No. 140.
Mr. Williams to Mr. Fish.

No. 20.]

Sir: The reduction of the last stronghold of the Mohammedan rebels? which have controlled the northwestern provinces of Shensi and Kansuh more than ten years, is an event of so much importance here that I have obtained a translation of the official report of Tso Tsung-tang and Kinshun, the governor-general and commander-in-chief of those provinces, which I now inclose (inclosure 1) for your perusal. The city of Suh Chan lies very near the extreme western gate of the great wall, in the province of Kansuh, about eighteen hundred miles from Peking, and controls the travel through that gate into the regions across the desert to Hami. Owing to its distance from the thickly-settled parts of the province, and its proximity to the Mohammedan tribes, the difficulty of reaching it with an army well provisioned and armed has heretofore baffled all the efforts of the imperialists, and it resisted long after their forces had taken other cities held by the rebels. A glance at a map of China will show you that Suh-Chan is likely hereafter to become the key to the possession of much of that part of Central Asia lying north of Thibet, as it now is to this government of those regions still under its sway.

The merciless nature of Chinese warfare is shown in this memorial, and the rancor of war was aggravated in this rebellion by the bitterness of religious bigotry, in which the Mohammedans excelled. There is no reason for doubting the statements here given, and as the rebels had themselves given no quarter, I suppose they expected none.

The insurrection thus ended has left large portions of these two provinces nearly depopulated, and years must elapse before they can recover from the desolations of war. In cases where these rebels, who are said to be all pure Chinese and not Turks, met bodies of native Catholics in their progress, they are reported to have always spared their lives if not found in arms.

The capture of Suh Chan brings to an end all organized rebellion within the borders of China proper, or the eighteen provinces. It began in 1848 in the towns lying west of Canton City, and through the mismanagement of the provincial authorities its leaders waxed stronger and more desperate, and under the name of Taipings (great peace) nearly succeeded in dismembering the empire. They were finally subdued in 1865, after the capture of Nanking.

The Mohammedans rose in array in the southwest and northwest, where they set the imperialists at defiance for ten years or more, but are now no longer formidable, and the few chiefs who may have escaped with a small following will not be able to gather head in those devastated districts.

The manner in which orderly government, trade, and rebuilding of ruined towns has revived in those departments in the valley of the Yangtse, which were left almost like a wilderness in 1855, leads one to hope for a similar reviving in the western provinces.

I have, &c.,

[Page 251]
[Inclosure 1 in No. 20.—Translation.]


Tso Tsung-tang, imperial commissioner and governor-general of Shensi and Kansnh, created earl of the first class, with Kin shun, former commander in chief at Uliasntai, kneeling, implore the sacred glance upon this memorial, reverently prepared and forwarded by special courier, reporting the reduction of the city of Suh-Chan, the restoration of perfect quiet by the destruction of the Mohammedan rebels, both resident and stranger, with their chief and leaders, and the measures taken for restoring order.

Your servant Tso Tsung-tang has already reported the movements of the imperial forces from August 23 to September 18, 1873, at which date they had invested and laid siege to Suh-Chan, gaining frequent advantages, and reported his own arrival before Suh-Chan October 3.

I then established my headquarters two-thirds of a mile south of the city, and next day I made the circuit of the investing lines to take a general survey. The encampments of our several commands encompassed the city, completely investing it, but, the besieging force being weaker and more scattered outside the northwest and south gates, the Chinsi and Fuehung battalions, brought up by me, were ordered to occupy those positions.

The commanders all agreed that this opportunity ought to be improved to storm and raze the place and thereby end [the rebellion.]

We ourselves judged that the mine prepared by Kin shun at the northeast angle would be ready for explosion simultaneously with the general assault; and detached Sung-Ching to join the assault there, while Tso Tsung-tang, at a spot where the wall at the southwest angle had crumbled under our shells, directed Sit and Yang to choose a picked force and fill up the ditch, so as to scale the wall over the rubbish, at the same time drawing up the entire force, lest the rebels should cut their way through by a sudden sally.

Ma-sz, the Mohammedan rebel chief, seeing from the wall that I was making final dispositions to attack him, was greatly alarmed; and on the 4th October, sent out a petition by a messenger to Sü, in the Kweihwa division, praying that he might be protected and given permission to go out beyond the extreme western pass of the Great Wall to induce the rebels there to submit and be forgiven. We, knowing bis treachery, did not grant this, but returned his petition with the indorsement requiring him to issue a proclamation notifying the old and young, matron and maiden, who would save their lives, and sincerely wished protection to come to the camp for examination and such disposition as we saw fit. This answer to Ma-sz was not followed by any proclamation on his part.

