Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseXinjiang (Postal Map romanization: Sinkiang) Province was the western-most Chinese province, bordering the Soviet Union and being far from the Chinese capital Nanjing. Beginning in 1911, the provincial government of Xinjiang was loyal to the Republic of China in name only, while its warlords were free to establish their own domestic and foreign policies. While Han Chinese made up of a great majority of the Chinese population, Han Chinese made up only about 40% of Xinjiang. Uyghurs made up about 40% of the population as well, with the rest made up by Mongolians, Kyrgyz peoples, and Muslim Chinese (who were considered to be a different ethnicity). While the Nationalist government in Nanjing wished to gain control over Xinjiang from its birth, prior to the 1930s it had been preoccupied with the unification of China Proper.
ww2dbaseKumul Rebellion and the First Soviet Invasion
ww2dbaseLocated in eastern Xinjiang, the Kumul Khanate had been a semi-autonomous vassal state under Qing Dynasty China since 1696. In 1911, when Republic of China overthrew Qing, Kumul Khanate was allowed to maintain its semi-autonomy by Xinjiang's first Republic-era warlord, Yang Zengxin (Wade-Giles romanization: Yang Tseng-hsin). In Feb 1930, when Khan of Kumul Maqsud Shah passed away, Han Chinese warlord Jin Shuren (Wade-Giles romanization: Chin Shu-jen) disbanded the khanate, seizing Uyghur land to distribute to Han Chinese. This led to an open rebellion by the Kumulik Uyghurs.
ww2dbaseWhile the rebellion began as a simple regional ethnic conflict, its complexity quickly grew. Knowing that the Nationalist-trained general Ma Zhongying had been asked by the Kumulik Uyghurs to assist, China backed the rebellion as a means to insert its forces into this frontier region. The Soviet Union, backed Jin, an opportunist who had arms dealings with the Soviets, as an attempt to wrestle Xinjiang from China. White Russians, despite of their politically differences with the Soviets, organized units in support of Jin. A number of ethnic Manchurians would later join the side of Xinjiang provincial forces. Khotanlik Uyghurs also rose up in southern Xinjiang under brothers Muhammad Amin Bughra, Abdullah Bughra, and Nur Ahmad Jan Bughra, but their efforts was completely separate from the Kumulik Uygurs as they sought their own complete independence; this was the start of the Eastern Turkestan separatist movement. The Kingdom of Afghanistan sent a small expeditionary force across the border to assist the Khotanlik Uyghurs. Finally, Japan, which already began its campaign against China, funded the incursion of a group of anti-Atatürk Ottoman fighters led by Prince Abdulkerim into Xinjiang, aiming to possibly establish a puppet state in western China. The complex relationships between the various groups led to confused fighting throughout the entire period, with some units siding with each other in some engagements and against each other months later.
ww2dbaseIn Nov 1931, wielding Soviet-supplied weapons, Jin's forces broke the Kumulik siege on Kumul. Having discovered concrete intelligence on Jin's treaty with USSR signed in Oct 1931, China openly backed Ma by making him the commanding officer of Nationalist Chinese 36th Division. In 1933, Ma's troops captured Kumul, forcing Xinjiang provincial troops, now under Jin's successor Sheng Shicai, to fall back to the provincial capital Urumqi. Ma's troops pillaged Uyghur, Han, and Muslim Chinese peoples alike during the campaign. Ma's forces engaged Sheng's forces at Urumqi twice between 1933 and 1934, nearly defeating Sheng. In Jan 1934, 7,000 GPU and Red Army troops invaded Xinjiang. The Soviets were organized into two brigades, Altayiiskii and Tarbakhataiskii. The Soviet forces decimated Zhang Peiyuan's 3,000-strong Ili-based Nationalist Chinese force quickly at Kulja and Chuguchak, with Zhang committing suicide at Muzart Pass to avoid Soviet capture. While Ma was able to counter the first Soviet attacks, defeats near the frozen Tutung River and then at Dawan Cheng forced Ma to fall back. Knowing his forces did not wield enough firepower to counter the Soviets, especially considering that the Soviets were employing dreaded mustard gas weapons, Ma disengaged to the south, choosing to attack the Khotanlik Uyghurs and their Afghan allies first while waiting for Nanjing to send reinforcements. Nationalist leader Chiang Kaishek dispatched Guangxi warlord Huang Shaohong, who controlled a force of 15,000 men, to assist Ma; Huang, however, fearing escalation, avoided combat with Soviet troops, thus his intervention was ineffective. Although it was Chiang who dispatched Huang, Chiang did not object to Huang's relative inaction, as Chiang's government was still receiving Soviet military support at that time.
ww2dbaseAfter a successful campaign that all but wiped out the Khotanlik Uyghurs and the infant Eastern Turkestan separatist government, Ma Zhongying, for unknown reason, ventured into Russian territory in 1936 with a small squad and disappeared.
