The Conquest of Xinjiang


Xinjiang has over the past few years frequently reached the headlines as China is questioned over the treatment of its inhabitants and China’s legitimacy over the area. While this article shall not directly discuss those highly controversial and politicised topics, I do hope that my attempt to survey the history of Xinjiang will give the reader some insight into the area. This article will explore how the area that is now called Xinjiang came to be a part of the Manchu Qing Empire. I will do so by giving a brief survey of the Dzungar Khanate, which ruled over the Xinjiang area before the Manchus took over and continue by describing the process and aftermath of the Manchu Conquest.

The conflict between the Qing and the Dzungars began long before the actual conquest of the province and spanned the reign of three Manchu khans. Several conflicts, collectively known as the Dzungar-Qing Wars, ultimately led to the downfall of the Dzungar Khanate and the annexation of Xinjiang. Part one of this article will cover the first Dzungar-Qing War fought between the Dzungar Bushuktu Khan (Galdan) and the Manchu Kangxi Emperor.

Note 1: This article is mainly based on the works of Peter Perdue, James Millward, Mark Elliot and Christopher Beckwith. As for spelling conventions: terms were chosen for their recognisability and not their accuracy in transcription. For example, I chose Dzungar instead of the Zunghar (which the New Qing historians such as Perdue and Spence favour) because it seems to be the more common and recognisable name. Similarly, the specific spellings of Mongolian, Tibetan and Uyghur terms were chosen based on commonality. Chinese terms are spelled according to the Hanyu Pinyin system and Manchu transcriptions are based on the Abkai system (except for the word Manchu and khan). I apologise in advance to readers who expect consistency, for none is to be found here.

Note 2: Please note that the term Xinjiang is anachronistic when referring the area before 1760. The term Xinjiang means new territory and was only established after the Qing conquest of the area. The usage of this term, as much as the term Turkestan, is somewhat politically charged and should therefore be used with a degree of caution. In this article, the term will be used for its convenience rather than to signal any political alignment.

The Dzungar Khanate

The Dzungar Khanate, otherwise known as the Zunghar Khanate or the Jungar Empire, incorporated present day Western Mongolia, Eastern Kazakhstan, Eastern Kyrgyzstan, parts of Siberia and Xinjiang. The core of the Empire was located in Dzungaria, which is the Northern half of Xinjiang. The Dzungar Khanate was founded by a people known as the Oirats (also spelled Ölöd), the Forest People of West Mongolia.

The Four Oirat

The Oirats were an extremely fragmented people. In this period the Oirats were divided in four tribes: the Choros (these would later lead the Dzungars) led by Kara Khula, the Khoshot led by Baibagas, the Torghut under Kho Urluk and the Derbet under Dalai Taiji. These four Oirat tribes would constantly compete amongst themselves for resources and vie for power. In addition to their internal struggles they would also be beset on all sides by the Eastern Mongol Khalkha under the Altyn Khan as well as Kazakhs and at times the Russian Cossacks. In 1612-1613 the Oirats were forced to retreat South due to an attack from the Cossacks. Shortly after, a terrible winter weakened the Oirats and left them vulnerable. The Eastern Mongols took advantage of their weakness and dealt the Oirats a terrible blow, one that forced them out of the their original territory of present-day Northern Xinjiang (Dzungaria/Moghulistan).

Afakv - These borders are based on Kallgan's Map-Qing Dynasty 1616 and Map 4 from Peter Perdue's China Marches West. It was a tumultuous time in Asia as three great Empires were emerging as major powers in the region: the Tsardom of Russia, the Jurchens of the Amaga Aisin Gurun (Later Jin) and the Dzungars from the Derben Oirat (Four Oirat). This map illustrates their 17th century starting positions.
Map 1: Inner-Asia ca, 1616 (click on map to enlarge)

In the 17th century, there were efforts to unite the Oirat tribes against external threats. Though, the rivalry and disputes between the princes were not so easily overlooked. Any unity they achieved was, sadly, short lived. Finally, in 1620, the four tribes formed a coalition to march against the Altyn Khan of the Eastern Mongols. By 1625, however, the tribal confederation fell apart again, this time through a bloody civil war.

Tibetan Buddhism among the Oirats

Afakv - Namkha Gyatso Zaya Pandita
Source of Painting:

By the end of the seventeenth century, Tibetan Buddhism also became a powerful force among the Oirats, as was already the case for the Eastern Mongols. The Oirats converted to Tibetan Buddhism and were devout believers. To illustrate, many Mongol noblemen had their sons take Tibetan names and enter into Tibetan monasteries. One particular such Mongol, Zaya Pandita, the adopted son of Baibagas of the Khoshot, arranged an alliance with Tibet. This act strengthened the unity of the pious Oirats. Zaya Pandita spent twenty two years studying Buddhism and the tantric arts.

After his studies, he returned to Mongolian pastures, where he spent the rest of his years travelling from one tribe to the other, performing rites, preaching, founding tempels and translating scripture. The khans greatly respected Zaya Pandita. As a result, he had gained great political influence on the steppes. His efforts ensured the dominance of Buddhism among the Western Mongolians.

Tibetan Buddhism gave the Western Mongols a legitimising factor that reached beyond the usual military superiority and descendancy from Chinggis Khan. Indeed, they could now claim to be reincarnated khans. The lamas were also giving Mongol leadership resources such as a writing system. It greatly empowered the fragmented Oirats.

The Rise of the Dzungar Khanate

The Torghuts remained fervently opposed to a united Oirat nation and were the greatest obstacle in achieving unity. The disgruntled Kho Urluk then arranged for his people to migrate to the Volga as they entered a in a tributary relationship with Emperor Mikhail Romanov of Russia. Subsequently, fifty thousand Torghut families migrated to the lower Volga and the North Caucacus Steppe. These people are known today as the Kalmyks. This migration weakened the Oirats as a whole, but allowed for the remaining Oirats to unite (Perdue, 103).

The other Oirat tribes united and with their newfound unity crushed the Altyn Khan in 1628-1629 (Beckwith, 227). Dzungaria was returned to Oirat control. In 1630, Baibagas, who held the title of Khan, died and passed his title to Gush Khan. Gush Khan would establish the Khoshot Khanate in modern day Qinghai (Amdo) and Tibet. Gush Khan married his daughter to Batur Hongtaiji of the Dzungars, who was the son of Khara Kula, both of whom were heavily involved in the unification effort. Batur Hongtaiji in particular sought to centralise power among the tribal chiefs. Some scholars even claim that Batur Hongtaiji declared himself sole leader of the Oirats, however, he could not yet officially hold the title of Khan, because he was not of the Chinggisid dynasty, unlike Gush Khan and Baibagas. Nevertheless, through the marriage, the close relation between Gush and Batur Hongtaiji was cemented. The united Oirats invaded Kazakh territory in 1634-1635, commencing the Kazakh-Dzungar Wars.

