Dzungar (also Jungar or Zungar; Mongolian: Зүүнгар "Züüngar") is the collective identity of several Oirat tribes that formed and maintained the last nomadic empire in East Turkestan (now known as Xinjiang) from the early 17th century to the middle 18th century.


The Dzungars were a confederation of several Oirat tribes that emerged suddenly in the early 17th century to fight the Altan Khan of the Khalkha (not to be confused with the more well-known Altan Khan of the Tümed), the Jasaghtu Khan, and their Manchu patrons for dominion and control over the Mongolian people and territories. This confederation rose to power in the Altai Mountains and the Ili River Valley. Initially, the confederation consisted of the Olöt, Derbet and Khoit tribes. Later on, elements of the Khoshot and Torghut tribes were forcibly incorporated into the Dzungar military, thus completing the re-unification of the West Mongolian tribes.

According to oral history, the Olöt and Derbet tribes are the successor tribes to the Naiman, a Turco-Mongol tribe that roamed the steppes of Central Asia during the era of Genghis Khan. The Olöt shared the clan name Choros with the Dörbed and their ancestral legend resembles that of the Uyghur royal family.


The word "Dzungar" is a compound of "Züün", meaning "left" or "east" (in Mongolian, "left" is synonymous with "east", "right" is "west", "in the front" is "south", and "in the back" is "north") , and "gar" meaning "hand" or "wing". The region of Dzungaria derives its name from this confederation. Although the Dzungars were located west of the East Mongols, the derivation of their name has been attributed to the fact that they represented the left wing of the Oirats.


After the death of Esen Tayishi in 1454, the political and military unity the Oirat (or West Mongolian) tribes achieved as the Dörben Oirat quickly dissolved. The tribes separated in accordance to traditional tribal divisions, e.g., Olöt, Derbet, Torghut, Khoshot, Khoit, etc. For the next 150 years, the Oirats were not able to form a cohesive political and military entity to combat their enemies and to decide internal disputes.

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. He was a direct descendant of Esen Tayishi and, like Esen, was also the Tayishi of the Olöt tribe. Khara Kula united the Olöt, Derbet and Khoit tribes, thus forming the Dzungar nation. As the leader of three tribes, Khara Khula could only assumed the title Khong Taiji (Supreme Chief). During this era, only the leader of the Khoshot tribe could claim the title of Khan.

Early in his reign in 1606, Khara Khula united the Oirats to fight the Altan Khanate of Sholui Ubashi Khong Tayiji who years earlier expelled the Oirats from their home in the Kobdo region in present-day northwest Mongolia. By 1609, Khara Khula won a decisive victory over the Altan Khanate, forcing Sholui Ubashi Khong Tayiji to withdraw his East Mongol forces from Oirat territory. But the unity dissolved after the victory, as the Oirat Tayishis resumed their traditional ways, favoring complete freedom of action.

The Oirats were under the dominion of Jasaghtu Khan of the Khalkha. Khara Khula seems to have resisted against the Khalkha. In 1623 the Oirat confederation killed Ubashi Khong Tayiji, the first Altan Khan of the Khalkha and gained independence.

In 1636 his son, Erdeni Baatur, joined the Oirat expeditionary force to Tibet, which was led by Güshi Khan of the Khoshot tribe, and assumed the title Khong Tayiji. After he returned to Dzungaria, the Dzungars rapidly gained strength. He made three expeditions against the Kazakhs.

In 1653 his son Sengge succeeded the Dzungars chief, but an internal strife with his half brother Chechen Tayiji involved the Khoshuud. 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. He was killed by Chechen Tayiji in a coup in 1670.

Sengge's younger brother Galdan immediately returned 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. In 1671 The Dalai Lama bestowed the title of Khan on him. He came into conflict with Ochirtu Khan. 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 Boshughtu Khan to Galdan.

Conflicts with Tibet

The Dzungars invaded Tibet in 1717, deposed and killed a pretender to the position of Dalai Lama (who had been promoted by Lhabzang, the titular King of Tibet), which met with widespread approval. However, they soon began to loot the holy places of Lhasa which brought a swift response from Emperor Kangxi in 1718, but his military expedition was annihilated by the Dzungars not far from Lhasa. [Richardson, Hugh E. (1984). "Tibet and its History". Second Edition, Revised and Updated, pp. 48-9. Shambhala. Boston & London. ISBN 0-87773-376-7 (pbk)] [Stein, R. A. "Tibetan Civilization". (1972), p. 85. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-0806-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-8047-0901-7.(paper)]

Many Nyingmapa and Bonpos were executed and Tibetans visiting Dzungar officials were forced to stick their tongues out so the Dzungars 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. [Norbu, Namkhai. (1980). "Bon and Bonpos". "Tibetan Review", December, 1980, p. 8.] 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 Emperor Kangxi expelled the Dzungars from Tibet in 1720 and the troops were hailed as liberators. They brought Kelzang Gyatso with them from Kumbum to Lhasa and he was installed as the seventh Dalai Lama in 1721. [Richardson, Hugh E. (1984). "Tibet and its History". Second Edition, Revised and Updated, pp. 48-9. Shambhala. Boston & London. ISBN 0-87773-376-7 (pbk)]

Conquest by Qing China

In 18th century, the Dzungars were annihilated by Qianlong Emperor in several campaigns. In 1755, the Qing Dynasty attacked Ghulja, and captured the Dzunghar khan. Over the next two years, the Manchus and Mongol armies of the Qing Dynasty destroyed the remnants of the Dzunghar khanate. Their last leader, the rebellious Prince Amursana, fled to the North to seek refuge with the Russians. About 80% of the Dzungar population, or around 500.000 to 800.000 people, were killed during or after the Manchu conquest in 1755-1757. [ [ Michael Edmund Clarke, "In the Eye of Power" (doctoral thesis), Brisbane 2004, p37] ] To commemorate his military victory, Qianlong established the Puning Temple Complex of Chengde in 1755.

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

Leaders of the Dzungar Khanate

*Khara Khula
*Erdeni Batur
*Tsewang Rabtan
*Galdan Tseren
*Tsewang Dorji Namjal
*Lama Dorji
*Dawa Achi

ee also




* Perdue, Peter C. "China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia". Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.

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