October 7, at 1 o’clock a.m., Sü and Yang took command of their troops and filled up the ditch, during which the report of the cannon and small-arms firing on them from the wall was incessant. Brigadier Laichang and others steadily returned their fire from breech-loading pieces, and destroyed not a few of the enemy. At 5 o’clock, the ditch being filled, the assault was made. Yang, taking command of his troops, advanced gallantly, and reached the breast of the wall; but the rebels, taking advantage of their higher standing-ground, fought desperately, the bullets and blocks of stone raining down in showers, so that our troops could not gain the top of the wall.

At day-break the mine under the northeast angle was sprung, and Lieutenant-Colonel Changlin bravely led the charge with a picked force, breasted spears and stones, and stormed the wall. The rebels in a compact force fought to the death. Changlin, after receiving several deep spear-wounds, fought on, covered with blood, till he was struck by a bullet and killed.

The next day (October 8) Sü and Yang each mined the southwestern wall, Brigadier Laichang and his captains maintaining a steady fire from breech-loading pieces upon the masses of rebels, while your servant Kinshun, with Sung-Ching, attacked with foreign siege-guns the northeast curtain, and Tso Tsung-tang gave orders to get a heavy gun into battery at the northeast angle to fire night and day. Each of these officers destroyed great numbers of the rebels.

At 5 a.m., on the 12th October, the mines prepared by Sü and Yang, respectively? being completed, were fired simultaneously, and Yang, with a body of veterans picked from the several commands, led the charge, supported by a brigadier, leading the Fuehung battalion. They assaulted repeatedly and destroyed great numbers of the rebels, but the latter had opened a deep trench obliquely across the terreplein, planting the outside with spears cheveaux-de-frise, and crouched behind it waiting till our troops scaled the wall, when they met us with continued volleys. Upon our forces receiving this slight check, Yang bravely seized a sword, put himself at the head of his men, and had gained the terreplein, when a bullet pierced him to the brain. The soldiers bore him back to camp, and he died the next day. Sü, seeing Yang severely wounded, bravely led the columns again to the attack, but only to meet a fresh loss of [Page 252] over 2,000 men killed, besides more than 500 of the gun-train wounded. Such are the facts regarding our attacks upon Suh Chan from the 6th to 11th of October.

Both of us were of opinion that as the rebels had but this single city left them, all succor cut off, and their provisions exhausted, they could not possibly escape extermination. We, therefore, judged that rather than imperil our good troops in fruitless assaults, it was better to run fresh parallels, shell the wall with breech-loading guns, while our men mined the wall is fresh places, and thus reduce the city.

At this juncture Lin Kin-tang reported for service at Kan-chan, and I [Tso Tsung-tang] ordered him up with several battalions to aid in the final conquest, informing him that the resubjugated Mohammedans, originally belonging to this very body of rebels, and now enrolled in his Fating battalion, could be used to great advantage.

On the 24th of October your servant Kinshun detailed from his force a body of veterans, who stormed a breach in the northeast wall and threw up barricades across the terreplein, thus cutting off the passage of the rebels back and forth upon the wall. The fearless enemy for days bravely attempted its recapture, but were always repulsed with great slaughter by our foreign fire-arms and heavy guns, From the south and “west gates of the town the old and young, both Chinese and Mohammedan, flocked out to our camps, begging for their lives. They were examined in detail by your servant Tso Tsung-tang, and I learned that provisions in the city were exhausted, the rebels slaughtering their horses and asses to appease their hunger, while the old folk and children begged the skins to cook, and thereby keep body and soul together. Unknown numbers had perished from starvation. These had heard that the imperialists did not slay children, females, or aged, and had therefore stolen out of the city to save their lives. I thereupon established a bureau near the river-bank to take charge of and support them while awaiting final disposition.

Lin Chin-tang arrived on the 30th with five battalions of the contingent from the province of Hunan, and the resubjugated Mohammedans, and I ordered him to encamp outside the south gate. Several Mohammedan officers daily galloped their horses past the city wall, shouting to Ma-sz and the other rebels “Your time is come; look well to yourselves!” Ma-sz himself knew that his escape was cut off, and implored that he might come out of the city and return to his allegiance.

On November 4 he came in person to my headquarters, and, with his head in the dust, prayed for his life. Kinshun and the other generals had seats on the dais at the time. We told him that his crimes were now past pardon, and that he would have done better to follow our previous instructions. He was told first to deliver up his arms and horses, and afterward make a complete muster-roll of the local and enlisted Mohammedans, all of whom were to await trial and further disposition. We further ordered him to lead the Mohammedan chiefs in companies to the camp to wait our commands. Ma-sz assented and subsequently surrendered 1, 170 halberds, poleaxes, cannon, and gingals, in all numbering several hundreds, with over a thousand spears and swords, and tridents without number. There were only 70 cavalry-horses; as he said that, being for days in extreme hunger, they had killed and eaten the lean and starving, and only these remained.