Afakv - Batur Hongtaiji erdeni Batur was of the House of Choros. The title of Hongtaiji was given to him by the 5th Dalai Lama. His rule lasted from 1634 until his death in 1653. He was the son of Kara Khula. Through vigorous leadership, the Four Oirat saw a marked increase in strength and unity.
Source of Painting: 巴圖爾琿台吉《新疆歷史畫叢》新疆社會科學界聯合會主編 新疆人民出版社

In this period, it was clear that Batur Hongtaiji did much of the work in uniting and strengthening the Oirats. For example, he strengthened ties with the Russians by sending 33 embassies to Moscow. He got the Kyrgyz to pay iasak (tribute) to the Dzungars. As a result of Batur’s efforts, trade in Central Asia was greatly bolstered as Bukharan merchants (Bukharan merchants probably refer to Turkic merchants from Altishahr or the Turpan area) prospered. He also attempted to strengthen his state by asking for a great many things from the Russians, such as firearms, sedentary cattle and Russian artisans. He only ever received the cattle, which he raised on farms in Southern Xinjiang (Altishahr a.k.a. Turkestan), parts of which were recently annexed. He also built a capital city, with stone walls and Chinese cannon. More importantly, Batur secured a peaceful and steady means of acquiring salt for his people, an essential nutrient which was not naturally available in his Empire.

While his efforts were great, upon Batur’s death in 1653, his efforts fell apart. Batur was succeeded by Sengge, one of his nine sons, but Sengge was killed by his brothers since they disputed his control. This internal fighting and Sengge’s animosity toward Russia before his death weakened the Dzungars. When his people needed a leader desperately, Galdan, another son of Batur, who was sent into a Tibetan monastery, renounced his monastic vows and returned a Khan. His legitimacy came from the Dalai Lama. He executed the brothers who killed Sengge, defeated the Ochirtu Khan of the Khoshot, who was his father in law through his marriage to Anu, and supressed the subsequent rebellions. Galdan also completely annexed the rest of Altishahr, the Muslim area South of Dzungaria, as he took Hami and Turpan as well as the prosperous Oasis cities in Eastern Altishahr. With these moves, he stabilised and expanded Dzungar power, thereby transforming the Dzungar Khanate into the greatest steppe khanate since the Mongol Empire.

The Conquest of Altishahr

Altishahr (Uyghur: آلتی شهر) means six cities and refers to the area which is now called the Tarim Basin. The reason it is called the six cities is because they are thought to refer to six cities in the area, but which specific cities they refer to is debated. The areas of Turpan and Hami are not included in the term Altishahr. At this point in history, the area of Turpan and Hami were under rule of the Turpan Khanate.

The Muslim areas of Altishahr were ruled by Chagatayyid Mongol Khans (named after Chagatai, a son of Chinggis Khan) who had long since converted to Islam. The Turkic population of the area had also become increasingly Islamic since the time of the Karakhanids (ca. 840-1211), who set off the Islamic conversion of the previously Buddhist, Manichaeist and Nestorian Christian Uyghurs (Millward and Perdue 41). By the time of the devoutly Buddhist Galdan’s rise, the area had already become predominantly Islamic through the efforts of the many Sufi orders who converted tribes like the Kyrgyz with miracles, healing and other feats of faith.

Altishahr was under control of the Yarkand Khanate. Since the 16th century, the Yarkand Khanate had succumbed gradually to the influence of the Khoja (Uyghur: خوجا). The Khoja of Altishahr claimed to be descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) and had long served as administrators in the region. Originally, they were the branch of Naqshbandiyya Sufis whose missionaries were responsible for converting the nomadic tribes to Islam. Now, their secular political influence exceeded that of the Chagatayyid Khans.

At one point in the 17th century, the Khoja split into two factions, the Aq Taghliq (White Mountain), or the Afaqiyya under Afaq Khoja, and the Qara Taghliq (Black Mountain), also known as the Ishaqiyya under Ishaq Wali (Tyler 53; Millward and Perdue 47-48). The reason they split was due to the recent successes the newly arrived Khoja Muhammad Yusuf made in the Altishahr and Turpan areas. It sparked jealousy among the Qara Taghliq. They poisoned Khoja Yusuf, which left his son Afaq Khoja (Uyghur: ئاپاق خوجا‎) in charge of the Aq Taghliq. Afaq Khoja gained much power in Kashgar, however, when ‘Abdullah Khan went to Mekka on hajj, Afaq Khoja was driven out of Kashgar by Isma’il Khan (Millward 86). He took refuge in Tibet under the protection of the 5th Dalai Lama. He told the 5th Dalai Lama that he was the rightful ruler of Kashgar and that Isma’il had usurped his throne. The Dalai Lama was convinced, so he played “the Mongol card” (Millward and Perdue 48).

The 5th Dalai Lama set the conquest of Altishahr in motion. He asked Galdan to intervene on his behalf. The Tibetan Buddhist Dzungar war machine was set into motion. Afaq Khoja would collaborate with the Dzungars as they conquered Altishahr between 1678 and 1680, after which Afaq Khoja was put on the throne as a puppet ruler under Galdan. While the Aq Taghliq were now in power, it by no means ended the bloody rivalry between the factions. Regardless of which rulers held power in Altishahr, it was from this point onwards that the Dzungar Khanate was cemented as the dominant power in Central Asia, using Altishahr as an important resource that fuelled the economy of the Dzungars.

Afakv - Afaw Khoja Hidayat Allah Afaq Khoja Mazar Pictured is the tomb of Afaq Khoja which is located near Kashgar. It was built originally for Muhammad Yusuf and now houses many generations of A Taghliq. The tomb is famous as an alleged resting place for the legendary concubine Iparhan, who refused to serve Qianlong, even after marriage.
The photograph has been altered from the original which is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 es,

Life under Dzungar Rulership

Galdan extracted many crucial resources from the newly acquired Altishahr, Turpan and Hami. The Turkic farmers and merchants provided him with food and gold. The mines of Altishahr gave him iron, saltpetre and nitre with which he crafted firearms. The metallurgical know-how of the sedentary Turkic people, through contact with Iran, gave him superior steel. These were all invaluable to the pastoralist rulers.

The Muslim elites of the area were largely left to their own devices, until it was time for the Dzungar to collect tribute. To support Galdan’s military campaigns, one third of the male population of Altishahr was conscripted to serve in his army. The Dzungars were burdened by famine and poverty. In order to alleviate the burden, it was perhaps the only choice left to the Dzungars to impose heavy tax burdens upon the sedentary farmers of Xinjiang. To illustrate, it is reported that the Dzungars extracted an annual levy on Kashgar of 48,000 ounces of silver. Injustice during tax collection was widespread, the Dzungar bands would often demand extra payments of cotton, grain, labour corvée, additional taxes, the company of willing and unwilling women, alcohol and livestock (Millward 92).

The oppression of the common people by the Dzungar elite was rather severe, needless to say, this fuelled no small degree of anti-Dzungar sentiments among the Muslims of Altishahr. This sentiment would later come to bite the Dzungars in the back.

The First Dzungar-Qing War

Galdan and Kangxi

Afakv - Erdeniin Galdan Bushuktu Khan Elhe Taifin Khan The Kangxi Emperor Aisin Gioro Hiowan Yei
Source of Galdan Statue Photo:

Both Kangxi, the Khan of the Manchus and Emperor of China, and Galdan were interested in maintaining good relations. Indeed, much of that is shown in the lavish feasts thrown by Galdan in order to receive Qing envoys. Kangxi’s policy in receiving the Mongolian tributes in turn was lenient and took into account Mongolian customs. Indeed, the First Embassy from Kangxi to Galdan indicated “the flexibility of both sides and their mutual interest in good relations” (Perdue, 142).

