Three Muslim soldiers from the Gansu Army
|Garrison/HQ||Gansu, then Beijing|
|Equipment||Krupp artillery, Mauser rifles, swords, halberds|
|Engagements||Dungan revolt (1895–96)
Battle of Langfang
Siege of the International Legations (Boxer Rebellion)
Battle of Peking
|Dong Fuxiang (general in chief)
Ma Fuxiang, Ma Fulu, Ma Fuxing
The Kansu Braves (simplified Chinese: 甘军; traditional Chinese: 甘軍; pinyin: Gān Jūn; Wade–Giles: Kan Chün) or Gansu Army was a unit of 10,000 Chinese Muslim troops from the northeastern province of Kansu (now Gansu) in the last decades the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). Loyal to the Qing, the Braves were recruited in 1895 to suppress a Muslim revolt in Gansu. Under the command of General Dong Fuxiang (1839–1908), they were transferred to the Beijing metropolitan area in 1898, where they officially became the Rear Division of the Guards Army, a modern army that protected the imperial capital.
The Braves, who wore traditional uniforms but were armed with modern rifles and artillery, played an important role in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion. After helping to repel the Seymour Expedition – a multinational foreign force sent from Tianjin to relieve the Beijing Legation Quarter in early June – the Muslim troops were the fiercest attackers during the siege of the legations from June 20 to August 14. They were decimated at the Battle of Peking, in which the Eight-Nation Alliance relieved the siege.
Origins in Gansu
In the spring of 1895, a Muslim revolt erupted in the southern parts of Gansu province. Dong Fuxiang (1839–1908), who had fought under Zuo Zongtang (1812–1885) in the suppression of a larger Muslim rebellion in the 1860s and 1870s, had by 1895 become Imperial Commissioner in Gansu and he now commanded the Muslim militias that Zuo had recruited locally. In early July 1895, Dong commanded these troops in relieving the siege of Didao by Muslims rebels.
When he attended Empress Dowager Cixi's sixtieth birthday celebrations in Beijing in August 1895, he was recommended to Cixi by the powerful Manchu minister Ronglu. The Muslim rebels, who were armed with muzzleloaders and various white arms, were overwhelmed by the firepower of the modern Remington and Mauser rifles that Dong brought back from Beijing. Dong also used his understanding of local politics to convince the rebels to return to their homes. By the spring of 1896, Gansu was again pacified.
Transfer to Beijing
Following the killing of two German missionaries in Shandong in November 1897, foreign powers engaged in a "scramble for concessions" that threatened to split China into several spheres of influence. To protect the imperial capital against possible attacks, Cixi had the Gansu Army transferred to Beijing in the summer of 1898. She admired the Gansu Army because Ronglu, who was in her favors, had a close relation with its commander Dong Fuxiang. On their way to Beijing, Dong's troops attacked Christian churches in Baoding. After the failure of the Hundred Days' Reform (June 11–September 21, 1898) sponsored by the Guangxu Emperor, Cixi named Ronglu Minister of War and highest official in the Grand Council, and put him in charge of reforming the metropolitan armies. Ronglu made Dong's militia the "Rear Division" of a new corps called the "Guards Army". Dong Fuxiang was the only commander of the five divisions who did not hide his hostility toward foreigners.
