Xiang Army

Last updated
Xiang Army (Old Hunan Army)
Active1850 – 1864[ citation needed ]
Country Qing China
Allegiance Qing dynasty
Type Militia, Yong Ying , eventual standing army
360,000 (1860)
Engagements Taiping Rebellion
Nian Rebellion
Dungan Revolt
Commander-in-chief/"Leader" Zeng Guofan
Ceremonial chief Zuo Zongtang
Field Marshal Bao Chao
Zeng Guofan, the leader of the Xiang Army Zeng Guofan.png
Zeng Guofan, the leader of the Xiang Army

The Xiang Army or Hunan Army (Chinese :湘軍; pinyin :Xiāng Jūn) was a standing army[ citation needed ] organized by Zeng Guofan from existing regional and village militia forces called tuanlian to contain the Taiping Rebellion in Qing China (1850 to 1864). The name is taken from the Hunan region where the Army was raised. The Army was financed through local nobles and gentry, as opposed to through the centralized Manchu-led Qing dynasty. The army was mostly disbanded by Zeng after the re-capture of the Taiping capital at Nanking.


Although it was raised specifically to address problems in Hunan, the Army formed the core of the new Qing military establishment, and as such, forever weakened the Manchu influence within the military. This devolution of centralized command is commonly pointed to as a major reason for the eventual downfall of the Qing and the emergence of regional warlordism in China during the first half of the twentieth century.

The Xiang Army was one of two armies known as the Hunan Army. Another Hunan Army, called the Chu Army, was created by former Xiang commander Zuo Zongtang to fight in the Dungan Revolt (1862–77). Remnants of the Xiang Army which also fought in the war were then called the "Old Hunan Army".


The Xiang Army recapturing Jinling, a suburb of the Taiping capital, July 19, 1864 Regaining Jinling.jpg
The Xiang Army recapturing Jinling, a suburb of the Taiping capital, July 19, 1864

Taiping Rebellion

The Taiping rebellion started in December 1850 in Guangxi Province, growing after a series of small victories over the local Qing forces. The revolt rapidly spread northward. In March 1853, between 700,000 and 800,000 Taiping soldiers directed by commander-in-chief Yang Xiuqing took Nanjing, killing 30,000 Manchu civilians and bannermen. The city became the movement's capital and was renamed Tianjing ("Heavenly Capital"). By this point the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom encompassed much of south and central China, centered on the Yangtze river valley. They continued in their attempts to expand northward, and sent two armies to take the upper Yangtze, while another two attempted to take the new Imperial capital, Beijing. The western drive met with some success, but the Beijing attack failed.


Zeng Guofan was tasked with limiting the rebel's attempts to take control of Hunan. In 1852, he was appointed by the Qing court as commissioner of militia organization for Central China. Zeng Guofan expanded the pre-existing tuanlian militia into an armed force with a total of 17,000 men, including thirteen battalions consisting of 6500 men and a navy of ten battalions consisting of 5000 men. It was given the name of Xiang Army, with Zeng Guofan as the Commander-in-chief, accepting orders from Zeng alone. The new rule was termed "Soldiers followed the general, soldiers belonged to the general"(兵隨將轉,兵為將有), contrary to the old military rule before the Northern Song Dynasty's "Soldiers had no fixed commander, commander had no fixed soldiers" (兵無常帥,帥無常兵). This new military rule was the direct cause of the Warlord era. These Tuanlian were turned into the Yong Ying Xiang Army.

In order to fund the army, Zeng convinced the Hunan governor[ who? ] to divert funds from the provincial network of commercial good toll collection stations. Eventually the army founds ways of collecting funds from local landholders and merchants. [1]


His lieutenants recovered the capital, Changsha, and then Zeng led the recapture of Wuchang and Hanyang, near Hankow, and was rewarded for his success by being appointed vice-president of the Board of War. His Army was so successful that the Qing leaders quickly started using it in place of their own troops, turning it into an Imperial force rather than the local force as it had been raised. In 1860 Zeng was called on to use the Xiang Army to clear Anhui, and was appointed Viceroy of Liangjiang (两江总督, which consisted of the provinces of Jiangxi, Anhui, and Jiangsu). While Charles George Gordon and his "Ever-Victorious Army" were clearing the rebel heartland, Zeng took the opportunity to launch a campaign to retake Nanjing.

The entire area around the city had been cleared of rebel forces in a series of battles starting in June 1863. The battle for the city itself started on March 14, 1864 when Zeng's forces attempted to force the city walls using ladders, but were beaten back. A second attempt used tunnels, but counter-digging and a second wall prevented a breakthrough. On July 3 the Xiang forces had their first victory, taking Dibao Castle. This position allowed them to dig new tunnels and pack them with explosives with the intention of destroying the city walls. A counterattack failed, and on July 19 the explosives were set off, collapsing a large portion of the wall. The city fell after a fierce three-day battle.

The Xiang Army pillaged and robbed the city, killing 100,000 Taiping soldiers and civilians according to Zeng Guofan and setting it on fire. The city burned until July 26, 1864. Zeng was promoted to Marquess (of the First Class) Yiyong (毅勇侯) (Yiyong: 毅 = Endurance 勇 = Courage) [2] [3] [4] [5] .

Almost immediately after the capture of Nanking, Zeng disbanded the 120,000 soldiers under his command, although Zuo kept his forces intact. [1]


After the fall of the Taiping, from 1864 to 1890, over half of the viceroys in China were Xiang Army leaders[ citation needed ].

