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Zunghar Empire

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Title: Zunghar Empire  
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Subject: Galdan Boshugtu Khan, Tseveenravdan, Galdantseren, Erdenebaatar, Kharkhul, Sengge, Choros, Dzungar people, Altai Uriankhai
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Zunghar Empire

Zunghar Khanate


the 17th century–1758

The Zunghar Empire (c.1750) (in blue line)
Capital A capital city in Ghulja.[1]
Languages Oirat
Religion Buddhism
Government Monarchy
Legislature Customary rules
Mongol-Oirat Code
Historical era Early modern period
 -  Established the 17th century
 -  1619 The first Russian record of Khara Khula
 -  1678 Galdan receives the title of Boshogtu khan from the 5th Dalai Lama
 -  1688 The Zunghar invasion of the Khalkha
 -  1690 First Oirat-Manchu War, Battle of Ulan Butung
 -  Disestablished 1758
Today part of  China

The Zunghar Khanate was a nomadic power on the Eurasian Steppe. It covered the area called Dzungaria and stretched from the west end of the Great Wall of China to present-day eastern Kazakhstan, and from present-day northern Kyrgyzstan to southern Siberia (most of this area is part of Xinjiang nowadays).

In 1678, Galdan received from the Dalai Lama the title of Boshogtu Khan, thus confirming the Zunghars as the leading tribe within the Oirats. However, the Zunghar rulers bore the title of Khong Tayiji (deriving from the Chinese phrase Huang Taizi, which translates into English as "crown prince"), while the state itself was still referred to as the Zunghar Khanate.[2] Following the deaths of Galdan Boshogtu Khan in 1697 and his successor Tsewang Arabtan in 1727, the Khanate fell into a steep decline from which it would never recover, ultimately leading to its gradual annexation by the Qing Dynasty during the period of 1756-59.


The word "Dzungar" is a compound of jegün, meaning "left" or "east" and γar meaning "hand" or "wing".[3] The region of Dzungaria derives its name from this confederation. Although the Dzungars were located west of the Eastern Mongols, the derivation of their name has been attributed to the fact that they represented the left wing of the Oirats.



The Zunghar Khanate is memorable because it was the last of the steppe nomadic empires and because of its influence on the westward expansion of China. About 1620 the Oirats or western Mongols became united in Dzungaria. By about 1680 they had conquered the Tarim Basin to the south. In 1688 Galdan defeated the Khalkhas or eastern Mongols, many of whom fled southeast to Inner Mongolia where they became and remained Manchu subjects. In 1696, the Manchu defeated Galdan near Ulan Bator, chased him westward and gained control over Outer Mongolia. In 1717 Tsewang Rabtan sent an army to Tibet. The Manchu drove the Dzunghars out and established a protectorate over Tibet. In 1750-57, the Manchu took advantage of a Zunghar civil war to conquer Dzungaria and killed a large part of the population. The Manchu turned south and annexed the Tarim Basin by 1759, thus completing the current western border of China.


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The chiefs of the Zunghars were of the Choros lineage and reckoned their descent from the Oirat taishis Toghoon (d.1438) and Esen (r.1438-54). At the beginning of the 17th century, a young leader named Khara Khula emerged to unite the Oirats to fight Sholui Ubashi Khong Tayiji, the first Altan Khan of the Khalkha, who few years earlier expelled the Oirats from their home in the Kobdo region in present-day northwest Mongolia.[4] Early in his reign, Khara Kula united the Choros, Dorbod and Khoid tribes, thus forming the Dzungar nation. In the 1620s wars against the Khalkha, he could gain decisive victory over the Eastern Mongols. The Oirats homeland was under the dominion of Jasaghtu Khan of the Khalkha. In 1623 the Oirat confederation killed Ubashi Khong Tayiji, and secured their independence. At the time, only Torobaikhu, a leader of the Khoshud tribe could claim the title of Khan while Baatur Dalai Taishi of the Dorbods was considered the most powerful Oirat chief. Even so, Khara Khula's son Baatur Khung Taiji (d.1653) joined the 1636-42 expedition to Tibet led by Güshi Khan Torobaikhu.[5] After Baatur returned to Dzungaria with the title Erdeni (given by Dalai Lama) and much booty, he made three expeditions against the Kazakhs. With the migrations of the Torghuds, the Khoshuds and the Dorbods from 1630 to 1677, the Zunghars' relative power was increased in Zungaria.