Though, the relations between the Dzungars and the Manchus was marred by some troubles when breakaway former vassals of the Ochirtu Khan who refused to join Galdan, began raiding the Qing borders out of desparation. Kangxi demanded that Galdan take care of the rebels or the Qing would take matters into their own hands. Galdan took care of the rebels, but the troubles didn’t end here.

The tribute missions sent into the Qing Empire were getting increasingly chaotic and unmanagable. Many of the envoys sent into the Qing by Galdan did not carry his official seal, this clashed with the Qing Dynasty’s bureaucracy. Furthermore, the embassies that entered the Qing became increasingly large and began to plunder and pillage the pastures within Qing borders. For any ruler, this would clearly be unacceptable. So, Kangxi began to crack down on Galdan’s missions. Tribute missions were important Galdan since it was a form of trade and therefore brought resources. Kangxi now established strict controls by sending headmen to watch over the actions of the Dzungar missions. The size of the embassies was henceforth to be restricted to a maximum of 200 people, whereas before they there was no set limit. Finally, he pardoned all the previous crimes committed by the missions, but anyone breaking the laws in the future would be punished under the full extent of Qing law.

The following year, perhaps testing Kangxi’s edict, Galdan sent a mission of three thousand men. Kangxi’s edict was no bluff, all but 200 men were turned away at the borders. While the Qing did maintain that Galdan was the only leader of the Western Mongols who had rights to trade in the Qing capital, these recent restrictions put pressure on Galdan’s authority and political capital. Kangxi knew this, by controlling the valve, either allowing or denying Galdan valuable resources, Kangxi could leverage his own demands in any kind of negotiation. Naturally, Galdan was less than pleased with this development. It pressured him to be more aggressive.

Galdan continued to expand. With his expansion, other Oirat leaders who did not fall or refused to fall under his authority were forced to attack the Qing borderlands in order to survive. An example would be Erdeni Qosuuci, a powerful Oirat lord who commanded ten thousand tents. He would continue to harass the Qing frontier for food and resources, but due to Kangxi’s initial pacificst attitude towards Central Asia and the realisation they were plundering out of starvation, he chose to only drive them out instead of killing them. Some people like the son and nephew of the Ochirtu Khan, Lobzang Gunbu Labdan and Batur Erke Jinong respectively chose to seek refuge in Tibet. Lobzang and Batur were settled somewhere by the Dalai Lama. Batur was later found to have been pasturing along the Yellow River in Qing territory, which prompted Kangxi to send Galdan a letter, asking him to deal with Batur, as Batur was an Oirat. Galdan said he would deal with it later. Finally, Prince Gandu, a grandson of Ochirtu Khan, also was raiding along the frontier of the Qing Empire.

In 1684, Batur, Erdeni and Gandu requested that Kangxi pardon them and in return, they would swear loyalty to the Manchus. Kangxi responded by making it clear that he could have had them all killed for their crimes as mere bandits and criminals. However, he recognised the long-standing tribute from the Ochirtu Khan and on his merits, decided to pardon Batur, Erdeni and Gandu. He emphasised the fact that Galdan had left his people to die of hunger and that he would not take them back, thereby highlighting his own mercy in deciding to pardon them and settling them on Qing soil. With that, Kangxi began to win over the hearts of the Tibetan Lamas as well as the Oirats who for the first time had sought Qing protection.

Rising Tension

While the Southern Mongols, the Chahar, had become subjects of the Qing, many of the Eastern Mongolian Khalkha north of the Gobi desert were still independent (Heilong and Haichunliang 48). At one time, the Khalkha split into two factions and conflict ensued between them. The Jasaktu and Altyn Khans on the one and the Tüsiyetü and Chechen Khans on the other side. The Tüsiyetü Khan’s faction held the most power and also formed as the religious centre of all Khalkha Mongols. The schism between the Khalkha Mongols caused the disadvantaged Jasaktu Khan to seek allies outside of the Khalkha. Galdan was one such power. As the Jasaktu Khan strengthened his ties with the Dzungars it became abundantly clear that the internecine struggles between the Khalkha was a weakness that Galdan could take advantage of, to the detriment of the Qing. The Qing saw fit to become peacemakers among the Khalkha. If the Khalkha were united, then Galdan would have no opportunities to gain power in Khalkha land. Therefore, Kangxi urged the Khalkha to make peace.

Alas, both the Dalai Lama’s and Kangxi’s effort to promote peace among the Khalkha fell on deaf ears. The internal conflicts escalated and culminated in an invasion led by the Tüsiyetü Khan against the Jasaktu Khan in 1687. The Tüsiyetü Khan struck hard and fast and plunged into the heart of the Jasaktu Khan’s forces. He captured the Jasaktu Khan and drowned him in a river. Furthermore, he openly declared war against Galdan by killing one of Galdan’s younger brothers. Galdan swore revenge.

From Galdan’s perspective, if he had ambitions to unite all Mongols, a true peace among the Khalkha would make it difficult for him to do so. Whatever Galdan’s intentions were, his younger brother’s death gave him a direct casus belli against the Tüsiyetü Khan. War between Galdan and the Tüsiyetü Khan was nigh but inevitable. In 1688, Galdan launched a 30,000 strong punitive army into Khalkha territory (Heilong and Haichunliang 50). He assaulted the seat of the Jebzongdanba Khutukhtu at the temple complex of Erdeni Zu, which he pillaged. He continued his relentless pursuit of the Tüsiyetü Khan. His invasion force seemed unstoppable as it drove away and defeated the Khalkha. In doing so, the Khalkha were shattered and scattered. Khalkha refugees fled into three directions: Russia, into Galdan’s fold or toward the Qing Empire.

Afakv - Өндөр Гэгээн. Занабазар. Жавзандамба хутагт. རྗེ་བཙུན་དམ་པ་ཧུ་ཐུག་ཐུ. Jebzongdanba Khutukhtu. Zanabazar. 札那巴札爾. 哲布尊丹巴 呼圖克圖. Son of the 5th Tüsiyetü Khan and the one who cemented the Gelugpa Sect among the Mongols. He was the first of the Bogd Gegeen.

Apparently, the Jebzongdanba Khutukhtu, a son of the 5th Tüsiyetü Khan and therefore a brother of the then reigning Tüsiyetü Khan, had disrespected the authority of the Dalai Lama, this did not sit well with Galdan who had spent years in Tibet as a lama. So, Galdan claimed that his attack on the Tüsiyetü Khan was to punish the Khutukhtu for his insolence. The defeated Khalkha Mongols continued to flee into Qing domain and put severe pressure on the borderlands, so much so that the Qing had to take action. They sent an army to protect the Khutukhtu.

Galdan approached Hulunbuir (please refer to Map 2). Kangxi prepared ten thousand soldiers at the borders of the Empire to be commanded by the Khorchin Tüsiyetü prince Shajin. Yet, when Galdan refused to come near the borders and instead focused his attention on the Tüsiyetü Khan, Kangxi refused to give chase to Galdan. In 1688, Galdan and the Tüsiyetü Khan fought a three-day long battle in which Galdan won a crushing victory.

As Galdan scattered the Khalkha, their leaders had no choice but to seek aid from the only place close by and willing to aid them: Kangxi’s Manchu Qing Empire. The Tüsiyetü Khan and Jebzongdanba Khutukhtu crossed the Gobi desert Southwards and submitted themselves to the Qing Empire. With this move, the Dzungar invasion of Khalkha lands was no longer an issue between the Mongols.

