Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Zou Zuohua, "A Brief History of Tunken" (1928)

From Zou Zuohua, Tunken qianshuo (Xing An: Xing An Tunken gongshu, 1928). Translated by Shellen X. Wu

During the Han Dynasty, the Qiang tribe caused great disturbances on the Northwestern borders. Emperor Xuandi (r. 74-49 B.C.) frequently dispatched troops from the interior to fight the Qiang. When the troops arrived on the frontiers, they drove away the Qiang. Transportation was inconvenient in those days and food from the interior could not reach the border region; nor was there agriculture in these areas and even with money the troops had nowhere to buy food. So after the troops won victory, they immediately turned back to go home. As soon as the troops left, the Qiang returned to cause trouble. This exhausted the Han so that they found it impossible to administer the frontier. Later, an old, battle-tested general named Zhao Chongguo (137-52 B.C.) came up with the idea of tuntian. This brilliant method called for stationing troops on the frontiers and allowing them to farm. The harvest from these farms supplied the troops. When the troops could feed themselves, they remained at their stations. The Qiang were left with no recourse.

The various dynasties after the Han all used this method to pacify the frontiers.

But Zou Zuohua (1893-1973) respectfully presents that the order from the Public Security Bureau of the Three Northeastern Provinces to establish a tunken area in Xing'an differs in intention from Zhao Chongguo’s tuntian idea. Why is that the case? The Republic of China is formed from the union of the Han, Manchu, Mongolian, Hui, and Tibetan peoples. If you look at the housing, the food, and the material goods of us Han people, we have not caught up to the various European and American countries, but compared to our Mongolian comrades, we can be said to be unusually fortunate. Why is it that although we all enjoy equal benefits as citizens of the Republic, our Mongolian compatriots still live such simple and crude lives? Had we lived in other Chinese provinces, the situation might be excusable. But we in the Three Northeastern Provinces are bound to our Mongolian compatriots and we cannot but extend our help. The Mongolian territories are large and our abilities limited, so for the moment we can only help our Mongolian compatriots in the area bounded by the Xing’an mountains to the south, by reclaiming waste land, building roads, and villages, exploiting forests and mines, promoting livestock breeding and agriculture. At the same, we will raise their spiritual and material lives. This is the primary intention of our tunken efforts.

Today, many countries in the world aim to expand through aggression. For the last century our country has been weak and vulnerable; China has reached a nadir from foreign aggression. We need not expound on the relentless pressure exerted on the interior provinces. Here in the Northeast, the Japanese from the south, the Russians from the west have deployed various military, economic, and political pressures, making it nearly intolerable for us. But neither Japan nor Russia are satisfied with their gains and have turned their attention to Mongolia. The Japanese looks to develop Mongolia. From their base in South Manchuria, Xing'an is in their path. If we examine the path of Russian aggression, moving east from the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Xing'an also stands in the way. For reasons of national security, we must develop Xing'an to protect the area from the covetous gaze of these foreign powers. If we do not help our Mongolian brothers in the Xing'an area to protect the homeland, I fear Xing'an and all the treasures within will sooner or later be stolen. Not only will our Mongolian compatriots lose this bountiful lands, our homeland will be further oppressed. This is the second intention for our tunken efforts.

Our country has suffered from domestic turmoil. Our military comrades devoted nearly all their efforts to fighting each other. Now that these domestic conflicts have ended, we must rouse ourselves and turn to productive industries. For the military, tunken is the most worthy area for our attentions. Many of our troops come from farming backgrounds. In their prime years, they live the soldier’s life. What about when they grow old? For our country and for individual soldiers, we must lead our troops to develop the frontiers. In these desolate lands, between deserts and steppes, we will build our families and construct glorious metropolises. I (Zou Zuohua) stand ready to lead you at the vanguard of opening the frontiers. When our efforts succeed, our comrades throughout the country will view Mongolia, Tibet, Qinghai and other regions as fortunate lands and potential paradise. This is the third intention for our tunken efforts.

Our tunken efforts are of such great significance and weight, we must be able to sacrifice thoughts of our immediate happiness and safety, to put down our guns and take up hoes. We must persevere to accomplish our tunken plans. When we fight our enemies, we are the bravest of soldiers. When we plant crops, we must also be the most diligent of workers. Let us take up these slogans:

  1. Help our Mongolian compatriots develop industries.
  2. We tunken troops take responsibility for national defense in Xing'an and public security in Xing'an.
  3. Let’s create paradise out of desolate lands.
  4. Man’s noblest life is lived in clearing fallow and waste lands.


Zou Zuohua.

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