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Banner (Manchu)

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Banner (Manchu)

This article is about the former administrative divisions of China. For other meanings of the term "banner", see banner (disambiguation).

The Eight Banners (In niru, Chinese: 佐領 zuǒlǐng), some of which reflected pre-existing lineage or tribal connections in their membership, while others deliberately overrode such connections in an effort to create a more centralized military force. Each company was, in principle, required to furnish 300 troops to the larger banner army.


The banner system was established by Nurhaci in the early seventeenth century. By 1601 Nurhaci was reorganizing his military forces into the basic structure of the banners and some evidence suggests that he might have started as much as a decade earlier. There are clear references to military units called "banners" in Korean sources in 1607 and sources dating from 1615 describe the "banner" unit structure. Details are uncertain due to the scarcity of source material and a lack of cultural referents; compounding the matter is a linguistic difficulty: In Manchu the term gūsa denotes a large military formation called a "banner" and tu refers to a flag known as a "banner", but in Chinese (the language used in nearly all the pertinent records) the character qi (旗) is used for both meanings. Thus it is often somewhat difficult to tell whether the material refers to the use of cloth flags in battle or a unit of troops.[1]

Ethnic components

The Eight Banners consisted of three principal ethnic components: the Manchu, the Han, and the Mongols, and various smaller ethnic groups, such as the Daur and Evenki. 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 banners as replacements. Eventually, the sheer numbers of Chinese soldiers caused Manchu leaders to form them into the "Old Han Army" (舊漢軍, jiù hànjūn), 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.

Some Han Chinese were also absorbed directly into the Manchu banners.

The Eight Banners were created at the same time as the Jurchen people were renamed the Manchu ethnic group.

The Chinese banners were known as the "Nikan" Banners, made out of a massive amount of Chinese POWs and defectors. Jurchen women married those Chinese who had no family with them.[2] There were so many Chinese entering the Banners that there were more of them than the Jurchen.[3]

Attempts by Hung Taiji were made to separate Chinese and Jurchen banners. In Chinese and Jurchen of Liaodong were mix in culture. Many bannermen forged genealogies of their origin since they did not have any, and then these decided whether or not they were in a Chinese or a Jurchen banner.[4]

The Eight Banners were then created from the old black Chinese banners and Jurchen banners and made equal to each other. The Mongol Eight banners were also created at this time, and anyone who was not classified into a Chinese or a Mongol banner became a Manchu, an ethnic group which Hung Taiji created.[5]

The Manchu leader Nurhaci embarked on the conquest of Liaodong from the Ming dynasty, luring Chinese to his side to defect by threatening them with destruction and at the same time also promising them rewards, with important positions.[6] A massive revolt against the Jurchens by the Liaodong Chinese broke out in 1623, due to the Jurchens squeezing the Chinese for labor and stationing Jurchen in Chinese households. Acts of sabotage and slaughter of the Jurchen were carried out by the Chinese rebels in retaliation.[7] Hong Taiji, who succeeded Nurhaci, began to include many Chinese in his government and copy the Chinese style of governing.[8]

After defeats inflicted by the Chinese General Yuan Chonghuan upon the Manchus,[9][10] the Manchu then decided to absorb Chinese prisoners who knew how to use guns into their army to supplement their forces.[11]

The Manchus also lured Chinese Generals into defecting and joining the Banners by marrying them to women from the Imperial Aisin Gioro family.[12] One Chinese General, Li Yongfang (Li Yung-fang) was bribed by the Manchus into defecting by being married to an Aisin Gioro wife, and being given a position in the banners. Many more Chinese abandoned their posts and joined the Manchus.[13] A mass marriage of Chinese to Manchu women numbering 1,000 took place in 1632 after Prince Yoto came up with the idea. They were either generals or officials.[14] It was said by the Manchu leader that "since the Chinese generals and Manchu women lived together and ate together, it would help these surrendered generals to forget their motherland."[15] Women from the Imperial family were also married to other Chinese who joined the Qing after their conquest of China.[16]

The Manchus also created an artillery unit out of Chinese, which they used against the Ming army.[17] Chinese were also lured by the Manchus into defecting and entering their employ in civil service by granting them privileges such as calling themselves "ministers", while Manchus in the same position were regarded as "slaves".[18]

Some Han Chinese also joined Manchu banners directly, instead of joining the separate Chinese banners. Han Chinese in the Manchu Banners became Manchucized. The Manchu White Banner were joined by some Zhejiang Han Chinese with the last name Tao who defected to the Qing towards the end of the Ming Dynasty. Their last name was changed to the Manchu sounding "Tohoro". One of their descendants was the Manchu Duanfang, an official in late Qing dynasty China.[19] Han Chinese bannermen manchufied their last names with adding "giya" at the end.[20]