Galdan continued Eastward to further involve himself with the Khalkha. However, back home, Tsewang Rabdan, the son of Sengge, one of Galdan’s late brothers, was stirring the flames of rebellion. Galdan knew Tsewang Rabdan was becoming a threat, so he tried to have him killed earlier in 1688, but Tsewang Rabdan escaped with his life. While Galdan was away fighting in Eastern Mongolia, Tsewang Rabdan assaulted the city of Hami. Galdan had to return home to deal with Tsewang Rabdan, giving the Khalkha and the Qing some much needed relief.

T’sewang Rabdan’s Rebellion continued in the winter of 1689-1690, which pinned Galdan’s forces back home Dzungar territory, delaying his ambitious plans for the Khalkha. While in Dzungar lands, Galdan was still collecting men to ride against the Khalkha at a later point in time.

Afakv - This map depicts the state of Inner-Asia during Galdan’s intervention in Khalkha territory and his sacking of Erdeni Zu. Notice the rapid Russian and Qing encroachment upon ‘independent’ Mongolian and Siberian territory. • Taiwan is in Qing colours because Kangxi annexed Taiwan in 1683. • Albazin was destroyed by Manchu forces in 1685, but reoccupied by the Russians in 1686. • Orda means encampment.
Map 2: Dzungar Khanate and Qing Empire ca. 1688 (click on map to enlarge)

Kangxi’s Resolve

Galdan marched East and violated the Qing’s borders, as he sought revenge against the Tüsiyetü Khan for killing his brother and the Khutukhtu for insulting the Dalai Lama. These men were now under Qing custody and the Qing refused to extradite them.

Kangxi grew weary of Galdan’s exploits and his repeated violation of the Qing borders. The ever increasing flow of Khalkha refugees hardened Kangxi’s heart. The Chechen Khan of the Khalkha made an offer to Kangxi, he would attack Galdan if Kangxi gave him support. Kangxi, now beginning to be eager to see Galdan’s defeat, approved the sale of military supplies to the Khalkha Mongols. Meanwhile, Galdan requested 20,000 troops from Russia. Russia refused to answer his call for aid, due to the fact that the Manchus convinced the Russians that Galdan was dealing with revolts and famine, that Galdan was a lost cause (Perdue, 152). More importantly, by this time, the Russians had signed the Treaty of Nerchinsk with the Manchus. To give Galdan military support against the Khalkha, who were Qing subjects, would be a violation of the treaty (Perdue, 171). Russia was no longer a potential ally for Galdan.

On 27 July 1690, Kangxi’s resolve to finish Galdan culminated in his announcement that he would personally lead the campaign against the Dzungar leader. He took three armies with him, taking different routes to reach Mongolia. An estimated 60,000 men left on this expedition.

At this point, Galdan’s forces dwindled to a mere 10,000 men, his food and supplies were all but used up and they were even eating their horses in order to survive. As such, Galdan was serious about making peace with the Qing. He wanted to keep his wars between Mongols. Still, Kangxi knew that if Galdan united the Mongols, the threat to the Qing empire would be greater than ever before. His decision to crush Galdan, even though Galdan sought peace with the Qing at this point was likely motivated by the desire to prevent an independent and powerful Mongolian Empire right on his doorsteps. The historical trauma left by Chinggis Khan was still too fresh a memory.

Was Kangxi justified in thinking this? I would summise there was from his perspective as the ruler of the Qing. Galdan’s invasion of the Kazakh Khanate, the Dzungar Khanate’s conquest of Altishahr and Galdan’s aggression in Eastern Mongolia all pointed toward the idea that Galdan was not going to be peaceful for long if he were given the chance to consolidate his power. In other words, Galdan was a serious threat.

So, Kangxi took no half-measures. He prepared his armies for a full-scale expedition. He brought with him his uju cooha (his heavy troops, his artillery). In his edicts that Kangxi sent to Galdan, he claimed to be only acting for defensive purposes. But in his secret missives to his commanders, Kangxi told his other forces to hold off on fighting until he arrived. It was apparent that he wanted to keep Galdan from escaping in order to take him out in one fell swoop.

However, one of Kangxi’s commanders, Arni, engaged Galdan’s 20,000 men by accident when Galdan was pursuing the Chechen and Tüsiyetü Khans in Ujimchin territory. Arni had with him 200 Mongolian elite troops and 500 Mongolian riders. Obviously, they stood no chance and were forced into retreat. In Chinese sources, this is recorded as the Battle of Ulgain (Urhui), named after the Ulgain river at which it was fought (please refer to Map 3 down below). The diplomatic ramifications were great. Kangxi had to cover for the unexpected assault, so he wrote Galdan that Arni’s actions were illegal and that he had not been given permission to attack the Dzungar army. He even tried to persuade Galdan that he never intended to attack him. Indeed Kangxi claimed the huge army marching for Mongolia was “not to punish you, but to establish discussions” (Perdue, 154). This was obviously a barefaced lie, as he was leading a full-scale expedition to defeat the Dzungars. Kangxi had to convince Galdan the Qing armies did not come to fight, in order to prevent him from fleeing.

At this point, the campaign was fraught with problems. The horses were tired and the extreme weather conditions had done a number on the men (Perdue, 160). In the desert, water was scarce and difficult to find, the men nearly succumbed from the thirst. On the steppes, they would nearly drown in the heavy rainfall and muck. Moreover, the food supplies were running low, as Kangxi had prepared supplies for only a short campaign. Galdan moved North, further away from the Qing armies. Prince Shajin, who led 10,000 men, even gave up the pursuit of Galdan as the scarcity of supplies were becoming more of a concern. Despite the difficulties he faced, Kangxi was determined to take on Galdan.

The Battle of Ulan Butong

In August, Galdan requested a meeting at Ulan Butong, a place which was a mere 350 kilometres from Beijing, in present day Hexigten Banner, Inner-Mongolia (please refer to Map 3 down below). He requested the meeting in order to discuss the extradition of the Tüsiyetü Khan as well as Jebzongdanba Khutukhtu. The various envoys of the Dalai Lama, Galdan and the Qing had actually been able to reach a fairly satisfactory resolution that was acceptable to all parties involved. The Tüsiyetü Khan would go wherever he pleased, while Khutukhtu would be sent to Tibet where the Dalai Lama would handle him. At this point, however, he was only 23 kilometres removed from the nearest Qing army, and the Qing was in reality not interested in a peaceful resolution, since Galdan would remain a threat if not destroyed (Heilong and Haichunliang 56).

Fuquan, the commander of said Qing army, approached Galdan’s camp at Ulan Butong and spotted his enemy on the 3rd of September. He opened fire with a cannon and commenced the attack. The Dzungar soldiers hid themselves in the forest. In order to protect themselves from the artillery, they proceeded to build a wall out of camels by binding the legs of the beasts and then covering them with felt. They constructed it in such a way that they could still shoot arrows through arrow loops left in the camel wall. The left wing of the Qing army cornered the Dzungars in the mountain, and could inflict casualties on the Dzungars. The right wing of the Qing army, however, fared less well. By nightfall, the Qing had not managed to gain ground and the losses inflicted on the Dzungars were not sufficient to disperse or rout them. Galdan had plenty of strength left to continue the battle come daybreak. Fuquan was faced with a problem. The artillery Kangxi had ordered to go along with the armies as a trump card against the Mongols was useless since the Dzungar had erected a camel fortress inside the forest. Both the trees and the camels prevented the Qing from employing the artillery to their full potential. Similarly, Galdan had lost many men and horses (and camels), and could probably not win a decisive victory against Fuquan. As such, a stalemate was reached.

