China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

By Peter C. Perdue | Go to book overview

6

Imperial Overreach and
Zunghar Survival, 1700–1731

THE death of Galdan by no means ended the power of the Zunghar state. Under Galdan's nephew and successor Tsewang Rabdan (r. 1697– 1727), the Zunghars reached the peak of their power. Galdan Tseren (r. 1727–1745), Tsewang Rabdan's son, not only held the state together but also ambushed a large Qing army and drove it back in humiliation. Yet within fifteen years after Galdan Tseren died, the Zunghar state and people had vanished. When internecine struggles for leadership destroyed the unity of the Zunghars, the young Qianlong emperor seized his chance to eliminate them. Although Qianlong's victory was sudden, it was not foreordained. For the first half of the eighteenth century, the three empires maintained an uneasy coexistence, interacting more through trade than through war.

From 1700 to the death of the Kangxi emperor in 1722, the frontier remained relatively stable in Turkestan, but Qing intervention in Tibet opened a new arena of competition. The 1720s were a period of transition for all three states, marked by the death of Kangxi in 1722, the death of Peter in 1725, and the death of Tsewang Rabdan in 1727. New rulers aimed to carry on the policies of their predecessors, but with considerably less vigor. Of the three successors, it was Galdan Tseren who ruled the longest and gained the most success. The Yongzheng emperor, at first cautious and austere, launched a reckless attack in Mongolia that ended in a resounding defeat. He reluctantly settled for a truce, and put economic pressure on the Central Puirasians. The Russians gained their long-awaited access to the China market, opening the frontier town of Kiakhta in 1727, but the trade

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