Xiang Army

Xiang Army

The Xiang Army (Chinese: 湘軍; pinyin: Xiāng Jūn) was a standing army organized by Zeng Guofan (曾國藩) from existing regional and village militia forces tuanlian (團練) to contain the Taiping rebellion in China (1850 to 1864). The name is taken from the Hunan region where the Army was raised. The Army was financed through local nobles and gentry, as opposed to the centralized Manchu-led Qing Dynasty. Although it was raised specifically to address problems in Hunan, the Army formed the core of the new Qing military establishment, and as such, forever weakened the Manchu influence within the military. This devolution of centralized command is commonly pointed to as a major reason for the eventual downfall of the Qing dynasty and the emergence of regional warlordism in China during the first half of the twentieth century.


Taiping Rebellion

The Taiping rebellion started in December 1850 in Guangxi Province, growing after a series of small victories over the local Qing forces. The revolt rapidly spread northward. In March 1853, between 700,000 and 800,000 Taiping soldiers directed by commander-in-chief Yang Xiuqing took Nanjing, killing 30,000 Imperial soldiers and thousands of civilians. The city became the movement's capital and was renamed Tianjing ("Heavenly Capital"). By this point the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom encompassed much of south and central China, centered on the Yangtze river valley. They continued in their attempts to expand northward, and sent two armies to take the upper Yangtze, while another two attempted to take the new Imperial capital, Beijing. The western drive met with some success, but the Beijing attack failed.

Zeng Guofan was tasked with limiting the rebel's attempts to take control of Hunan. His lieutenants recovered the capital, Changsha, and then Zeng led the recapture of Wuchang and Hanyang, near Hankow, and was rewarded for his success by being appointed vice-president of the Board of War. His Army was so successful that the Qing leaders quickly started using it in place of their own troops, turning it into an Imperial force rather than the local force as it had been raised. In 1860 Zeng was called on to use the Xiang Army to clear Anhui, and was appointed Viceroy of Liangjiang (两江总督, which consisted of the provinces of Jiangxi, Anhui, and Jiangsu). While Charles George Gordon and his "Ever-Victorious Army" were clearing the rebel heartland, Zeng took the opportunity to launch a campaign to retake Nanjing.

The entire area around the city had been cleared of rebel forces in a series of battles starting in June 1863. The battle for the city itself started on March 14, 1864 when Zeng's forces attempted to force the city walls using ladders, but were beaten back. A second attempt used tunnels, but counter-digging and a second wall prevented a breakthrough. On July 3 the Xiang forces had their first victory, taking Dibao Castle. This position allowed them to dig new tunnels and pack them with explosives with the intention of destroying the city walls. A counterattack failed, and on July 19 the explosives were set off, collapsing a large portion of the wall. The city fell after a fierce three day battle.

The Xiang Army pillaged and robbed the city, killing 150,000 people and setting it on fire. The city burned until July 26, 1864. Zeng was promoted to Marquess (of the First Class) Yiyong (毅勇侯) (Yiyong: 毅 = Endurance 勇 = Courage).


After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, in from 1860 to 1890, over half of the governor-generals in China were Xiang Army leaders.


On August 22, 1870 the Viceroy of Liangjiang, Ma Xinyi (馬新貽) was assassinated in Nanjing. The identity of the killer may never be known, but many historical rumours implicate the Empress Dowager Cixi. Many Chinese and Hong Kong dramas and movies have been produced themed on this event.

Total soldiers

In 1860, the power of the Xiang Army was unsurpassed, totalling almost 360,000 soldiers. The large main group was led by Zeng Guofan with 130,000 troops. The Qing regular army, the Green Standard Army, totaled about 2,300,000 (included the Xiang Army). Taiping Rebellion soldiers amounted to about 1,800,000 (including 300,000 local gang members who repeatedly changed sides).


Headquarters were located in Qimen County Anhui from 1853 to 1861. After recovering Anqing in September 1861, the headquarters was moved there because of its proximity to Nanjing.


A Xiang Army soldier's salary was four tael of silver every month. A Qing regular soldier's salary was just about 1.5 tael of silver per month.

Main leaders

    General Chen Ling-Shu, later Admiral Chen Ling-Shu, served under General Peng Yu-Ling. 

After the Taiping Rebellion was crushed, the Hunan armies petitioned to the Manchu Court to disband themselves, for fear of rumored rebellion against the Manchus as they had grown too powerful in the eyes of the Manchus. The Manchu Court only agreed to turn Peng Yu-Ling's army into a navy.

  • Hu Linyi (胡林翼)

Vice leaders

Disarmament and revolution

Zeng Guofan began disarming the Xiang Army with the establishment of the Huai Army by Li Hongzhang, one of the most important commanders of the Xiang Army. In 1890, part of the Xiang Army incorporated into a gang and anti-government movement. When the Xinhai Revolution (Chinese Revolution) began in 1911, former comrades of Xiang Army turned against each other. The Republic of China was established on February 12, 1912.

See also

  • Tuanlian


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