In 1653 Sengge succeeded his father Baatur Khung Taiji as Zungharian chief, but an internal strife with his half brother Chechen Tayiji involved the Khoshuud.[6] From 1657 on, Amin-Dara's sons Sengge and Galdan faced disafection from their half-brothers. With the support of Ochirtu Khan of the Khoshuud, this strife ended with Sengge's victory in 1661. In 1667 he captured Erinchin Lobsang Tayiji, the third and last Altan Khan. However, he himself was assassinated by his half brothers Chechen Tayiji and Zotov in a coup in 1670.[7]

Sengge's younger brother Galdan immediately returned from Tibet to lay life and took revenge on Chechen. As a Buddhist priest, Galdan had been to Tibet at the age of thirteen and had trained under the fourth Panchen Lama and then the Fifth Dalai Lama. Allied with Ochirtu Sechen of the Khoshuud, Galdan defeated Chechen, and drove Zotov out of Zungaria. However, Sengge's two sons Sonom Rabdan and Tsewang Rabtan revolted against him, but they were also crushed in the end. In 1671 The Dalai Lama bestowed the title of Khan on Galdan. Although, already married Anu-Dara, granddaughter of Ochirtu, he came into conflict with his grandfather in law. Fearing of Galdan's popularity, Ochirtu supported his uncle and rival Choqur Ubashi who refused to recognize Galdan's title. The victory over Ochirtu in 1677 resulted in the establishment of hegemony over the Oirats. In the next year the Dalai Lama gave the highest title of Boshoghtu (or Boshughtu) Khan to him,[8] Galdan thus united the entire Oirats in Zungaria and Western Mongolia.

Conquest of the Tarim Basin and war with the Central Asians

Naqshbandi Sufi Imams had replaced the Chagatayid Khans in the early 17th century. They defeated the White Mountain. The exiled ruler Afaq of the White Mountain asked the Dalai Lama for military assistance in 1677. By the request of the latter, Galdan overthrew the Naqshbandu Black Mountain and installed Afaq as his client ruler there.[9] Galdan decreed that the Turkestanis would be judged by their own law except in cases affecting the Zunghar Empire. The Zunghars kept control over the Tarim Basin until 1757.

In 1680 the Black Khirgizs raided Moghulistan and occupied Yarkend. The inhabitants of Yarkend appealed to Galdan Khan for help. The Zunghars conquered Kashgar and Yarkend; and Galdan had its ruler chosen by its inhabitants.[10] Then he invaded the north of Tengeri Mountain in modern Kazakhstan the next year; but failed to take Sairam city. Eventually, he could conquer Turfan and Hami the next year.[11] In 1683 Galdan's armies under Tsewen Rabtan reached Tashkent and the Syr Darya and crushed two armies of the Kazakhs. After that Galdan subjugated the Black Khirgizs and ravaged the Fergana valley.

From 1685 Galdan's forces aggressively pushed the Kazakhs. While his general Rabtan took Taraz city, and his main force forced the Kazakhs to immigrate westwards.[12] In 1698 Galdan's successor Tsewen Rabtan reached Tengiz lake and Turkestan, and the Zunghars controlled Zhei-Su Tashkent until 1745.[13]

Rivalry with Khalkha

At first the Khalkhas and Oirats were in league, bound by the provisions of the Mongol-Oirat code.[14] In order to cement this union, Galdan attempted to ally with Zasaghtu Khan Shira who lost part of his subjects to Tushiyetu Khan Chakhundorji, and moved his ordo near the Altai Range. Tushiyetu Khan attacked the right wing of the Khalkhas and killed Shira in 1687. Galdan dispatched troops under his younger brother Dorji-jav against the Tushiyetu Khan the next year, but they were eventually defeated and Dorji-jav was killed in the ensuing battle. Chakhundorji murdered Degdeehei Mergen Ahai of the Zasaghtu Khan who was on the way to Galdan. The Qing court intervened and called off the Mongolian aristocrats to assemble a conference.

