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The Qing State, Merchants, and the Military Labor Force in the Jinchuan Campaigns

From: Late Imperial China
Volume 22, Number 2, December 2001
pp. 35-90 | 10.1353/late.2001.0008

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Late Imperial China 22.2 (2001) 35-90



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The Qing State, Merchants, and the Military Labor Force in the Jinchuan Campaigns1*

Yingcong Dai


IMAGE LINK= Logistics has long been considered a critical aspect of military operations by Chinese military strategists. In The Art of War, Sun Zi maintains that armies must carry enough supplies with them to be self-sustaining, and it is a common saying that "logistics move before armies set out (bingma wei dong, liangcao xian xing)." In practice, all military leaders paid tremendous attention to logistics, of which military labor was an important part. Since the dawn of the imperial period, military labor had been a segment of taxation that was levied in the form of corvée, namely, unpaid forced labor. The most notorious examples can be found in the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.). Lavishly employing corvée labor, the short-lived Qin accomplished not only one, but several spectacular military and civil projects, such as the Great Wall, the mausoleum of the First Emperor, and the highway system across the nation. In subsequent eras, corvée labor was retained and became one of the features of the imperial Chinese state. Only in the late imperial period, when commercialization became prevalent in the economy, did corvée labor begin to be replaced by monetary taxes. 2

Having taken the reins of government in China in the wake of the commercial revolution of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) continued its predecessor's fiscal reform and ultimately did away with [End Page 35] corvée labor. 3 The Qing dynasty ushered in the method of paid labor for all its public projects, including military operations. While this change was conditioned by the degree of commercialization in society, it also reveals that the Qing state was conversant with employing the means of the market economy in mobilizing societal forces to serve its public projects. This article explores how the Qing state, by applying the new method of paid labor, configured an ad hoc system in recruiting and organizing a massive military labor force in the two Jinchuan campaigns (1747-1749 and 1771-1776) in northwestern Sichuan province, and how the Qing state tried to make use of the private sector, namely merchants, to remedy the inadequacy of its bureaucracy in this undertaking. Initially, the Qing state attempted to place the logistical affairs under the control of an ad hoc bureaucratic network. As the campaigns progressed, the Qing state was increasingly convinced that the bureaucratic network alone was not sufficient to mobilize and organize a huge number of military laborers as the campaigns demanded, even with high payments as a lubricant. So the Qing state began to turn to the private sector for a solution: merchants were commissioned to transport the provisions for the armies. In the end, the commercial sector became most instrumental in keeping the logistical lines running. This interpenetration between the state apparatus and the private sector was, however, double-edged. The Qing state successfully supported its frontier campaigns by mobilizing enormous resources in society, but the extensive involvement of the commercial sector in the wars also triggered many new problems in the logistical system.

The main sources of this study are the Qing archives, specifically "Jinchuan dang (archives of the second Jinchuan campaign)," a collection of the Qianlong emperor's edicts concerning the second Jinchuan campaign, "Junji dang (archives of the Grand Council)" of the Qianlong period, 4 and three compendia compiled during the Qianlong period. Two of them are Pingding Jinchuan fanglüe (Chronicle of the first Jinchuan campaigns), and Pingding liang Jinchuan fanglüe (Chronicle of the second Jinchuan campaigns), which are official records of the two wars compiled by the Qing government, consisting of memorials and edicts, and occasional comments by compilers. Another, [End Page 36] Pingding liang Jinchuan jünxü li'an (The logistical precedents of the second Jinchuan campaign), is an exhaustive and systematized record of the logistical affairs of the second Jinchuan campaign, which had been edited a few years...