Afakv - Galdan's actual face when the combined might of Qing cannonry was thwarted by a fortress made of camels. Ulan Butong, 1690, colourised. Original photograph by Han Chengli titled Mongolian Child.
I normally don’t do memes, but Galdan’s pro-gamer move of “camel fortress” was too good to pass up.

Both commanders decided it was best to refrain from attacking for a while. On the 7th of September, Galdan sent emissaries to talk peace with Fuquan. Galdan conceded on the issue he came to Ulan Butong for. He no longer demanded the Tüsiyetü Khan and Khutukhtu to be extradited. In turn, Fuquan demanded that Galdan move far away from the Qing frontier and never raid it again.

Moving far away, that was something Galdan could do. He fled as fast as he could in the deep of the night. Kangxi, eager to end Galdan once and for all, had urged his commanders to give chase, but the logistical problems of the Qing army paralysed the troops. Realising the logistical limitations of his armies, Kangxi refrained from pushing his generals too much. As September progressed, the Qing armies withdrew to frontier garrisons, where they could be provided for. During this time, Galdan, under Qing military pressure, swore an official oath to leave the Qing borders alone. Kangxi accepted his oath but vowed to destroy Galdan if he ever so chose to violate it.

A Lull in the Fighting

Galdan licked his wounds and attempted to convince the Khalkha who had submitted to Kangxi to join his side, he also attempted to find allies among the Russians, neither the Russians nor the Mongols responded favourably. Still, he did make sure that the Dalai Lama stood on his side (by this point, the 5th Dalai Lama had died, but it was kept a secret to the outside world). Kangxi grew increasingly frustrated with the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama’s actions seemed to support Galdan instead of professing peace like the Dalai Lama claimed. This was because the sDe-pa, who made the decisions on behalf of the late 5th Dalai Lama, was a staunch supporter of Galdan. As a result, Kangxi stopped to respect the authority of the 5th Dalai Lama in matters regarding Galdan.

Kangxi was trying to get Tsewang Rabdan to cooperate with the Qing in order to put a threat at the back of Galdan whenever he fought the Qing. Tsewang Rabdan was receptive of the Qing. He continued to send secret memorials and tribute gifts to Kangxi. In this period, both Galdan and Kangxi claimed they wanted peace, but secretly were making all manners of moves to weaken the other party. Neither force was capable of launching another major campaign, so they took their time to recover strength.

Kangxi was faced with the problem that he could not penetrate into the steppes deeply enough to reach Galdan all the way in Khobdo (Hovd), logistics simply did not allow for such an extended campaign beyond the passes with this much equipment and this many many. His armies faced shortages, but the Dzungars were also facing severe shortages. On the other side, Galdan’s nomadic force struggled to replenish their strength. If Galdan’s strength were to be recovered by the grain of Altishahr and the reocovery of pastures, Dzungar strength could be reinvigorated. Nonetheless, as it stood, the Dzungars were exhausted and starved. Moreover, Galdan was unable to concentrate Dzungar power, preventing him from launching any kind of assault on the Qing. The Mongols were simply too divided for that to happen.

Uniting the Mongols at Dolon Nor

Kangxi made good use of the internal division among the Mongols. In Galdan’s absence he knew the time was ripe for the Qing to consolidate their power among the Eastern Mongols. The Khalkha were disorganised and needed economic and military support. These were all things that Kangxi could provide. Kangxi called for a great gathering of all the prominent leaders of the Khalkha at Dolon Nor.

He seated the Mongols according to rank and prominence and organised lavish banquets and great spectacles to show off the might of the Qing Empire. He granted the lords that were gathered noble titles in accordance to Qing customs, even the Tüsiyetü Khan and the Khutukhtu. These Khalkha were subsequently organised into banners and each banner was designated pastures with strict boundaries in order to avoid border conflicts that had plagued them for so long. Food, livestock, noble titles and therefore legitimacy granted by the Qing that confirmed their individual authorities were given to the Khalkha lord in exchange for their loyalty, freedom and autonomy.

In one fell swoop, Kangxi had gained a firm hold over Mongolia, ended the last vestiges of autonomous Chinggisid Mongols and assumed the mantle of a Chinggisid Khan himself. These were unprecedented accomplishments by any Emperor ruling from China.

Kangxi’s Second Expedition

Preparing for Battle

In the next few sections,
please continue to refer to Map 3
for further clarification.

Kangxi received reports that Galdan was moving East, potentially to a location where the Qing armies could reach. The Khorchin prince Biliketu, loyal to Kangxi, lured Galdan East by saying that the Khorchin wanted to submit. Kangxi mobilised his forces and this time, he would eliminate Galdan once and for all.

Galdan had indeed moved closer to the Qing borders, but he had no intention of attacking the Qing at all. With his 5000 to 6000 men, he camped at the Kerulen-Tula river area, waiting for winter to pass. Kangxi wanted to reach him, but would have to march across half of Mongolia to get to him. At court, Qing officials had no desire to trek through the desert and winter all the way to Kerulen. Nonetheless, Kangxi’s determination to exterminate Galdan was not to be underestimated. He believed the failure at Ulan Butong occurred because he didn’t command the battle himself. This time, he would make sure that he led the attack on Galdan personally.

Three armies set out to attack Galdan. The West Route Army led by Fiyanggv boasted 30,000 men. The East Route Army, led by Sabsu, boasted 10,000 men. The Capital Army led by Kangxi himself boasted 32,970 men. Finally, a fourth army led by Sun Sike would dispatch from Ningxia in order to join up with Fiyanggv’s West Route Army as well, increasing its numbers by another 10,000. In a pincer maneuvre, Fiyanggv was to approach from the West as Kangxi approached Galdan from the East. For this plan to work, Fiyanggv had to reach the Tula river before Kangxi reached the Kerulen river. From Guihua (Hohhot) to the Tula river was 1,160 kilometres with the Gobi desert in between. Fiyanggv had a long march ahead of him.

Afakv - Fiyanggv (1645-1701) of the Donggo Hala was a Manchu from the Plain White Banner. He was the younger brother of Consort Donggo, who was a favoured consort of the Shunzhi Emperor, Kangxi’s father. He was rewarded greatly for his efforts in the campaign against Galdan. Fiyanggv died from an illness a few years after Galdan’s death. He was laid to rest at Juzifangcun, Dongbaxiang, Chaoyang District, Beijing. His gravestone was moved into a nearby park in 2010. Photograph taken by Dayingwa 打鹰洼
Photograph taken in 2018 (Image sourced from

Such a long and arduous journey required excellent logistical planning. As we saw in Kangxi’s first campaign, logistics can make or break an expedition. This time, however, Kangxi made doubly sure to plan ahead. Yu Chenglong (the lesser, not to be confused with Yu Chenglong the greater), the Grain Transport Commissioner, was given the unenviable task of arranging them. The rations the soldiers needed would be far too many to carry with them. So, methods had to be devised in order to alleviate the supply problems, such as giving the soldiers money to purchase their own grain along the way, or having more cattle accompany the army (which was food that carried itself). Food, however, was not the only vital resource that needed managing. Horses were something that empires ruled from the Chinese heartland always have had trouble supplying. For this reason, all the horses this army used were supplied by the Qing’s Mongol subjects and allies.