Beijing residents and foreigners alike feared the turbulent Muslim troops. Some Westerners described the Gansu Braves as the "10,000 Islamic rabble","a disorderly rabble of about 10,000 men, most of whom were Mohammedans", others as "ten thousand Mohammedan cutthroats feared by even the Chinese". In late September and early October 1898, several minor clashes between the Gansu troops and foreigners heightened tensions in the capital. Soldiers from the United States Marine Corps were among the new guards called from Tianjin to protect the Beijing Legation Quarter from possible assaults. By late October, rumors were circulating that the Gansu Army was preparing to kill all foreigners in Beijing. Responding to an ultimatum by the foreign ministers, Cixi had the Gansu troops transferred to the "Southern Park" (Nanyuan 南苑), which was also known as the "Hunting Park" because emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties had used it for large-scale hunts and military drills. By the 1880s, this large expanse of land south of Beijing – it was several times larger than the walled city – had been partly converted into farmland, but it was conveniently located near the railroad that connected Beijing to Tianjin. The Kansu braves were involved in a scuffle at a theatre. At the section of railroad at Fungtai, two British engineers were almost beaten to death by the Muslim Kansu troops, and foreign ministers asked that they be pulled back since they were threatening the safety of foreigners.
The Boxer Rebellion
Rise of the Boxers and return to the walled city
On 5 January 1900, Sir Claude MacDonald, the British Minister in Beijing, wrote to the Foreign Office about a movement called the "Boxers" that had been attacking Christian property and Chinese converts in Shandong and southern Zhili province. In the early months of 1900, this "Boxer movement" took dramatic expansion in northern Zhili – the area surrounding Beijing – and Boxers even started to appear in the capital. In late May, the anti-Christian Boxers took a broader anti-foreign turn, and as they became more organized, they started to attack the Beijing–Baoding railway and to cut telegraph lines between Beijing and Tianjin.
The Qing court hesitated between annihilating, "pacifying", or supporting the Boxers. From May 27 to May 29, Cixi received Dong Fuxiang in audiences at the Summer Palace. Dong assured her that he could get rid of the foreign "barbarians" if necessary, increasing the dowager's confidence in China's ability to drive out foreigners if war became unavoidable. Meanwhile, an increase in the number of the legation guards – they arrived in Beijing on May 31 – further inflamed anti-foreign sentiment in Beijing and its surrounding countryside: for the first time, Boxers started to attack foreigners directly. Several foreign powers sent warships under the Dagu Forts, which protected access to Tianjin and Beijing.
On June 9, the bulk of the Kansu Braves escorted Empress Dowager Cixi back to the Forbidden City from the Summer Palace; they set camp in the southern part of city, in empty lands in front of the Temple of Heaven and the Temple of Agriculture. Fearing the worst, Sir Claude MacDonald immediately sent a telegram calling for Admiral Seymour to send help from Tianjin. On June 10, the anti-foreign and pro-Boxer prince Duan replaced the anti-Boxer and more moderate prince Qing as the head of the Tsungli Yamen, the bureau through which the Qing government communicated with foreigners. On that same day the telegraph lines were cut off for good.
Assassination of Sugiyama Akira
On the morning of June 11, the British sent a large convoy of carts to greet the Seymour Expedition. The procession safely passed through the areas occupied by the Gansu troops inside the walled city and soon reached the Majiapu train station south of Beijing, where the relief troops were expected to arrive soon. Except that it they never arrived, and the carts had to head back to the legations. A smaller Italian delegation guarded by a few riflemen was narrowly escaped Dong Fuxiang's soldiers, who were lining up to block Beijing's main southern gate the Yongding Gate, but also managed to return safely.
That same afternoon, the Japanese legation sent secretary Sugiyama Akira to the station unguarded to greet the Japanese troops. With his formal western suit and a bowler hat, Sugiyama made a conspicuous target. The Kansu Muslim troops seized him from his cart near the Yongding Gate, hacked him into pieces, decapitated him, and left his mutilated body and severed head and genitals on the street. George Morrison, the Beijing correspondent for the London Times, claimed that they also carved his heart out and sent it to Dong Fuxiang. The Japanese legation lodged a formal protest at the Tsungli Yamen, which expressed its regrets and explained that Sugiyama had been killed by "bandits".
Dong was extremely anti-foreign, and gave full support to Cixi and the Boxers. General Dong committed his Muslim troops to join the Boxers to attack foreigners in Beijing. They attacked the legation quarter relentlessly. They were also known for their intolerance towards the Opium trade. A Japanese chancellor, Sugiyama Akira, and several Westerners were killed by the Kansu braves. The Muslim troops were reportedly enthusiastic about going on the offensive and killing foreigners.