Total soldiers

In 1860, the power of the Xiang Army was unsurpassed, totalling almost 360,000 soldiers. The large main group was led by Zeng Guofan with 130,000 troops. The Qing regular army, the Green Standard Army, totaled about 2,300,000 (included the Xiang Army). Taiping Rebellion soldiers amounted to about 1,800,000 (including 300,000 local gang members who repeatedly changed sides).

After 1864 a significant portion of the Army was disbanded on orders from Zeng. However at units under Zuo Zongtang continue to exist. They numbered around 120,000 by the 1870s.[ when? ]

The Xiang Army also had a small naval army.


Headquarters were located in Qimen County, Anhui from 1853 to 1861. After recovering Anqing in September 1861, the headquarters was moved there because of its proximity to Nanjing.


One of Zeng Guofan's priorities for the Xiang Army was finance, understanding that good pay was crucial for battlefield morale. As a result, a Xiang Army soldier's salary was four tael of silver every month, compared to a regular Green Standard soldier's salary of about 1.5 tael of silver per month.

Main leaders

After the Taiping Rebellion was crushed, the Hunan armies petitioned to the Manchu Court to disband themselves, for fear of rumored rebellion against the Manchus as they had grown too powerful in the eyes of the Manchus. The Manchu Court only agreed to turn Peng Yulin's army into a navy.

Vice leaders

Disarmament and revolution

Zeng Guofan began disarming the Xiang Army with the establishment of the Huai Army by Li Hongzhang, one of the most important commanders of the Xiang Army. In 1890, part of the Xiang Army incorporated into a gang and anti-government movement. When the Xinhai Revolution (Chinese Revolution) began in 1911, former comrades of Xiang Army turned against each other.[ citation needed ] The Republic of China was established on February 12, 1912.

See also

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  1. 1 2 Rowe, William T. China's Last Empire: The Great Qing.
  2. John King Fairbank; Kwang-Ching Liu; Denis Crispin Twitchett, eds. (1980). Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 541. ISBN   0-521-22029-7 . Retrieved 2012-01-18. In 1853 Tseng Kuo-fan introduced special training for the non-commissioned officers of his new Hunan Army, emphasizing endurance and discipline. This was later imitated by the Anhwei Army. The technical training of the officer corps along western lines was begun in 1852 at Shanghai and Ningpo, where a few company commanders and their men were trained in the use of Western equipment and tactics by French and English military advisers.|volume= has extra text (help)
  3. John King Fairbank; Kwang-Ching Liu; Denis Crispin Twitchett, eds. (1980). Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 540. ISBN   0-521-22029-7 . Retrieved 2012-01-18. the cases of Hunan particulartly illustrates this widespread militarization of the scholar class. . .Such was also the case of Liu Ming-ch'uan who rose form smuggling salt to leading an army in Anhwei, and finally to the governorship of the province of Taiwan (see chapter 4). . . Until 1856 most of the officers of the Hunan Army were scholars, The proportion dropped sharply for commissions given after this date. . . Holders of official titles and degrees accounted for only 12 per cent of the military command of the Huai Army, and at most a third of the core of the Huai clique, that is the trop commanders of the eleven army corps.|volume= has extra text (help)
  4. John King Fairbank; Kwang-Ching Liu; Denis Crispin Twitchett, eds. (1980). Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 202. ISBN   0-521-22029-7 . Retrieved 2012-01-18. By the end of the Nien War in 1868, a new kind of military force had emerged as the Ch'ing dynasty's chief bulwark of security. Often referred to by historians as regional armies, these forces were generally described at the time as yung-ying (lit. 'brave battalions'). In the 1860s, such forces throughout all the empire totalled more than 300,000 men, They included the remnants of the old Hunan Army (Hsiang-chün) founded by Tseng Kuo-fan, the resuscitated Hunan Army (usually called Ch'u-chün) under Tso Tsung-t'ang, and the Anhwei Army (Huai-chün) coordinated by Li Hung-chang. There were also smaller forces of a similar nature in Honan (Yü-chün), Shantung, (Tung-chün), Yunnan (Tien-chün) and Szechwan (Ch'uan-chün). These forces were distinguished generally by their greater use of Western weapons and they were more costly to maintain. More fundamentally they capitalized for military purposes on the particularistic loyalties of the traditional society. Both the strength and the weakness of the yung-ying were to be found in the close personal bonds that were formed between the higher and lower officers and between officers and men. In this respect they differed from the traditional Ch'ing imperial armies - both the banner forces and the Green Standard Army.|volume= has extra text (help)
  5. John King Fairbank; Kwang-Ching Liu; Denis Crispin Twitchett, eds. (1980). Late Ch'ing, 1800-1911. Volume 11, Part 2 of The Cambridge History of China Series (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 232. ISBN   0-521-22029-7 . Retrieved 2012-01-18. Tso's immediate appointment of Liu as commander of the 'Old Hunan Army' (Lao Hsiang-chün)added to the youthful commander's prestige. . . By September 1870, Liu Chin-t'ang had reduced all but a score of the 500-odd forts around Chin-chi-pao. Krupp siege guns shipped to Kansu form Shanghai were now sent to Liu along with an officer who had served Tseng Kuo-fan as a gunner. The shells failed to breach Chin-chi-pao's heavy walls (said to be thirty-five feet thick), but in October Liu Chin-t'ang built a high gun position from which he bombarded the city over its walls. . .Chin-chi-pao's dwindling number of inhabitants were now surviving on grass roots and flesh rom dead bodies. In January, Ma Hua-lung finally surrendered to Liu Chin-t'ang,|volume= has extra text (help)