A third issue were cannon. This time too, Kangxi did not refrain from bringing out the big guns. The Manchus won one of their first major battles famously without gunpowder weapons against the Ming gunpowder troops at Sarhv in 1619. The Manchus continued this trend in most of their major campaigns, the campaigns against Galdan being the great exception. Perhaps Kangxi knew that he could not leverage the strength of his mounted archers and cavalry tactics against the Mongols, who undoubtedly knew all about those. As such, he took great pains by bringing a total of 349 cannon on this expedition.

Come Rain or Shine

So, the Qing armies set out toward Galdan. On campaign, strict discipline was imposed on the troops. Careful attention was paid to the behaviour of the troops not to antagonise the Mongols. If the Mongols gained the impression that Kangxi had come to punish more than just Galdan, it might just be used by Galdan as a way to gather allies. Another concern was time. The troops did not have the luxury to take their time as they could not live indefinitely on their supplies, any officer shirking his duties of keeping pace would be punished. Nevertheless, the mud and bad weather caused cattle to die and carts to get stuck. Yu Chenglong’s supply caravans fell behind and cannon had to be abandoned. At one point, Fiyanggv’s cannon were stuck in the mud and snow. He nearly had to abandon all his cannon were it not for the camels he brought with him. Once again, the camels saved the day, allowing Fiyanggv to still bring 59 cannon with the army.

The exhaustion of his men, the burden of the supplies and artillery caused Fiyanggv’s forces to dwindle. He had to leave many men behind on the last leg of his journey. The army of Sun Sike faced similar issues. Their force of 10,000 had thinned out to about 2,000 Chinese soldiers. The trek across the Gobi desert was harsh and unforgiving. The cutting winds and icy rains for days at a time felled many a horse and man. When they arrived at Onggin, nearly all of their horses had died. What remained of his army joined Fiyanggv.

Kangxi’s armies also had difficulties finding water. Because they set out in the early spring, before the grass had a chance to come through, the cattle and horses would be weak. However, this was precisely the reason Kangxi chose to march during this time of the year, they had to prevent Galdan from regaining strength. Nevertheless, this time of the year meant that springs and ponds were still frozen over and many wells had to be dug at every step of the journey.

I will certainly kill anyone who hesitates, or withdraws from this campaign.

the kangxi emperor

While on the road, some reports came through that Galdan had gathered 60,000 Russian troops to face the Qing. High ranking Manchu officials urged Kangxi to stop and reconsider. Kangxi was furious. His pride as a commander and warrior could not be sullied like this. He admonished those who advised him to retreat back to safety and exclaimed: “I will certainly kill anyone who hesitates, or withdraws from this campaign” (Perdue, 186). Of course, Galdan had not gathered so many allies, it was, in today’s lingo, fake news. Galdan was a master of confusing the enemy with false information. One of the reasons Kangxi was hesitant to interfere with Khalkha affairs when Galdan first marched East to Erdeni Zu, was because Kangxi believed Galdan had gained the alliance of the Russians (Heilong and Haichunliang 51). This time, it seemed that Kangxi had wisened up to his strategem.

Crucial now was not the strength or size of Galdan’s army, but whether Fiyanggv could make it to the Kerulen on time. However, Fiyanggv had not yet arrived at his designated location. Kangxi’s Capital Army was closer to Galdan. They feared that if they faced him directly, that Galdan would simply retreat, just like he had at Ulan Butong. If Fiyanggv was not there to block Galdan, this entire endeavour had been for nothing.

Afakv - *The Ulgain river is the extreme end of the Khalkha river. Perdue refers to this river as ‘Urhui river’ in China Marches West. In Chinese sources this river is named Wuerhui. It is likely that Wuerhui refers to the Wulagai (Ulgain) river, which connects to the Khalkha river. Hung confirms this theory in The Brilliant Reign of the Kangxi Emperor. A translated version of Kallgan’s Map-Qing Dynasty 1689 (by GnolizX) calls ‘the Battle of Ulgain’ ‘the Battle of Orkhun.’ Orkhun might refer to Ergune (Argun) river, which is further to the North, or it might refer to Orkhon, which is far away in Central Mongolia. As such, this translation is most likely inaccurate.
Map 3: Dzungar-Qing battles of the late 17th century (click on map to enlarge)

The Battle of Jao Modo

Kangxi decided to stall for time. He sent envoys to enter in negotiations with Galdan. The Manchu Emperor pretended to vie for peace and that there could still be a peaceful solution. It appears Galdan did not realise that Kangxi was biding for time. Among the Dzungars, there was quite a shock when they realised that Kangxi had come to face them personally. It was even more of a surprise to the Dzungars that Kangxi had managed to bring three armies all the way out to Kerulen. These impressive military feats and the personal appearance of Kangxi awed them.

The following day, Kangxi drew his army out in ranks, in full display. This was war in all its glory. He hoped that the sight of his men, armies that filled the fields to the horizon, would shatter the morale of Galdan’s men. Kangxi advanced his troops to Galdan’s encampment. Perhaps to little surprise, Galdan was nowhere to be found. Galdan’s forces were numerically inferior and at that point had no intention of doing battle with the Qing. In the face of such an overwhelming force, Galdan’s only choice was to deny Kangxi his battle which he so desperately sought.

Galdan had evidently left in a hurry. The encampment was in a state of disarray, signs of panic were abound; old people were left behind, women and children had killed themselves. With Galdan having retreated West, Kangxi had no choice but to hope for Fiyanggv to catch Galdan in his flight. Kangxi’s army was at the end of its supplies and could scarcely give chase. At this point, he had no choice but to make the journey back to greener pastures.

Fiyanggv managed to block Galdan’s escape in the middle of the desert at a place called Jao Modo (Mongolian: Zunmood). Fiyanggv’s men were exhausted and weakened severely, for they had been living the past 10 days off of horse and camel meat to stay alive. They were in dire straits and on the verge of starvation when they met with Galdan. Though the Qing forces were starved and weak, there were still 14,000 soldiers between Galdan and freedom. Galdan himself commanded 5000 men and had a total of 2000 fowling guns. There was no choice but for Galdan to fight this enemy. So, the battle commenced.

Fiyanggv’s forces’ first move was to take the hill, an advantageous position from which Fiyanggv could leverage his artillery. The Mongols had positioned sharpshooters in range of the hill’s approach, so Fiyanggv’s forces had to face terrible gunfire in order to take the hill. The hill was hard fought, but Fiyanggv’s men wrested the position from their foes. From then on, they brought the full force of the Qing artillery to bear on Galdan’s army. This time, the camels were on the side of the Qing. The Manchu forces advanced on the Mongol position with great wooden barricades, used somewhat like pavises and wore thick padded gambeson to defend against the incoming projectiles. When they approached the front line of Galdan’s forces, they unleashed torrents of arrows on the Qing lines. The desperate Qing troops, who would starve to death if they didn’t capture Galdan’s supplies, stormed the Dzungar lines undeterred by the hail of steel.

