Earlier I elaborated on the Fall of Galdan Bolshigt
With the elimination of Galdan Boshigt and the expulsion of the Zungarians from Khalkh Mongolia Zanabazar
and his Khalkh followers were free to return to their homelands. The Zungarian state was by no means crushed however. His nephew Tsevang Ravdan (r. 1697–1627) quickly seized the reins of the Zungarian realm and rallied the Oirats of the Zungarian Basin to his banner. This new Zungarian state stretched from Hami in the east, on the current-day boundary of Xinjiang and Gansu, the Seven Rivers Region in the West, and including the old realms of Uighuristan, Kashgaria and the Ili Basin. Like so many Inner Asian chieftains before him Tsevang Ravdan set up his headquarters in the Ili River Valley, probably near Kulja.
The aging Kangxi emperor was for the moment content to consolidate his gains among the eastern Mongols in Khalkh Mongolia, the current-day country of Mongolia, and did not immediately take up the struggle against the Zungarians in the west. But his ultimate goal was to “exterminate (jiaome
)” the Zungarians, to “wipe out the evil so as to have eternal peace.” In 1715 a Qing army moved beyond the western garrison city of Jiayuguan
, at the Westernmost Extension of the Great Wall
, and occupied Hami, then ruled by a Moslem beg. Moving on from Hami, the Qing generals hoped to set up a garrison at Barköl, on the northside of the Tian Shan, which could be used as a springboard for further advances into the Zungarian Basin. They also advanced along the southern flanks of the Tian Shan, and by 1718 had occupied Turpan, where the ruins of the Han and Tang dynasty cities of Gaochang
could be still be seen, reminders of former Chinese occupation of the area (major tourist attractions, they can be there today). The now emboldened generals envisioned marching on Ravdan’s headquarters in the Ili Basin far to the west, but for the time being were content to seize in Urumqi,
a city just north of a major pass through the Tian Shan and the current-day capital of Xinjiang Province. And they were soon forced to abandon Urumqi and retreat back eastward.
This first attempt to wipe out the Zungarians and add their domains to the Qing Empire ended with the Kangxi emperor’s death in 1722. His son and successor, the Yongzheng emperor, was at first more interesting in consolidating his shaky hold on the throne than engaging in risky military adventures in far-off Zungaria. In 1724 he signed a peace treaty with Tsevang Ravdan which temporarily halted hostilities, and Tsevang Ravdan’s own death in 1727 resulted in another stalemate. His successor, Galdan Tsering (r. 1727–1745) soon fell out with the Yongzheng emperor. All other Mongols had capitulated to the Qing, Yongzheng pointed out to Galdan Tsering’s envoys, only the Zungarians refused to submit. His own father had defeated Galdan Bolshigt but had failed to bring the Zungarians to heel. As historian Frank Perdue points out:
the Qing goal of universal peace among humans led the Qing to endorse elimination of those humans who obstinately refused to knuckle under to the view. Humans who chose to resist the Qing terms remained human, but they had to pay the costs of their choice: “righteous extermination” (zhengjiao), designed to return the world to a rational order.
In the summer of 1729 two expeditionary forces, the West Route Army with 26,500 men and North Route army set out from Bejing with the ultimate goal of converging on the Zungarian headquarter in the Ili Valley. Not until 1731 did the West Route Army retake Urumqi, still 400 miles short of the Ili Valley. Meanwhile the North Route Army had proceeded to Khovd, in current-day Khovd Aimag in Mongolia, where they began construction of a fortress. In July of 1731 the Qing army numbered some 20,000 soldiers marched from Khovd westward towards the Zungarian Basin and the Ili River Valley beyond. The Zungarians had been tracking their advance, however, and prepared a surprise. At Khoton Lake, in current-day Bayan-Olgii Aimag, the Qing army was ambushed and nearly annihilated; only 2,000 survivors made it back to Khovd. The Qing general in charge of this debacle, Furdan, was then ordered to start construction of what was to be a huge fortress at Khovd. Intended to measure some 4.3 miles in circumference, with walls 16.5 feet high, the fortress was to eventually house a garrison of 16,000 men. Eventually this ambitious plan was abandoned, but a more modest fortress was established at Khovd. The reader should be alerted that in 1912, after the Qing Dynasty collapsed, Dambijantsan would play the leading role in Dislodging the Qing Holdouts
here and demolishing the fortress.
