Peter C. Perdue, China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2005.
Reviewed by Lee Yuk Ching.
In China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia, Peter Perdue gives a detailed account of the history of central Eurasia from the end of the Yuen dynasty to the successful conquest and incorporation of modern day central Eurasia into china by the early Qing emperors, as well as the implications and legacies this conquest has in the future. This book is written in five parts in a loosely chronological order, each with a distinct theme.
Part One, “The Formation of Eurasian States” introduces the three major powers in central Eurasia, ...view middle of the document...
However, Perdue makes a good counterargument suggesting that the nomads rarely unified under a single leader who could negotiate and enforce agreements on the behalf of all nomads .
The chapter “The Ming and the Mongols “, describes the struggle for Central Eurasia after the defeat of the Mongolian Yuan dynasty by the Ming dynasty in the 14th century. The defensive strategy that the Ming dynasty adopted against the nomads by expanding the Great Wall and increasing garrisons proved to be too expensive as even 4 million taels of silver was not enough to meet the annual supply for the north western garrison . This drained the coffers of the Ming dynasty and eventually led to revolts that aided the fall of Ming when Nurhaci, who unified the Jurchen tribes under the Manchu banner in 1616, took advantage of the rebel army led by Li Zicheng which took over Beijing in 1644 by cooperating with Wu Sangui, the Chinese commander of the northern ‘Shanhai Pass’ and took over Beijing and established the Qing dynasty .
After the fall of the Mongols, western Mongol tribes failed to unify under and remained as fragmented tribes for over 100 years . They finally unified under the Zunghar state when Galden, the Khan of the Zunghars, defeated the rival Ochirtu tribe in 1677 .
Further west, after the Golden Horde fell apart in the 15th century, Muscovy emerged as a successful successor state by expanding ferociously in the east against the Kazan and crossed Siberia to eventually reach the pacific. Muscovy managed by manipulating Khans against one another and used support of the Khans to “legitimate its rulers’ local authority” .
Part two, “Contending for Power,” discusses the struggle between China, Russia, and Zungaria over Central Eurasia. Perdue praises Kangxi as a capable ruler who used his “sheer force of personal will” to transform Qing from a “limited enterprise” into an “unprecedented project of expansion. Perdue argues against the traditional view held by many Chinese historians that the conquest of Eurasia was fulfilling China’s “historical destiny” , instead, he believes that “none of these achievements was determined in advance, and victory was never certain” and Qing’s early successes were down to Kanxi’s ability to “overcome substantial opposition” such as from his advisers and army. For example, in order to demonstrate power to his Russian rival, he attacked the Albazin fortress in the north of Manchuria in 1684, leading to the Nerchinsk treaty of 1689 which prevented the Russians from supporting rising Mongolian tribes and defined the borders between the countries, thus securing the northern frontier in the struggle for Eurasia . Kanxi further enhanced Qing’s dominance in Central Eurasia in 1696 when he launched a campaign against Galdan’s Zunghar State after assembling an impressive army consisted of over 300 cannons and 70000 men. The Qing army overcame the logistic problem of travelling over 1000 kilometers to convincingly defeat Galdan at...