The outmanned and outgunned Dzungars, already awed by Kangxi’s presence, being shelled by the thundering large caliber cannons, had completely lost their composure. In the face of the Manchu charge, the Dzungar warriors threw down their weapons and fled the field of battle. A few brave souls, led by a man named Arabdan, though he had abandoned Galdan before, now held their ground for Khan and country, but were no match for an unbridled cavalry charge of Fiyanggv’s army, composed of experienced Mongol riders and well-trained Manchus. They ran down and trampled thousands. The famished sabres of the Qing riders cared neither for the wicked nor the virtuous, men were cut down where they stood, indiscriminately. This was war in all its horror.

Galdan no longer had any means to control his men and had no means of escape. He was surrounded by enemies and surely, he would have either been captured or killed if not for Anu Khatun, his wife. His queen led a valiant charge from outside the encirclement to cut a path for Galdan to escape through. As Qing soldiers were struck down before the deadly determination of the Khatun, Galdan took the opportunity. As husband and wife made their dashing escape, somewhere on the battlefield, the gentle thrum of a bowstring resonated amidst the cacophonous chaos. An arrow had found its mark and felled the valiant Khatun. Though her life was extinguished on that day, her legend echoes on throughout the ages.

Afakv - She was the warrior Khatun of the Dzungars and daughter of the Ochirtu Khan of the Khoshot. She first married Sengge. After his assassination, she married his brother, Galdan. It is said that after Jao Modo, her body was buried at the foothills of the Khangai Mountains. That place is now named Khatant, the place of the queen. Ану хатан. Original artwork by Dolgoon. 阿努可敦.
This image has been altered from the original uploaded by Kaffiend / CC BY-SA (

Galdan fled Jao Modo with no more than 50 loyal retainers, including his nephew Danjila and kinsman Arabdan, no doubt stricken with grief and blinded by fury. Galdan lived, but losing Jao Modo lost him his wife, his army and his empire. Yet, he never lost his iron will.

Galdan’s Demise

Capitalising on Victory

The victory, despite the Qing’s overwhelming numbers, was not at all assured. Galdan could have easily moved away to a place where the grass would be plenty and his livestock could once again be fattened up, after which he could gather strength once more. For this reason, it was extremely fortuitous for the Qing that Fiyanggv was able to trap Galdan. After Galdan’s defeat, Fiyanggv captured all of his livestock, which saved his men from starvation.

It was a miraculous victory which led to much praise for Kangxi coming from all over the Empire, not just the Chinese and the Manchus but also the Mongol Khans, allies and bannermen sang songs of praise for this great feat. Kangxi’s great victory was recorded as the greatest achievement of any Emperor of China. And yes, the final wedge was driven between Dzungars and the Khalkha. Though Galdan was still alive, the followers and resources Galdan once held were all but scattered in the summer breezes of 1696.

That did not mean that Galdan could not rise from dead ashes. The Qing was still wary of a possible revival. They knew that Hami was held by Galdan’s enemy, Tsewang Rabdan, so they knew he would not go there. Nor would he seek aid from the Torghuts, who were on bad terms with the Dzungars. The only options left for Galdan were to return to Dzungar land, seek Muslim followers from Altishahr and find the sDe-pa in Lhasa, Tibet. Since he had ever been his loyal friend and ally. In the face of this possibility, the Qing decided to destroy the problem root and branch.

Meanwhile, Galdan had managed to gather over 5000 men. Unfortunately, they severely lacked livestock as it was all lost to Fiyanggv at Jao Modo. As a result, Galdan faced disloyalty among his followers. Arabdan, the man who had betrayed him before, disagreed with Galdan’s plan to attack Onggin, on the Westside of the Khangai province (Hung, 159). Galdan wanted to move on to take Hami afterwards. Arabdan, on the other hand, wanted to raid Russian territory. Finally, even Danjila had a different view on the matter, as he wanted to move into the Altai Mountains. Most of Galdan’s followers did not agree with his plans. Arabdan went as far as to break with Galdan and left with two thousand men. Danjila, despite not agreeing to Galdan’s plan, decided to remain, along with a thousand others. Severely weakened and having nothing, no clothes, no tents and nothing to eat, Galdan and his men headed for Tamir, a river in Central Mongolia, and plundered it. With no hope for a future, followers began to abandon the impoverished Khan further. They would rather join Tsewang Rabdan, or even submit to Kangxi than starve to death with Galdan. It is also in this period that Abdurashid Khan II (Uyghur: عبد الرشيد خان‎; Chinese: 阿卜都里什特/ Abudulishite) of the Yarkand Khanate vowed to Kangxi that he would use his 20,000 men to capture Galdan.

In order to root out the last vestiges of Galdan’s power, Kangxi ordered a third expedition, this time into Ordos. Galdan was still at large. The purpose of this expedition was to destroy Galdan’s power, not by killing him, but by winning over his potential allies to join the Qing. He leveraged the greatest advantage the Qing had over Galdan at this moment: wealth. With Galdan starving and his followers worrying about their next meal, Kangxi came to Ordos with herds containing sixteen thousand cattle and seventy thousand sheep. The Mongols were awestruck.

Galdan’s forces were raiding grain stores at Onggin. However, the Qing garrisons had destroyed the grain stores, denying anything the Dzungars could live on. Having exhausted his other options for food, Galdan was left with little choice but to assault Hami, or try to survive on what little food they had left for the winter. Kangxi, decided to wait until spring, giving ample time for his own horses to fatten up, all the while more and more of the Dzungars abandoned Galdan’s cause and submitted to Kangxi.

This is when an envoy from Galdan reached Kangxi. Apparently, Galdan wanted to surrender. Under pressure from his own followers and out of recognition of his unenviable position, he was forced to play this hand. Kangxi accepted his surrender, but did not expect it to be genuine. It was likely a ploy to buy more time and strength until spring. Kangxi sent the envoy back and gave Galdan seventy days to respond.

Kangxi’s expedition managed to block of Galdan’s escape into Kokonor (Qinghai/Amdo) or Tibet, it caused several thousands of Dzungars to submit to Kangxi and the Mongols who were already friendly to the Qing were only enticed further to remain with the Qing. Yet, Galdan remained alive and Ordos could not support the army Kangxi had brought over for the entire winter. He had no intention to stay any longer than he had, after a 91-day expedition to Ordos, Kangxi returned to Beijing.

Afakv - This map shows the final two expeditions Kangxi made against Galdan. The map also shows Khobdo (Hovd), where Galdan tereated to after the battle of Jao Modo near Urga (modern day Ulaanbaatar). This map is based on Perdue's Map 6, but also draws from various other maps sourced from the internet in order to determine locations of lakes, rivers, cities and the Great Wall.
Map 4: Kangxi’s final expeditions against Galdan

Tying up Loose Ends

Galdan was camped in the Altai Mountains. It was a very long way from Beijing. But as we saw earlier, Kangxi’s determination was not to be underestimated. His personal vendetta against Galdan was so strong that he decided to lead each and every one of these expeditions personally. The only reason he missed Ulan Butong was because of health issues, but even that expedition saw him riding in the army.

The beg (a Turkic term for lord or chieftain) of Hami captured Sebteng Baljur (also spelled Sevdenbaljir), the son of Galdan and Anu, who was 14 years old. The beg delivered the boy to Kangxi. Which was a blow not only to Galdan, but also to Tsewang Rabtan. Tsewang Rabtan demanded the boy be delivered to him, because he would be a powerful tool to leverage against Galdan. For this reason, the Hami beg feared Tsewang Rabtan would retaliate, so he decided to seek protection from Kangxi. With this, the first Turkic Muslim oasis city joined the Qing Empire. Tsewang Rabtan himself, eager to see Galdan’s end, decided to cooperate with Kangxi, for the time being.

