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The Zunghars were a tribal people based to the west of China, whose territorial expansion in the late 17th century under a leader named Galdan attracted the concern of the Kangxi Emperor and led to the Qing Dynasty launching campaigns against them. They were devout followers of Tibetan Buddhism, and of the Dalai Lama in particular.

In the 1670s, the Zunghars, who ranged across much of Outer Mongolia and what is today the northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai (immediately northwest of Sichuan, and east of Tibet, and at that time sparsely settled), began to seize control of the cities of Kashgar, Turfan, and Hami, and thus over the vital caravan routes which at their height centuries earlier comprised the Silk Road. In the process, Galdan gained many followers among the Muslim peoples of these regions, and pushed many other tribal peoples to the east, where they began to put pressure on the Chinese province of Gansu.

Though occupied fighting the Revolt of Three Feudatories (1673-1681) in southern China, and Ming loyalists on Taiwan, the Kangxi Emperor began to worry that if the Zunghars were to ally with the Russians, they could pose a truly serious threat to Qing territory. The Zunghars and Russians never did enter into any such alliance, but as part of a wider series of efforts to secure his borders, the Kangxi Emperor dispatched armies (led by the emperor's own brother) to battle Galdan, shortly after concluding the Treaty of Nerchinsk with the Russians in 1689. Several years later, the fighting remained inconclusive, and Kangxi decided to head to battle himself. He commanded, in person, one of three Qing armies totaling some 80,000 troops, which pushed the Zunghars westward, and defeated Galdan at the decisive battle of Jao Modo in 1696. The Zunghar leader died the following year.

The Yongzheng Emperor launched a new series of campaigns against the Zunghars in the 1720s-30s, but these went poorly. These campaigns included some successful attacks on Urumqi by General Yue Zhongqi in 1732, but his forces were simultaneously hammered at Hami; another Qing general meanwhile led 10,000 men into an ambush at Khobdo, losing 8000 of them, including most of his officers. The Qing would not manage to secure their control over this area until the 1760s.[1]


  • Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co. (1999), 67-68.
  1. Spence, 88.