We had the enlisted Mohammedans produce separate muster-rolls, specifying their nativity; the natives of Kanchan were to leave by the east gate and be mustered by Sung-ching; those from beyond the Great Wall and Shachan were to be mustered by Kinshun; and the natives of Sining, Hochan Siünhwa, and Shensi province were to come out by the south gate, and be mustered by Lin and Sü, whose men were to separate the males and females, and place them in the abandoned batteries adjacent. In the night of November 10th the Mohammedan leader Chin, with some scores of rebels, stole out of the great north gate, but I (Kinshun) attacked him with my troops and cut them to pieces; Chin being decapitated upon the spot.

The mustering was completed on the 11th, and on completing the rolls, the number seeming very large, there were struck off the names of 1, 100 native Chinese, male and female. At 3 o’clock p.m. the next day, I (Tso Tsung-tang) ordered the nine chief criminals to be brought out with Ma-sz, and, after their crimes had deen proclaimed, they were cut to pieces. At the third report of the signal-gun from headquarters all the 1,573 enlisted Mohammedans, the ruthless originators of these calamities, were successfully decollated in rows under our inspection.

The same night the several corps entered the city and set it on fire; bullets and spears did their work, till the whole local Mohammedan population, numbering more than 5,400, save about 900 females, children, and old-folk, were given to the flames; and peace reigned in Suh-Chan.

On the 13th, Shi, the intendant of the Ngansi-Suh-Cban circuit, with Li, the acting prefect of Sub-Chan, made their entry into the city. Everywhere were corpses and skeletons, those of infant and aged pillowed and heaped on each other; the maiden and the wife had far from escaped violation, while in the confusion of the night sword crossing sword had not distinguished friend from foe.

Ten years have elapsed since the Mohammedan rebels usurped possession of Suh-Chan. The trouble was at first a feud between the inhabitants and the native Mohammedans. [Page 253] Afterward two of them, Ma and Lan, received so-called investiture as high chiefs from To Teh-lin, their leader, and the flames of devastation spread yet wider. After Lau’s death, Ma, with a band of Sining hunters as a nucleus, banded together the Sola Mohammedan tribe, with the desperadoes from Sining and Hochan, and seized this city, as a place where his communications would be open both within and without the Great Wall to the western gates. To-wei on the western road, with Ma Hing-yuan and Pen-yuan on the central road, and on the eastern road Ma Hwa-shing, all helped him to keep up his connections in the center. On the occasion of his return to allegiance, and receiving a Chinese command, he changed his name to Ma Chnng-liang, but his real name was Ma Wan-lu, while he went familiarly by the name of Ma-sz. At the date of that submission there were still in Suh-Chan 30,000 Chinese not Mohammedans. The able-bodied of these were cruelly slaughtered by this rebel chief, and their wives and daughters insulted or enslaved. There remain at present, male and female, only some 1, 100 aged and decrepit. The enlisted Mohammedans, who adhered to him from beyond the Great Wall in Sha-Chan and Hami, included the red-turbaned aborigines, and inside the Great Wall those of Sining, Hochan, and elsewhere with the roving Mohammedans of Shensi, the whole aggregating some 20,000, of whom half were fighting men. The Chinese force daily grew weaker, and the Mohammedan bands constantly gathered head, till it appeared as if the rising would end by our finally losing the whole region.

General Sü commenced their extirpation in 1671 with his army, fighting his way forward through Kanchan and Koatai, with scores of battles of greater or less magnitude, till he drove them together into this one city. Your servant Kin shun came to his assistance and completed the investment. The blockade became still closer upon the arrival of Sung Ching’s force. With the fall of the Tung Kwan their supplies were gone, while with the retirement of those rebels operating beyond the western pass in the Wall assistance from without was cut off, yet they still had the hardihood to cling obstinately to this last point, swearing to the last to fight to the death. This illustrates their life-long tactics, their independent and untamable disposition, different, indeed, from those of other rebels.

Happily Your Majesty’s far-reaching combinations have now caught them in their meshes, and rebels who for years have escaped the ax have now been executed, as their muster-roll was called, like sheep or pigs in their pens, not one escaping. The merits of the several hosts of our army are so great that it is almost needless for your servants to pray your sacred bounty to bestow liberal promotion and distinction.

Your servants now respectfully present their joint memorial and forward it by special courier to report the resubjugation of Suh-Chan, the execution of the execrable prisoners, and the complete pacification of those parts of Kansuh lying within the Great Wall, and humbly pray that Your Majesty, having cast your sacred glance thereon, will issue instructions as to the further action to be taken.—Peking Gazette, December 28, 1873.