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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

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

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 corvée labor. 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, 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, 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 after the second Jinchuan campaign, but was not published until 1989.

Bureaucracy In Command

The Two Jinchuan Campaigns

The two Jinchuan campaigns took place in the Qianlong period (1736-1796), which was the heyday of the Qing frontier expansion, about a dozen frontier wars being launched in this period. Although the Qing frontier campaigns were all on a great scale, even by modern-day standards, and invariably involved the local communities to a great extent, the Jinchuan campaigns were the most phenomenal in terms of the mobilization of human and material resources. In the first Jinchuan campaign, over 200,000 military laborers were mobilized to support about 70,000 armies from several other provinces. During the second Jinchuan campaign, the military force totalled more than 129,500 from both Sichuan and other provinces, whereas the military labor force amounted to 462,000 in total. On average, the labor force was three times that of the armies employed. Given that the registered population of Sichuan province in the middle Qianlong period was less than 3 million, the scale of the mobilization was certainly considerable.

The Jinchuan area was located about 130 miles to the northwest of Chengdu, and was part of the rGyal-rong (Jiarong in Chinese) region, which was part of Khams. Two tributaries of the Dadu River, the Great Jichuan and the Small Jinchuan, rushed through layers of steep mountains in...

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