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Eight Banners

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(Redirected from Eight Banner system)

The Eight Banners (In Manchu: gūsa, In Chinese: 旗 q) were administrative divisions into which all Manchu families were placed. They were initially based on tribal divisions but soon became the primary source for the Manchu military organisation, with each banner required to raise, support, and train a certain number of troops.

The banners were established by Nurhaci in the early seventeenth century and grew to become the core elite of the Qing empire. Though initially military in nature, the Eight Banners came to assume other administrative duties. It originally consisted of three upper banners directly responsible to the emperor himself and five lower banners responsible to imperial princes; later, all the banners were placed under the direct control of the emperor.

The Eight Banners consisted of three ethnic components: the Manchu, the Han Chinese, and the Mongols. Beginning in the late 1620s Nurhaci's successors incorporated allied and conquered Mongol tribes into the Eight Banner system. The first Chinese additions were merely sprinkled into existing banner as replacements. Eventually the sheer numbers of Chinese soldiers caused Manchu leaders to form them into the "Old Han Army" (舊漢軍), mainly for infantry support. In 1631 a separate Chinese artillery corps was formed. Four Chinese banners were created in 1639 and finally the full eight were established in 1642.

From the time of the conquest of China (1644-1683) the banner soldiers became more professional and bureaucratised. Non-banner Chinese were appointed to oversee daily administrative affairs. All booty was distributed by the Emperor and his agents, with 30 percent retained by him for imperial affairs. Eventually, after the conquest of China, all bannermen received a set salary. The largest banner garrisons throughout most of the Qing dynasty were at Beijing, followed by Xi'an and Hangzhou. Sizeable banner populations were also placed in Manchuria, in parts of Yunnan and at strategic points along the Yangtze River and Grand Canal.

Over time many Chinese and Mongol banner units were reclassified as civilian or placed in the Green Standard Army. At the end of the Qing dynasty, all members of the Eight Banners, regardless of their original ethnicity, were considered by the Republic of China to be Manchu.

The banners had a hierarchical structure. The smallest unit was niru (or 佐領 zuoling in Chinese; 300 men). The next was jalan (or 參領 canling; 5 niru) and 5 jalan consisted a gūsa (banner). Of course, these were ideal numbers and their actual sizes varied substantially.

Eight Banners
English Manchu Chinese L/R U/L
Plain Yellow Banner gulu suwayan i gūsa 正黃旗 zhenghuangqi Right Upper
Bordered Yellow Banner kubuhe suwayan i gūsa 鑲黃旗 xianghuangqi Left Upper
Plain White Banner gulu šanggiyan i gūsa 正白旗 zhengbaiqi Left Upper
Bordered White Banner kubuhe šanggiyan i gūsa 鑲白旗 xiangbaiqi Left Lower
Plain Red Banner gulu fulgiyan i gūsa 正紅旗 zhenghongqi Right Lower
Bordered Red Banner kubuhe fulgiyan i gūsa 鑲紅旗 xianghongqi Right Lower
Plain Blue Banner gulu lamun i gūsa 正藍旗 zhenglanqi Left Lower
Bordered Blue Banner kubuhe lamun i gūsa 鑲藍旗 xianglanqi Right Lower

Although the banners were instrumental in the Qing Empire takeover of China proper in the 17th century from the Ming Empire, they began to atrophy in the 18th century, and were shown to be ineffective for modern warfare by the 19th century. The banners proved unable to defeat Western powers such as Britain in the Opium Wars and were also seriously challenged by the Taiping Rebellion.

By the late 19th century, the Qing Dynasty began training and creating New Army units based on Western training, equipment, and organization. Nevertheless, the banner system remained in existence until the fall of the Qing in 1911.


Banners, as an organizational structure, were also used in Mongolia. See Banner (Inner Mongolia).zh:八旗制度

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