Monday, April 27, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: 1867 - HSBC and China's New Frontier


An author, and very good friend of mine, once told me that if you are passionate about something or someplace you need to be an aggressive reader so that you know everything about it; and so that any new events have context. I've taken those words to heart and I feel it has paid dividends in my work and my life.

So today I'm sharing some history with you from a recent book (see details below) I'm reading on China's northwestern province of Xinjiang. Below is a brief summary of HSBC's role in China's re-claiming Xinjiang in the late 1800s.

The Taiping Rebellion from 1850-1864 left some 20 million dead across China. That event coupled with the incredible population boom in China, from 60M in 1578 to over 400M in 1850, had left the Chinese state in a weakened condition. Knowing this the Hui Muslims and Uygurs organized a revolt, in 1864, against the Chinese authority in towns and villages throughout Xinjiang. This wasn't their first revolt, there had been several others in the previous years, but this one was by far the nastiest; and the massacre of the Chinese in Xinjiang was complete: women, children and men. It was brutal by any and all accounts.

From that revolt onwards Xinjiang was essentially self governed, actually by Uzbek Yakub Beg, for the better part of a decade. While under their Uzbek ruler things ticked along rather normally. Trade with Russia still flowed and Eastern China was still some place that seemed too far off in the distance for anyone to care about. That was until an ambitious General Zuo, who was close to the Emperor, decided that Russia was becoming "too close" to Xinjiang (around 90% of their trade was with Russia) and China needed to reclaim the territory and maintain a buffer from an ever expansionist Russia. General Zuo was a strong leader and well educated in military warfare, he seemed the right man for the job. The problem was, as always, finances. The Chinese Emperor at the time wanted to protect China's coastal cities from the European powers. But after several years of being influenced by General Zuo the Emperor agreed to the idea of reclaiming Xinjiang, but couldn't find the money to launch a massive military campaign of some 200,000 soldiers.

Now while the leadership of British India was keen on seeing Uzbek Yakub Beg succeed as ruler of Xinjiang, because it offered a buffer between Russia and British India, the British Embassy is Beijing wanted to see a strong and unified China. Sir Thomas Wade, then Ambassador to Beijing, was looking for something that would "preserve the dignity of the Chinese Empire"; and the reclamation of Xinjiang was just that achievement.

With the help of a merchant banker, and perhaps even the British Embassy, named Hu Guangyong, General Zuo secured two loans in 1867 and 1868 which were rumored to have come from HSBC, but no proof existed. However there is proof that HSBC was involved, to the tune of GBP 1.6M, in 1877, in a deal known as the the "Kansu Loans"; which went to General Zuo and helped him fortify is newly reclaimed territory.

On August 1876 Urumqi fell to General Zuo and his mixed Chinese and mercenary army. Turfan fell in May 1877. Victory was officially announced in China on December 26th 1877. The loans were crucial to not only the victory but to the idea that China could reclaim it's previously lost territory.

Known as "Huijiang" from 1759-1884, now a new province was created in 1884, and given the name "Xinjiang", which means "New Frontier". And that is essentially how modern day Xinjiang was born. The Chinese however did lose control again shortly after 1911 when warlordism took over and much of China became local fiefdoms. But it was pulled back in the 1950s and remains an important part of China's grand strategy to this day; being a land of vast natural resources and acting as a buffer with Central Asia.

The book details are:
Title: WILD WEST CHINA - The Taming of Xinjiang
By: Christian Tyler

Ryan Pyle


  1. Great summary of Xinjiang's history. Believe it or not, I also JUST finished reading Tyler's book and I thought it was a great read. Very informative and not at all boring.

    So what makes you so passionate about Xinjiang and do you plan on coming over here?

  2. Josh,

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. The Tyler book is a no nonsense history of Xinjiang that is straight forward and easy to read. It's a really wonderful resource.

    I've been doing a lot of travel in Xinjiang for the last few years in preparation for a book. I have another few months to produce the final set of images. I should be back 3 more times this year.

    I look forward to staying in touch.




This is Ryan Pyle. I appreciate you adding a comment to my blog and I hope that this space has offered you something useful and interesting. I look forward to staying in touch and I'm glad you took the time to comment.

Ryan Pyle