To avenge the death of his brother and expand his influence over other Mongol areas, Galdan strategically prepared for a war with Khalkha. Galdan established a friendly relationship with the Russians who were at war with Tushiyetu Khan over territories near Lake Baikal in northern Khalkha. Bonded by a common interest in defeating Khalkha, both Galdan and the Russians simultaneously attacked Khalkha and conquered most of the territories of Khalkha. Armed with superior firearms bought from Russians, Galdan attacked the land of the late Zasaghtu Khan, and advanced to the dominion of Chakhundorji. The Russian Cossacks meanwhile attacked and defeated Khalkha's contingent of 10,000 near Lake Baikal. After two bloody battles with the Zunghars near Erdene Zuu Monastery and Tomor, Chakhundorji and his son Galdandorji fled to the Ongi River.

The Zunghars occupied the Khalkha homeland, and forced Jibzundamba Zanabazar to flee. The Qing court strengthened its northern border garrisons, and advised the Khalkhas to resist Galdan. After being reinforced by fresh troops, the Tushiyetu Khan Chakhundorji counterattacked the Zunghars, and fought with them near Olgoi Lake on August 3, 1688. The Oirats won after a 3-day battle. Galdan's conquest of Khalkha Mongolia made Zanabazar and Chakhundorji submit to the Qing Dynasty in September.

The first Oirat-Manchu war

By his victory in 1688, Galdan had driven the Khalkhas into the arms of the Qing and made himself a military threat to the Manchus. Unfortunately for Galdan, Kangxi was unusually vigorous and warlike. In 1690 the Manchus and Zunghars fought at Ulan Butung and Galdan withdrew to the north. (The battle was fought 350 kilometers directly north of Peking near the western headwaters of the Liao River at the southern end of the Greater Khingan Mountains). The problem with all of these nomad wars was that the Manchu could not maintain a permanent army on the steppe. If the Manchu sent an army the nomads would flee and come back when the Manchu ran out of supplies. In 1696 Galdan was on the upper Kerulen River east of Ulaanbaatar about 700 km northwest of Peking. Kangxi's plan was to personally lead an army northwest to Galdan while sending a second army north from the Ordos Region to block his escape. Kangxi reached the Kerulen, found Galdan gone and was forced to turn back due to lack of supplies. On the same day that Kangxi turned back (June 12) Galdan blundered into the western army and was disastrously defeated at Zuunmod near the upper Tuul River east of Ulan Bator. Galdan's wife, Anu, was killed and the Manchus captured 20,000 cattle and 40,000 sheep. Galdan fled with his remaining 40 or 50 men. He gathered a few thousand followers who later deserted due to hunger. In 1697 he was in the Altai Mountains near Khovd with 300 men when he died suddenly under mysterious circumstances (April 4, 1697). He was succeeded by Tsewang Rabtan who had revolted against him.

Intervention in Tibet

The Zunghars led by Tsewang Rabtan's brother Tsering Dondup invaded Tibet - which was then dominated by the Khoshut, another Oirad tribe - in 1717, deposed a pretender to the position of the Dalai Lama (who had been promoted by Lha-bzang Khan, the titular King of Tibet). The Fifth Dalai Lama had encouraged Mongolian lamas to prevent any non-dGe-lugs-pa teaching among the Mongols. The Zunghars soon began to loot Lhasa, thus losing initial Tibetan goodwill towards them. The Kangxi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty retaliated in 1718, but his military expedition was annihilated by the Zunghars in the Battle of the Salween River, not far from Lhasa.[15]

Many Nyingmapa and Bonpos were executed and Tibetans visiting Zunghar officials were forced to stick their tongues out so the Zunghars could tell if the person recited constant mantras (which was said to make the tongue black or brown). This allowed them to pick the Nyingmapa and Bonpos, who recited many magic-mantras.[16] This habit of sticking one's tongue out as a mark of respect on greeting someone has remained a Tibetan custom until recent times.