Meanwhile the Western Route Army had been driven out of Urumqi by the Zungarians and chased the whole way back to Barkol. The news of this defeat coupling with the disaster at Kholon Lake thoroughly demoralized the not-too-stable-to-begin-with Yongzheng. He sued for peace and sent ministers to the Zungarians to negotiate a boundary between their two realms. Galdan Tsering wanted the border drawn along the western end the Khangai Mountains, which would have put most of modern-day western Mongolia, including Khovd, where the still extant ruins of the Khovd fortress are located, in the Zungarian sphere. Yongzheng favored the Mongol-Altai and Gov-Altai Mountains as the border, very roughly the current-day boundary between Mongolia and China. No agreement was reached, but Galdan Tsering dispatched a transmigrated before any further settlement could be reached. He alone had spent upward to 60 mllion taels of silver (2,280 tons) in his campaigns against the Zungarians and had failed to subdue or eliminate them. It would be left to his successor, the Qianlong emperor, to finally extinquish the Zungarian state and virtually exterminate the Zungarian people.
For the next fifteen years or so an uneasy peace reigned between the Qing and the Zungarians. In 1739 a truce was signed and formal trade relations agreed upon. Commerce soon thrived, with Inner Asian Moslems acting as middlemen in caravan traffic which revitalized the ancient Silk Road routes. But the lull in tensions did not lessen the basic antagonism between the two culture, as Frank Perdue points out,
Peace with the Zunghars did not genuinely soften Qing altitudes. The Qing regarded these barbarians as greedy, violent, and untrustworthy. The Qing believed, however, that the emperor’s grace would soften them to they would accommodate to imperial dominion. Barbarians by nature had ‘insatiable desire’ and ‘shameless greed’ but by controlling their actions and “cherishing’ them, the Qing could tame them. Tying the Zungar elites to the interior with trading links would make them less inclined to attack the frontier.
Galdan Tsering transmigrated in 1745. The ensuing succession struggles shattered whatever unity the Zungarians enjoyed among themselves and left the door open for Qing intervention. Out of the chaos which ensued would rise Amarsanaa, of whom Dambijantsan would eventually claim to be a descendant and/or an incarnation. All the various strands of Oirat-Zungarian history, including their struggles against the various Chinese dynasties down through the ages, would come together in Amarsanaa, only to be torn asunder when the Zungarian State was extinguished forever. For a brief moment in time Dambijantsan would try to reunite them in his own person.
Amarsanaa was a son of a Khoit nobleman. The Khoit were a minor tribe subordinate to the Dörböts (Dambijantsan’s tribe), themselves subordinate to the Zungars (or Choros), who under Khara Khula had claimed control over the Oirats as a whole. The rise of the Zungars to prominence in the Oirat confederation is one reason, as we have seen, that some Dörböts choose to emigrate to the Caspian Steppes, where they became part of the larger grouping known as Kalmyks. Thus by claiming to be an incarnation of Amarsanaa Dambijantsan was realigning himself with the Oirats who had remained behind in Inner Asia.
Amarsanaa mother’s was Boitalak, the daughter of Tsevang Ravdan, who as we have seen had became taishi
(chieftain) of the Zungars after the death of his uncle Galdan Bolshigt in 1697. Boitalak had earlier, in 1714, married Danjung, the eldest son of Lazang Khan, himself the grandson of Güüsh Khan, who had put the Dalai Lama on the throne of Tibet in 1642. After Danjung was killed in Tibet around 1717, Boitalak married a taishi
from the Khoit tribe and Amarsanaa, born in 1723, was the fruit of this coupling. The Qing emperor Qianlong would later maliciously suggest that Amarsanaa was conceived before Boitalak’s second marriage and thus being illegitimate could not himself claim to be taishi
of the Khoits. Qianlong was certainly not an unbiased observer, and most historians have dismissed this slur.
Amarsanaa would have been twenty-two when Galdan Tseren, the ruler of the Zungarians, transmigrated in the early fall of 1745. In his will Galdan Tseren passed over his oldest son, nineteen year-old Lama Darja—who was considered illegitimate by some—and named his second son, fourteen year-old Tsewang Dorji Namjal as his successor. The boy soon revealed himself to be a notorious n’er-do-well. Damchø Gyatsho Dharmatala, in his Rosary of White Lotuses, Being a Clear Account of How the Precious Teachings of Buddha Appeared in the Great Hor Country
, a monumental nineteenth-century history of Buddhism in Mongolia, states that Tsewang Dorji Namjal’s “favorite ways were to roam around in the villages, drinking chang [barley beer], seducing girls and indulging in carnal pleasures.” Even the staid, sober-minded author of that Tsewang Dorji Namjal’s entry in the encyclopedic Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period
points out that he was “more interested in killing dogs than attending to affairs of state.” Finally fed up by his antics, in 1750 a group of noblemen led by his older brother Lama Darja seized him, put out his eyes, and sent him to Aksu, on the northern edge of the Tarim Basin in what is now Xinjiang, where he was held captive and eventually executed.
