The term “Xinjiang” originally meant all territories new to the Qing dynasty. In 1755, the Qing dynasty defeated the Mongol Dzungar Khanate and captured two territories in Xinjiang. The northern territory, where the Dzungars lived, called Dzungaria, and the southern areas which the Dzungars controlled and mined called Huijiang (“Muslim territory”), Altishahr or Kashgaria (meaning “six cities”). The term gradually shifted in meaning for the Qing court to exclusively mean Dzungaria and Altishahr taken together. In 1764, the Qing Emperor had already made use of the name “Xinjiang” as a proper name official, and issued an imperial order defining Xinjiang as a “provincial administrative area”.
The reason Yakub Beg could establish his regime within the border of Qing is that of the great Dungan revolt within Qing. “Dungan” in this context means the Chinese Muslim group who live in the northwest of Qing. The great Dungan revolt broke out in 1862 in Gansu (one of the northwest province of Qing), then spread rapidly to Xinjiang, where Islam had become the major religion of the region as early as 16th century. At the same time, Qing was facing multiple Western imperial powers’ threat. The domestic strife and foreign aggressions allowed the Qing government no time to care about their frontier conflicts (for more information, you can check out this video, which provides the basic background of Qing in the 19th century: “China & The Opium Wars – 19th Century”). In Xinjiang, at first, it was a fight between the Chinese government and the local people. Soon Xinjiang was divided by a few local chefs. One of the local chiefs, in order to strengthen his power, asked the neighbor nation, Khanate of Kokand, to bring the former Xinjiang Muslim leader’s grandson – Buzurg Khan back in 1865. Because Khanate of Kokand was harassed by Russians for multiple times, it could not provide much military power to help its neighbor.
Yakub Beg, who was known as a brave military leader, became one of six generals that were supposed to escort Buzurg Khan to Xinjiang. He helped defend Tashkent during the first Russian attack in 1864. After arrived in Kashgar (the southern part of Xinjiang) many people surrounded them because of the fame of Buzurg Khan, and Yakub Beg soon overcame several middle-sized cities in the southern Xinjiang, such as Yarkand and Kulja. After a few months’ cooperation, Yakub Beg found out that Buzurg Khan had neither the mood nor the ability to rule the Xinjiang area. Soon, they two got divergence. Burzug Khan fled to Kashgar and declared Yakub a traitor. The religious leaders supported Yakub for seizing Burzug to his palace. Burzug was confined for 18 months, then exiled to Tibet and later found his way to Kokand (Demetrius Charles Boulger). In a little more than a year, Yakub became the master of Kashgar, Yarkand, and Maralbashi, roughly the western end of the Tarim Basin as far as the Yarkand River. In the book China’s Last Nomads: The History and Culture of China’s Kazaks, it mentioned that by 1870, Yakub Beg has already controlled all of southern Xinjiang and parts of the north.
Keywords: Xinjiang, Yakub Beg, Buzurg Khan, the Great Qing, Dungan