China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

By Peter C. Perdue | Go to book overview

9

Land Settlement and
Military Colonies

NIAN Gengyao's proposal to introduce military and civilian settlers into Kokonor carried on a long-standing imperial tradition. In principle, military colonies (tuntian) combined several advantages. Economically selfsufficient military units spared costs when soldiers practiced cultivation and defense in rotation. Once they brought their families to join them, the soldier-settlers formed the nucleus of permanent settlements. Merchants followed, linking the garrisons with interior trading networks. Then peasants arrived, relieving population pressure in poor interior provinces, diminishing the prospects of famine or revolt, and mixing non-Han people with more loyal settlers from the interior. In Chinese terms, military colonies were a policy of yiju liangde (killing two birds with one stone).

In fact, permanent military colonies faced great difficulties. The Han dynasty, in the second century BCE, had set up military colonies beyond the Great Wall, as did the Tang and others, but these colonies were expensive to maintain. During the great Debates on Salt and Iron, in 81 BCE, literati attacked the policy of establishing salt and iron monopolies in order to pay the expenses of military colonies on the Han northwestern frontier.1

The abandoned garrison towns of Jiaohe and Gaochang in the Turfan oasis testify to the haunting presence of these ephemeral imperial efforts at colonization.2 Jiaohe reached a peak population of five thousand under the Tang dynasty. Its ruins now stretch for 1,700 meters north-south and 300 meters east-west on top of high cliffs west of Turfan. Gaochang, even larger, also began as a Han garrison town and expanded by the seventh century to become a large Buddhist community and the center of the Uighur

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