and described the violence of the authorities. They said that the danger had passed for the present, but that the situation was nearing a state of armed clashes with the Chinese. A lama began to calculate to me the great strength the Ordos Mongols could present, being completely unaware that the time when they could fight using bows and matchlock guns has passed irrevocably.

It was very difficult to calculate the exact extent of the colonization. The evidence given by the Mongols was vague and controversial. In Guihua [Hohhot], the focus of the entire affair, there were no chief players anymore and the remaining ones were alarmed by the inspection undertaken and were extremely unwilling to give even insignificant information. I had to abandon my intention of traveling around a large area from Yulinfu in the south to Saitoho in the west and Si-tsi-wan in the north due to lack of money.

I would like to present the following information of the data collected by me and related to the issue in question. The colonization embraces the lands of Shi-tsi-wan in the north (about 100 miles northwest of Guihua [Hohhot]) about 100 miles in length and 10 to 15 miles wide from the monastery of Shitsi in the west and from the headquarters of Shi-tsi-wan eastward. The Chinese population was sparse here for a long time but it significantly increased at the expense of colonists from Jilin, Shandong and Henan.

They say that in the south the colonization reaches Yu-lingfu but it is scattered in small pockets and in the lands of Zhungar-wan, i.e., in the northeastern section of the Yellow River where it has the greatest density.

In the west, it involves the Hothau tract to the northwest of Baotou on that side of the mountains and from the colonization movement stretches in a western direction reaching Saitoho in the west and embracing the lands belonging to three huns 500 miles long and 25 to 30 miles wide.

Proceeding from this and some information of a more general character, I can draw the following conclusions. The colonization of a varying degree of intensity embraces both banks of the Huang He [Yellow River] to the west expanding the existing cultivated belt inhabited by the Chinese to the northwestern bend of the Huang He [Yellow River] and they say even to Santoho. In the southern direction it runs along the Yellow River first and then along the southwestern border of Ordos to Yulingfu losing its intensity (if it really goes that far) on its way to the south. In the north and northwest where the Chinese population trekked across the mountains a long time ago, the cultivated area has been considerably expanded and includes a part of the territory of Shi-tsi-wan about 100 to 120 miles from above or northwest to Guihua [Hohhot].

They say now kenwutu possesses about 50 million mous of land. The Chinese population seems to be increasing at an uneven rate. To be exact, the increase was gained at the expense of influx of colonists mostly from Jilin, Shangdun and Shaaxi but in an insufficient amount to meet the desire of the canzan [Military Governor] and his associates to get rich rapidly. Aspiring to turn the largest area of Mongolian land into hard cash within the shortest time possible, they sold a greater part of land to the former Chinese population. Very often new owners do not inhabit the acquired plots but mostly use them for hired labour in summer. The figures on the number of Chinese colonists are too hypothetical to be used for any calculations.

The area on both sides of the Yellow River is considered to be fertile. The abundance of water makes it possible to carry out simple irrigation work. An average harvest makes about 10 sums. Moving to the north there is a shortage of water, the soil is less fertile and the climate conditions are severer. An average harvest is about 5 to 7 sums but sometimes they get richer crops.

The activity of the kenwutu management board had a more normal character. Working intensively following the program planned by the central government, it has already succeeded in selling a greater part of the lands belonging to the Chahar Mongol to colonists from inner China. They say the intention is to sell all the plots assigning 110 to 130 acres for each Mongol yurt. The selling is carried out on a large scale; this can be concluded from the fact that the Chinese “Tsin-gua-gung-si” Stock Company negotiated the buying of 400 thousand mous of land near Tao-bo-tsi 120 miles northwest of Kalgan.

A deposit of 10 thousand lans was made and several thousand young trees have already been sent for planting. The purchase however was not carried out; it appears that the central government was alarmed by complications in Guihua [Hohhot] and was afraid of drawing the noose too tight and abandoned the deal.

An extensive sale of land caused great displeasure even among the Chahars who were considered as the tribe most devoted to the Chinese government due to the support given to them. Facing the increasing shortage of land which led them to a hopeless position, a lot of Chahars have already abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and became farmers.

According to the information received by me from the Mongols, the Chinese colonization has not been expanded to the lands of the tribes far from the border such as Hakhastsew, Tsung-Sunitow, etc.

Such a short stop in activity, however, is temporary and aimed at cooling down the excitement caused by too much activity of the Chinese. The Chinese government cannot abandon its intention of firm colonization of the Guihua [Hohhot] districts and the valley of the middle Huang He as colonization of those localities taken together with that of the Taonang-fu district in eastern Mongolia seems to be a part of the general plan drawn by the government to consolidate the relation of the Empire with its outskirts and destroy the semi-independent and uncertain position of present Mongolia. Both regions inhabited by the Chinese will connect east and west China, strengthen the position of the Chinese in Manchuria, and lead to the end of independent Mongolia. Specifically, colonization of the Guihua [Hohhot] district and the Huang He valley will get closer to the cultivated belt of Xinjiang and Shanxi, and facilitate construction of the railroad planned in that direction.

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CITATION: Mannerheim, Col. C.G.E. (transl. Eric Walberg and Anatoli Koroteyev, and ed. Eric Enno Tamm) “Preliminary Report on the Trip Undertaken by Imperial Order Across Chinese Turkestan and the Northern Provinces of China to Peking in 1906–07 and 1908.” In Collection of Geographical, Topographical and Statistical Materials for Asia 81. St. Petersburg: Military Publishing House, 1909.