Collaboration and Resistance on the Southwest Frontier: Early Eighteenth-Century Qing Expansion on Two Fronts

John Herman, Virginia Commonwealth University


In 1715 two unrelated international events, the emergence of the Zunghar Mongols in Central Eurasia and Japan’s decision to restrict copper exports to China triggered a burst in Qing expansion into two different regions over the next fifteen years (1715-30), the Kham territory of Eastern Tibet and tusi-controlled territories in neighboring Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. As this article will show, Qing officials posted to Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou during this fifteen-year period were in a very peculiar position. On the one hand, they were authorized to negotiate alliances and grant tusi offices to the local Kham elite in order to advance the Qing empire into Kham, while at the same time they were encouraged to eliminate the remaining tusi in Yunnan and Guizhou in order to consolidate civilian control throughout the southwest. In short, during this brief fifteen year period both ends of the historical spectrum Peter Perdue describes as the process of Qing imperial expansion existed in the southwest: the use of tusi offices to extend Qing influence into Kham, and the elimination of tusi in the southwest in order to establish centralized civilian rule.