The German diplomat in Beijing Clemens von Ketteler killed a Chinese civilian unconnected to the Boxers, for no apparent reason. In response, Boxers and thousands of Chinese Muslim Kansu Braves went on a violent riot against the westerners.
In contrast to other units besieging the legations, like Ronglu's troops who let supplies and letters slip through to the besieged foreigners, the "sullen and suspicious" Kansu braves seriously pressed the siege and refused to let anything through, shooting at foreigners trying to smuggle things through their lines. Sir Claude Macdonald noted the "ferocity" of Dong Fuxiang's Kansu troops compared to the "restraint" of Ronglu's troops.
The Muslim troops led by Dong Fuxiang defeated the hastily assembled Seymour Expedition of the 8 nation alliance at the Battle of Langfang on June 18. The Chinese won a major victory, and forced Seymour to retreat back to Tianjin with heavy casualties by June 26. Langfang was the only battle the Muslim troops did outside of Beijing. After Langfang, Dong Fuxiang's troops only participated in battles inside of Beijing.
The German Kaiser Wilhelm II was so alarmed by the Chinese Muslim troops that he requested the Caliph Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire to find a way to stop the Muslim troops from fighting. The Caliph agreed to the Kaiser's request and sent Enver Pasha (not the future Young Turk leader) to China in 1901, but the rebellion was over by that time.
As the Imperial court evacuated to Xi'an in Shaanxi province after Beijing fell to the Alliance, the court gave signals that it would continue the war with Dong Fuxiang "opposing Court von Waldersee tooth and nail", and the court promoted Dong to Commander-in-chief.
Organization and armament
They were organized into eight battalions of infantry, two squadrons of cavalry, two brigades of artillery, and one company of engineers. They were armed with modern weaponry such as Mauser repeater rifles and field artillery. They used scarlet and black banners.
List of people who served in the Kansu Braves
Another Muslim general, Ma Anliang, Tongling of Hezhou joined the Kansu braves in fighting the foreigners. Ma Anliang would go on to be an important Chinese warlord in the Ma clique during the Warlord Era.
The future Muslim General Ma Biao, who led Muslim cavalry to fight against the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War, fought in the Boxer Rebellion as a private in the Battle of Peking against the foreigners. Another General, Ma Yukun, who commanded a separate unit, was believed to be the son of the Muslim General Ma Rulong by the Europeans. Ma Yugun fought with some success against Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War and in the Boxer Rebellion at the Battle of Yangcun and Battle of Tientsin. Ma Yugun was under General Song Qing's command as deputy commander.
When the imperial family decided to flee to Xi'an in August 1900 after the Eight-Nation Alliance captured Beijing at the end of the Boxer War the Muslim Kansu Braves escorted them. One of the officers, Ma Fuxiang, was rewarded by the Emperor, being appointed governor of Altay for his service. His brother, Ma Fulu and four of his cousins died in combat during the attack on the legations. Ma Fuxing also served under Ma Fulu to guard the Qing Imperial court during the fighting. Originally buried at a Hui cemetery in Beijing, in 1995 Ma Fulu's remains were moved by his descendants to Yangzhushan in Linxia County.
In the Second Sino-Japanese War, when the Japanese asked the Muslim General Ma Hongkui to defect and become head of a Muslim puppet state under the Japanese, Ma responded through Zhou Baihuang, the Ningxia Secretary of the Nationalist Party to remind the Japanese military chief of staff Itagaki Seishiro that many of his relatives fought and died in battle against Eight Nation Alliance forces during the Battle of Peking, including his uncle Ma Fulu, and that Japanese troops made up the majority of the Alliance forces so there would be no cooperation with the Japanese.
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