Lama Darja became the new Zungarian taishi. His new position was precarious; the Oirats nobles despised him because of his low birth—his mother had apparently been a commoner with whom Galdan Tseren had coupled with only briefly. Soon a plot was spawned to depose him and place his remaining younger brother, perhaps nine years old at the time, on the throne. Davatsi (a.k.a., Dawaci), the leader of the conspirators was the grandson of the famous—in Tibet notorious—Tseren Dondub, a general who under the command of Tsevang Ravdan invaded Tibet in 1717 and trashed numerous Red Hat (Nyingma) monasteries, including Dorje Drak and Mindroling
. When I visited Dorje Drak, on the north side of the Tsangpo River, between Chitishö and Dranang, in 2003, the monks there were still grousing about this Oirat incursion, even though the monastery which had been rebuilt after its destruction by Tseren Dondub was in turn destroyed by the Red Guards in the late 1960s. The current monastery was rebuilt yet again after that.
The plots was soon revealed and Lama Darja and Davatsi came to blows. Davatsi was quickly defeated and with only about a dozen followers—among them Amarsanaa—fled westward to the Kazakh steppes, where they found refuge among the Kazakh Middle Horde led by Sultan Ablai. The Sultan, perceiving that a civil war between the two Zungarian factions would inevitably weaken the khanate, and thus be to the advantage of the Kazakhs, encouraged the two rebels, even giving Amarsanaa one of his daughters as a wife. The emboldened Amarsanaa soon snuck back to the Tarbagatai Mountain region north of Ili where his tribe the Khoit were living and managed to round up an army of a thousand men. This force, along with some Kazakh troops sent along by the Sultan to aid the rebellion, marched on Kulja, in the Ili River Valley, where Lama Darja was holed up, caught him by surprise, and on January 13, 1752, dispatched him to the Heavenly Fields. Lama Darja’s little brother, in whose name the banner of revolt had been raised, was now bypassed, and Davatsi himself—who was after all a direct descendant of great Baatar Khongtaiji, founder of the Zungarian State—assumed the title of taishi
of the Zungars.
Davatsi, however, proved to “a drunken and incompetent ruler,” as one commentator has described him, and he and Amarsanaa soon fell out. There were rumors that Amarsanaa demanded that he and Davatsi divide the rule of the Zungarians between them, a proposal which Davatsi flatly rejected. Davatsi was the descendant of the great Baatar Khongtaiji; Amarsanaa the son of a minor Khoit nobleman. There was no question of them sharing power as equals. Very quickly the two became deadly enemies. In 1754 Amarsanaa, along with a following of some five thousand soldiers and 20,000 women and children, broke away from the Zungarians under Davatsi and fled to Khovd, in current-day western Mongolia, where as mentioned the Qing had established a fortress. Here he struck what one historian terms his “fateful Faustian bargain.” He now swore allegiance to the Qing emperor, just has Zanabazar had done in 1691. In return the Qing would assist him in seizing control of the Zungarian state and recognize him as sole ruler of the Zungarians, with the Qing as suzerains. Forgotten, as least for the time being, was the traditional enmity between the Zungarians and the Qing. It was the Qing under emperor Kangxi who of course had hounded to his death the greatest Zungarian khan of all, Galdan Bolshigt
. In light of later events, it would appear that Amarsanaa was just biding his time, using the Qing for protection against Davatsi, until he could himself return to Zungaria and seize control of the khanate. For the moment however Amarsanaa played his role as a devoted Qing subject. With the ostensibly loyal Amarsanaa now in his pocket Qianlong saw at long last a way of finally ridding himself of the Zungars and extending the Qing empire westward into what is now the province of Xinjiang. He, the loyal grandson, would complete the task began by Kangxi and Yongzheng and finally subdue the Zungars, the last large group of nomads on China’s borders still maintaining their independence. Ironically, a Oirat, Amarsanaa, was the key to his plans.
To further solidify Amarsanaa’s new-found loyalty to the Qing the emperor Qianlong granted him and his followers land along the Orkhon River, in current day Övörkhangai Aimag, then invited him down to Beijing, where he was declared a prince of the first degree. Then in 1755 Qianlong appointed him as assistant commander of the so-called Northern Route Army, under the overall command of Bandi, an Eastern Mongol of Chingis Khan’s own Borjid clan who had held numerous important posts in the Qing administration. The army, which numbered about 100,000, was made up in large part of Khalkh Mongolians, and the Khalkh had to furnish most of the horses, food, and other supplies for the force. This was the army which would be sent to subdue the Zungarians. Thus Qianlong was using the Eastern Mongols to rid himself of the Western Mongols.