ww2dbaseSecond Soviet Invasion
ww2dbaseIn 1937, another Uyghur rebellion broke out in southern Xinjiang against increasing White Russian and Soviet influence in the provincial government. In response, Soviet aircraft bombed Yangi Hissar and Yarkand in Xinjiang, NKVD agents arrested and executed 400 Uyghur in Tashkent in Uzbekistan, and other Soviet agents arrested Soviet Consul-General in Urumchi Garegin Apresoff (who was later brought back to Moscow, Russia for his execution). In late May 1937, Uyghurs forces under Kichik Akhund captured the Old City district of Kashgar after defeating Xinjiang provincial forces. Shortly after, Kyrgyz people also rose up in rebellion at Kucha in central Xinjiang, while Muslims in Kumul in northeastern Xinjiang also began to stir. In early Jun 1937, Nationalist Chinese 36th Division, now under the command of Ma Hushan (who was Ma Zhongying's brother-in-law), captured Kashgar nominally to restore control from the Uyghur rebels, but in secret Ma and Kichik Akhund had already signed a treaty to join forces against Sheng's provincial forces. In Jul 1937, Sheng's offensive against the latest round of rebellion suffered a devastating defeat at Karashar, and he appealed to USSR for military assistance. In late Aug 1937, 5,000 Soviet NKVD and Red Army troops, with aircraft (based in Karakol, Kirghizia) and armored vehicles in support, crossed the border into Xinjiang, China. The Soviets decisively defeated Kichik Akhund's forces at Aksu. In Sep 1937, Ma Hushan deserted his troops and fled to India; without an effective leader to succeed Ma, Nationalist Chinese 36th Division was destroyed through repeated attacks by Soviet and Xinjiang provincial forces. The division ceased to be an organized military unit by late Oct 1937 (as an aside, Chinese Army would re-use the 36th Division designation for a new German-trained infantry division in the same year).
ww2dbaseThe start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in Jul 1937 between Japan and China secured Sheng Shicai's position in Xinjiang Province for the time being, as the control of Xinjiang became sidelined for the Nationalist Chinese.
ww2dbaseLikewise, the start of the Russo-German War in 1941 placed the Soviet ambition in Xinjiang on hold. The next Soviet attempt to meddle in Xinjiang internal politics would not be until 1944 with the Ili Rebellion.
ww2dbaseIn 1942, believing that Germany would defeat USSR, Sheng turned against the Soviets, expelling Russian advisers and executing Han Chinese communists in his service (including Mao Zemin, brother of Mao Zedong). In 1943, after the Soviet victory at Stalingrad, Russia, Sheng did an about-face, purging Nationalist elements in his government and requesting Soviet aid. This time, Joseph Stalin denied support for Sheng, and ordered his foreign ministry to forward Sheng's letter to Chiang Kaishek. The Nationalists, after some delay, dispatched trusted official Wu Zhongxin to replace Sheng in Sep 1944. Sheng submitted to the Nationalists and was made a government official despite Sheng's history against the Nationalist government.
Last Major Update: Jan 2015
Xinjiang Wars Timeline
|20 Feb 1931||Kumulik Uygurs rebelled against warlord of Xinjiang Jin Shuren in western China.|
|30 Nov 1931||Xinjiang forces, with Soviet military equipment, defeated Uyghur rebel forces which had previously laid siege to Kumul.|
|20 Feb 1933||Uyghur Committee for National Revolution announced a provisional Khotan government in Xinjiang Province, China with intention for an independent Islamic State.|
|31 May 1933||Uyghur guerilla fighters attacked Muslim Chinese troops at the oases of Aksu, Xinjiang, China; each side suffered several hundred casualties.|
|6 Feb 1934||Han Chinese and Muslim Chinese forces captured Kashgar, Xinjiang, China after defeating the 10,000-strong Khotanlik Uyghur separatist garrison.|
|16 Mar 1934||Soviet troops captured Korla, Xinjiang, China.|
|6 Apr 1934||Ma Zhongying and his forces arrived at Kashgar, Xinjiang, China.|
|16 Apr 1934||Chinese 36th Division captured Yangi Hissar, Xinjiang, China, killing all surviving Uyghur defenders of the originally 500-strong garrison. Khotanlik separate leader Emir Nur Ahmad Jan Bughra was captured and executed.|
|30 May 1937||1,500 Uyghurs led by Kichik Akhund captured the Old City district of Kashgar, Xinjiang, China.|
|2 Jun 1937||Nationalist Chinese 36th Division captured Kashgar, Xinjiang, China without opposition.|
|1 Sep 1937||Xinjiang provincial forces under Ma Shengkuei captured Kashgar, Xinjiang, China without opposition.|
|7 Sep 1937||Nationalist Chinese 36th Division commanding officer Ma Hushan deserted his troops in Xinjiang, China and fled to India.|
|9 Sep 1937||Xinjiang provincial troops captured Yarkand, Xinjiang, China with Soviet air support.|
|15 Oct 1937||Soviet aircraft bombed Khotan, Xinjiang, China, causing 2,000 Nationalist Chinese military and civilian casualties.|
|11 Sep 1944||Nationalist Chinese Wu Zhongxin replaced warlord Sheng Shicai as the governor of Xinjiang Province, China.|
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Winston Churchill, 1935