In quick succession, the Princes of Kokonor also submitted to Kangxi. This was only the second of the two times ever before that this area had become part of one Empire together with the Chinese heartlands. Furthermore, the sDe-pa, Galdan’s long time friend and ally, had lost faith in Galdan’s chances. He denied having ever been a supporter of Galdan and attempted to appease Kangxi. So, Tibet, Kokonor and Tsewang Rabtan had all entered in an understanding with the Qing. Now, Kangxi did not have to worry about others interfering in his pursuit of Galdan. As can be seen, the defeat of Galdan had a profound effect on the balance of power in what are now the border regions of China. It was a watershed moment for the Dzungar Khanate as well as the Qing Empire.

At any rate, the Qing armies had no need to bring out the artillery. Galdan’s forces had shrunk to only 500 or 600 men. Kangxi planned to send 6000 fast travelling horsemen to deal with what remained of Galdan out from Jiayuguan and Ningxia. This time, he travelled within the Great Wall, he passed through the Shanxi province and Southern Ordos, passing through Yulin, until he reached Ningxia on the 17th of April, 1697, after 51 days of marching.

Here, Yu Chenglong, the Grain Transport Commissioner who had painstakingly supplied the previous campaigns as well, was preparing to necessary supplies to reach the Altai Mountains. Kangxi spent 19 days in Ningxia planning the logistics of the expedition. When all was set, he travelled by boat to Baita on the bend of the Yellow River north of Ningxia on the 19th of May. From there he would send off his troops. He expected the next time he would see them, they surely would bring Galdan with them, dead or alive. Things were coming to a head and Kangxi was eager to see the end.

Until the Bitter End

When Kangxi arrived in Ningxia mid-April, the Qing envoys sent to negotiate Galdan’s terms of surrender arrived in Galdan’s camp. At that time, Galdan and three hundred of his men still roamed in destitution in the valleys of the Altai. What little followers he had lost faith in Galdan. A man called Urjanjab told Galdan “We have followed you until the end… but now we cannot bear it anymore.” The envoys spoke of Kangxi’s generous offers, that those who surrendered would be pardoned. Galdan’s nephew Danjila was enticed by the stories he heard of Kangxi’s display of wealth in Ordos, Noyan Gelong, another follower of Galdan, was tempted by the prospect of remaining lords and prospering under Kangxi. It was clear to the remnants of Galdan’s forces that they only had two options: submission or death. Yet, for all their arguments and efforts, it seemed impossible for Galdan’s aides to convince their sovereign to surrender. The negotiations bore no fruit, so the envoys left. In low spirits, Galdan’s aides left for their own tents.

We have followed you until the end… but now we cannot bear it anymore.

Urjanjab, follower of galdan

Galdan was a proud Khan, convinced of the justice in punishing the Jebzongdanba Khutukhtu and avenging his brother. His name was Galdan, the Bushuktu Khan, by the will of the divine, son of the daunting Batur Hongtaiji, stalwart defender of the Dalai Lama and valiant leader of the Dzungars. He was the radiant star that would guide the path for all Mongols. He could not forsake the unwavering faith his slain wife placed in him. For Galdan, one thing remained certain, whatever his followers might decide: the Khan does not kneel.

On the 4th of April, 1697, between Khobdo (Hovd) and the Kara Usu (Khar Us) lake, Galdan passed away. There is speculation about his manner of death. Most likely he was betrayed by his followers and poisoned to death. It is recorded that before he died he lamented: “I believed that the Dzungars were a good people; I did not expect them to be so faithless” (Perdue 202).


The reader will no doubt notice that Galdan perished one month and a half before Kangxi even departed for Baita. The preparations and planning Kangxi and Yu Chenglong made were for naught. Nevertheless, the news of Galdan’s demise reached Kangxi on his way back to Beijing. When he returned to the capital city, he was welcomed not only as a hero, but as a triumphant Great Khan. People lined the streets and prostrated themselves in worship of the Emperor. The one who vanquished Galdan, the mighty conqueror of Altishahr and the great menace to the Kazakhs and the Khalkha.

As for the remains of Galdan. Danjila, his nephew, wanted to take his ashes to the Dalai Lama, but he was intercepted by Tsewang Rabtan. Kangxi, as per Chinese custom, wanted to crush both the material and spiritual remains of his rival, to rid his essence from existence. Kangxi also wanted him to hand over Galdan’s remaining children, his daughter Zunchihai. Tsewang Rabtan, though his uncle Galdan tried to murder him, was hesitant to hand over family to Kangxi, who wanted to execute Galdan’s children and pulverise Galdan’s remains. Kangxi was displeased with his hesitation and moved his weight around to froce Tsewang’s hand. Left with little choice, Tsewang Rabtan pleaded for Kangxi to show mercy to the children and conceded on handing over both the family and the remains of Galdan.

When the remains arrived, Kangxi ordered Galdan’s bones to be crushed and scattered to the wind. He reneged on his initial plans to execute his son Sebteng Baljur. Instead, in a magnanimous mood, he pardoned almost every single follower of Galdan. Sebteng Baljur was given a wife and a position in the Imperial Bodyguard and Zunchihai was allowed to live with her brother in Beijing, where they stayed until their deaths. Many of the Dzungars were allowed to settle with the Chahar Mongols. The Muslims from Altishahr who had marched alongside Galdan were spared as well.


1698 marked the end of an era. The ambitious hero-king Galdan had competed with what history would record as one of the wisest rulers in Chinese Imperial history and lost. One wonders where Galdan could have taken the Mongols if he had won at Jao Modo or Ulan Butong. Nonetheless, the death of Galdan by no means meant the defeat of the Dzungars. Tsewang Rabtan was left to assume the mantle of Galdan, and led the Dzungars to broader horizons than before. A new day was dawning on the boundless steppes and vast deserts of Xinjiang and Mongolia. As Galdan and Kangxi’s era faded, Yongzheng and Galden Tseren would emerge as the next titans of the battlefield, turning the wheel of destiny as their predecessors had before them.

What can be extracted from this history is the danger of separation and internecine conflicts. Neither the Qing nor the Dzungars could have made any significant headway into Khalkha territory if the tribes were but united. Why must brother fight brother, Mongol fight Mongol if danger is looming just beyond the Great Wall and lake Baikal? Taking a wider view of history, the idea of separation, people and tribes vying for more material wealth and power, that is what lay at the root of their pain and suffering. Of course, it’s easy to talk. The scarce resources of the steppes and the Russian and Qing closing in on valuable pasturing ground made the struggle for grasslands that much more severe. What to do when you can’t bear to watch your children starve or be enslaved by the next tribe over? So, instead of aiming their composite bows at the forces surrounding them and retaking their old pastures, they shot their arrows at each other. Galdan had the vision of uniting the Mongols to form a mighty power against the outside. Alas, fate had a different fate in store for Galdan.


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    海纯良, 黑龙. “喀尔喀蒙古附清考述.” 满族研究, no. 3 (2008): 48-61.
  7. Tyler, Christian. Wild West China: The Taming of Xinjiang. London: John Murray, 2003.

Published by Afakv

Keeping the memories of those who went before us.

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