The Northern Route Army left Uliastai
, then one of the Qing headquarters in Mongolia (capital of current-day Zavkhan Aimag), in March of 1755. Around the same time the Western Route Army, also numbering about 100,000 and under the command of General Yung-ch’ang, left from Barköl. The two armies linked up at Amarsanaa’s own base of Bortala (Mongolian bor
= tan; tal
= steppe), the grasslands ramping up from the Zungarian Basin to the eastern side of the the Borohogo Shan, in June of 1755. From there they crossed the Borohogo Shan and marched on Kulja in the Ili Basin, the headquarters of Davatsi. “They met little or no resistance and took Ili without fighting. Most Sungars [sic] simply surrendered,” concludes one historian. Davatsi and a band of followers fled southwest to Gedengshan, 110 miles from from Ili, where on July 2 they were finally cornered and defeated by Qing troops. Davatsi himself escaped over the Tian Shan Mountains and hid out for a while in Kashgar, on the western edge of the Tarim Basin. The Moslem beg of Kashgar, divining which way the wind was blowing and not wishing to alienate the Qing, seized Davatsi and turned him over to Amarsanaa in July of 1755.
That should have been the end of the Zungar taishi
. Qianlong, however, realizing that he had a valuable pawn on his hands, had Davatsi brought to Beijing where he was ceremoniously paraded as a captive. Then Qianlong granted him a princedom of the first degree and a mansion in Kalgan (current-day Zhangjaikhou), on the edge Mongolian Plateau north of Beijing, to reside in. Despite his title and comfortable accommodations he was now of course totally powerless. Free to devote himself to his favorite pastime, drinking, he died four years later, in 1759, but his descendants were honored with the rank of hereditary prince of the fourth degree.
Qianlong, meanwhile, had ordered up special ceremonies in the Monasteries of Dolonnuur
to celebrate his victory over the Zungarians. His elation was premature. Amarsanaa, it turned out, was not playing the role Qianlong had designed for him. Qianlong had insinuated that after Davatsi had been defeated each of the Oirat tribes would be allowing to live on their traditional lands under a ruler appointed by the Qing emperor. Amarsanaa, in reward for his part in defeating Davatsi, was appointed ruler of the Khoits, answerable of course to the Qing emperor. But now suddenly Amarsanaa revealed his much greater ambitions. Why should he now be satisfied with ruling only the Khoits, a minor tribe in the Oirat confederation? He had helped the Qing defeat the Zungars, who had previously been the dominant power among the Oirats of the Zungarian State, so why shouldn’t he be the new ruler of the all of the Oirat tribes, including the Zungars? Making no secret of his ambitions he told Bandi, the commander of the Northern Route, to inform Qianlong in Beijing that he demanded to be made overall khan of the Oirats. To make his point clear, he refused to use the official seal given him by Qianlong, and instead appropriated the seal of his father-in-law Galdan Tseren, the “the last officially recognized lead of all the Zunghars.” Apprized of Amarsanaa’s presumptuous demands, on August 20,1755 Qianlong ordered that be seized and brought to Beijing. Amarsanaa was taken into custody, but on September 24, 1755, he escaped first to the Irtysh River Valley and then to the Kazakh Steppes, where he sought refuge with his father-in-law Sultan Ablai.
Believing that the Zungarians had finally been conquered, and that Amarsanaa himself, in exile in the Kazakh steppe, no longer posed a threat, Qianlong ordered most of the 200,000-man Qing army, which was costing a fortune to maintain in Zungaria, back to China, leaving only a small detachment with General Bandi. But Qianlong had seriously under-estimated Amarsanaa’s resilience. From his bolt hole in the Kazakh steppe he snuck back into Zungaria, rallied the Oirat princes to his side, and incited a general rebellion. The small Qing detachment left behind in Zungaria proved to be no match for the newly reunited Oirats under Amarsanaa. On October 4, 1755, acknowledging his hopeless position, Bandi, commander of the Qing troops, committed suicide. Amarsanaa took control of Ili and laid claim to all of Zungaria. Very quickly he had realized his dream of being the independent ruler of the Oirats. On February 17, 1756 his followers named him the new Zungarian Khan. By late 1756 he had managed to retake Ili. Qianlong must have been beside himself; twice he thought the Zungarians had been defeated; and each time they had managed to regroup and defy Qing authority. And now not only was Zungaria in revolt, but Mongolians in Mongolia itself, Qing territory since 1691, were now opening opposing the Qing . . .