A second, larger, expedition sent by Kangxi expelled Tsewang Rabtan's force from Tibet in 1720 and the troops were hailed as liberators. They brought Kälzang Gyatso with them from Kumbum to Lhasa and he was installed as the seventh Dalai Lama in 1721.[17]

The second Oirat-Manchu war


At the death of Galdan Tseren in 1745 the Zunghars appeared still strong. However, the sudden collapse of the Khanate stemmed from Galdan Tseren's sons.[18] In 1749 Galden Tseren's son Lamdarjaa seized the throne from his younger brother. He was overthrown by his cousin Dawaachi and the Khoid noble Amursanaa. But they began to fight each other for succession. In 1753 Dawaachi's 3 relatives ruling the Dorbod surrendered to the Qing, and Amursanaa followed. In spring 1755, the Qing Dynasty attacked Ghulja, and captured the Zunghar khan. Amursana requested to be declared Zunghar Khan, but the Qianlong Emperor would only make him Khan of Khoit, one among four equal Khans. In summer, Amursana along with Chingünjav led a revolt against the Qing. Over the next two years, the Manchu and Mongol armies of the Qing Dynasty destroyed the remnants of the Zunghar khanate. Their last leader, Prince Amursanaa revolted against the Qing, and fled north to seek refuge with the Russians. (Amursana died there of smallpox. In the spring of 1762 his frozen body was brought to Kyakhta for the Manchu to see. The Russians then buried it, refusing the Manchu request that it be handed over for posthumous punishment.[19]) To commemorate his military victory, Qianlong established the Puning Temple Complex of Chengde in 1755.

The Qianlong Emperor moved the remaining Zunghar people to the mainland and ordered the generals to kill all the men in Barkol or Suzhou, and divided their wives and children to Qing soldiers.[20][21] Qing scholar Wei Yuan estimated the total population of Zunghars before the fall at 600,000 people, or 200,000 households. In a widely cited[22][23] account of the war, Wei Yuan wrote that about 40% of the Zunghar households were killed by smallpox, 20% fled to Russia or Kazakh tribes, and 30% were killed by the army, leaving no yurts in an area of several thousands li except those of the surrendered.[24] Based on this account, Wen-Djang Chu wrote that 80% of the 600,000 or more Zunghars were destroyed by disease and manchus, kazakhs attack[25] which Michael Clarke described as "the complete destruction of not only the Zunghar state but of the Zunghars as a people."[26] Historian Peter Perdue attributed the decimation of the Dzungars to an explicit policy of extermination launched by Qianlong, but he also observed signs of a more lenient policy after mid-1757.[23] Mark Levene, a historian whose recent research interests focus on genocide, has stated that the extermination of the Dzungars was "arguably the eighteenth century genocide par excellence."[27]

The main populations of the Choros, Olots, Khoids, Baatuds and Zakhchins who battled against the Qing were killed by the manchu army so they became small ethnic groups. The Altay people also suffered in the manchu and kazakh attacks. The Zakhchins were border guards of the eastern border and the Manchus said that "if we defeat the Zakhchins then we can conquer the Zunghar". Many of bayids and dörbets didn't battle against the manchu. In 1755 there were 600,000 Khalkha people and 950,000 Oirats, today there are 2.5 million khalkhas and 520,000 oirats (a few hundreds Choros people live in Mongolia), living in 4 countries.

The Manchus filled in the depopulated area with immigrants (mainly turkic peoples) from many parts of their empire, but a century later the Muslim Rebellion ravaged the same region.

Leaders of the Zunghar Khanate

  • Kharkhul/Khara Khula, title: Khong Tayiji
  • Erdenebaatar/Erdeni Batur, title: Khong Tayiji
  • Senge/Sengge, title: Khong Tayiji
  • Galdan, titles: Khong Tayiji, Boshogtu Khan
  • Tseveenravdan/Tsewang Rabtan (ᠼᠧᠸᠠᠩ ᠠᠷᠠᠪᠲᠠᠨ), title: Khong Tayiji
  • Galdantseren/Galdan Tseren, title: Khan
  • Tseveendorjnamjil/Tsewang Dorji Namjal, title: Khong Tayiji
  • Lamdarjaa, title: Khong Tayiji
  • Davaachi, title: Khong Tayiji
  • Amarsanaa (ᠠᠮᠤᠷᠰᠠᠨ᠎ᠠ)

See also



  • Perdue, Peter C. China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.
  • [Хойт С.К. Последние данные по локализации и численности ойрат] // Проблемы этногенеза и этнической культуры тюрко-монгольских народов. Вып. 2. Элиста: Изд-во КГУ, 2008. стр.
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