However, some Han Chinese bannermen like Zhao Erfeng, Zhao Erxun and Cao Xueqin did not use Manchu names.[21] A lot of other Han Chinese bannermen used Manchufied names, one Han bannermen with a Manchu name of Deming also had a separate Chinese name, Zhand Deyi.[22]

The Manchu bannermen typically used their first/personal name to address themselves and not their last name, while Han bannermen used their last name and first in normal Chinese style.[23][24]

A lot of Chinese bannermen adopted Manchu names, which may have been motivated by associating with the elite. One Chinese bannerman named Cui Zhilu who knew Manchu had changed his name to the Manchu Arsai, and the emperor asked him how he came about his name.[25] Chinese bannermen also adopted Manchu personal naming practices like giving numbers as personal names.[26]

From the time China was brought under the rule of the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1683), the banner soldiers became more professional and bureaucratized. Once the Manchus took over governing, they could no longer satisfy the material needs of soldiers by garnishing and distributing booty; instead, a salary system was instituted, ranks standardized, and the Eight Banners became a sort of hereditary military caste, though with a strong ethnic inflection. Banner soldiers took up permanent positions, either as defenders of the capital, Beijing, where roughly half of them lived with their families, or in the provinces, where some eighteen garrisons were established. The largest banner garrisons throughout most of the Qing dynasty were at Beijing, followed by Xi'an and Hangzhou. Sizable banner populations were also placed in Manchuria and at strategic points along the Great Wall, the Yangtze River and Grand Canal.

Green Standard Army

Over time, many Chinese banner companies in the provincial garrisons 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.

Hierarchical structure

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

niru jalan gūsa

(In order set during the Shunzhi era.)

English Manchu Mongolian Chinese L/R U/L Image
Bordered Yellow Banner
kubuhe suwayan gūsa
Хөвөөт Шар Хошуу 鑲黃旗 xiāng huáng qí Left Upper
Plain Yellow Banner ᡤᡠᠯᡠ
gulu suwayan gūsa
Шулуун Шар Хошуу 正黃旗 zhèng huáng qí Right Upper
Plain White Banner ᡤᡠᠯᡠ
gulu šanggiyan gūsa
Шулуун Цагаан Хошуу 正白旗 zhèng bái qí Left Upper
Plain Red Banner ᡤᡠᠯᡠ
gulu fulgiyan gūsa
Шулуун Улаан Хошуу 正紅旗 zhèng hóng qí Right Lower
Bordered White Banner ᡴᡠᠪᡠᡥᡝ
kubuhe šanggiyan gūsa
Хөвөөт Цагаан Хошуу 鑲白旗 xiāng bái qí Left Lower
Bordered Red Banner ᡴᡠᠪᡠᡥᡝ
kubuhe fulgiyan gūsa
Хөвөөт Улаан Хошуу 鑲紅旗 xiāng hóng qí Right Lower
Plain Blue Banner ᡤᡠᠯᡠ
gulu lamun gūsa
Шулуун Хөх Хошуу 正藍旗 zhèng lán qí Left Lower
Bordered Blue Banner ᡴᡠᠪᡠᡥᡝ
kubuhe lamun gūsa
Хөвөөт Хөх Хошуу 鑲藍旗 xiāng lán qí 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 fall behind rising Western powers in the 18th century. By the 1730s, the traditional martial spirit had been discarded, as the well-paid Bannerman spent their time gambling and theatergoing. Subsidizing the 1.5 million men women and children in the system was an expensive proposition, compounded by embezzlement and corruption. They were unable to deal with internal rebellions such as the Taiping Rebellion, and were helpless before European armies.[27]

Ross says, "Their claim to be military men is based on their descent rather than on their skill in arms; and their pay is given them because of their fathers' prowess, and not at all from any hopes of their efficiency as soldiers. Their soldierly qualities are included in the accomplishments of idleness, riding, and the use of the bow and arrow, at which they practice on a few rare occasions each year."[28]

During the Boxer Rebellion, 1899-1901, 10,000 Bannermen were recruited from the Metropolitan Banners and given modernized training and weapons. One of these was the Hushenying.


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, and even beyond, with a rump organization continuing to function until the expulsion of Puyi (the former Xuantong emperor) from the Forbidden City in 1924.

See also

  • Banner (Inner Mongolia), as an organizational structure, were also used in Mongolia


 This article incorporates text from The Manchus: or The reigning dynasty of China; their rise and progress, by John Ross, a publication from 1880 now in the public domain in the United States.

Further reading

  • Elliott, Mark C. The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China (Stanford University Press, 2001), 580pp
  • Enatsu, Yoshiki. Banner Legacy: The Rise of the Fengtian Local Elite at the End of the Qing (2004), 166pp
  • Im, Kaye Soon. "The Development of the Eight Banner System and its Social Structure," Journal of Social Sciences & Humanities (1991), Issue 69, pp 59-93
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