An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

lüyingbing 綠營兵, Green Standard Army

Jul 6, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

Lüyingbing 綠營兵, sometimes read luyingbing, and occasionally called lüqibing 綠旗兵, the "Green Standard troops", were the basic military units in China during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911). While the elite troops of the Eight Banners (Manchu Banners, baqi 八旗) consisted ethnically of Manchus, Chinese Bannermen (hanjun 漢軍) and Mongolian Bannermen, the Green Standards were purely Chinese. When the Manchus conquered China in the mid-1640s, they took over the military system of the Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644). The Green Standards are thus the remnants of the Ming weisuo system 衛所.

The basic unit of the Green Standards was the garrison (ying 營), while smaller units were called "posts" (xun 汛). Each prefectural city was guarded by one or several garrisons, and provincial capitals by up to four or five. These central garrisons were called biao 標. They stood under the command of a governor-general (zongdu 總督: called dubiao 督標), governor (xunfu 巡撫: fubiao 撫標), provincial military commander (tidu 提督, rank 1b: tibiao 提標) or regional commander (zongbing 總兵, 2a: zhenbiao 鎮標).

Smaller garrisons (xie 協) were commanded by regional vice commanders (fujiang 副將, 2b). The average garrisons throughout the country (ying) obeyed the command of assistant regional commanders (canjiang 參將, 3a), brigade commanders (youji 游擊, 3b), brigade vice commanders (dusi 都司, 4a) or assistant brigade commanders (shoubei 守備, 4b). Small posts (xun) were headed by company commanders (qianzong 千總, 6a), squad leaders (bazong 把總, 7a) or even detached officers (waiwei 外委, rank 8 or 9).

Table 1. Ranks of the Green Standard Armies
Hucker Brunnert/Hagelstrom
提督 tidu 1b provincial military commander provincial commander-in-chief or general-in-chief
總兵 zongbing 2a regional commander brigade general
副將 fujiang 2b regional vice commander colonel
參將 canjiang 3a assistant regional commander lieutenant-colonel
游擊 youji 3b brigade commander major
都司 dusi 4a brigade vice commander first captain
守備 shoubei 4b assistant brigade commander second captain
千總 qianzong 6a company commander lieutenant
把總 bazong 7a squad leader sub-lieutenant
外委 waiwei 8-9 detached officer ensign, colour-sergeant
兵丁 bingding -- [private]

The administrative centre of a garrison was called Green Standard Yamen (lüying yamen 綠營衙門).

The size of garrisons and the composition of various functional types of troops (infantry, cavalry) was not standardized. It ranged from 200 to 700 troops, depending on several conditions, like the size of the region, the availability of roads or rivers, topography, or the number of inhabitants. Some Banner Garrisons also included Green Standard troops. Such garrisons were called junbiao 軍標.

The number of Green Standard troops changed over time. During the mid-19th century, there were about 600,000 troops in 1,169 garrisons – this is several times more than the total strength of the Banner units. Green Standard troops were employed not just in war, but also for everyday duties like guarding the district, prefecture or city (zhenshu 鎮戍), guarding imperial tombs (shouling 守陵), to patrol (xunshou 巡守), arresting bandits or rebels (buzei 捕賊), or working at large-scale state projects like the Grand Canal (hegong 河工) or protecting the transport of tribute grain (caoyun 漕運). Garrisons with troops specializing in this type of work were called hebiao 河標 (under the command of the Director-General of the Grand Canal, hedao zongdu 河道總督) and caobiao 漕標 (under the command of the Director-General of Grain Transport, caoyun zongdu 漕運總督), respectively.

Most soldiers of the Green Standards units were infantry troops (bubing 步兵), others were guardsmen (shoubing 守兵), and some cavalrymen (qibing 騎兵 or mabing 馬兵). A small number of Green Standard troops belonged to naval units (shuishi 水師) serving as coastal guards (shuibing 水兵).

In border regions like Xinjiang, Tibet or Mongolia, troops were responsible for their own supplies of food, and therefore cultivated fields. These garrisons were called agro-garrisons (tunshu 屯戍) and followed the old system of the military agro-colonies (tuntian 屯田).

Green Standard troops were normally recruited from among the local population. This procedure ensured their loyalty and guarded against disobedience or rebellion, because it was easy to punish the family of a deserter or rebel (see collective punishment). In contrast to this system, the posts of Bannermen were inheritable.

The experience of the rebellion of Wu Sangui 吳三桂 (1612-1678) during the early Kangxi reign-period 康熙 (1661-1722) induced the Qing government to adopt a series of precautionary measures to forestall the rise of military strongmen. The basic principle was that all garrisons in any administrative unit were subordinated to a civilian official (wen zhi wu 文制武 "civilian checks military"). In addition to that, second-rank officials in every province (like the provincial governor, provincial military commanders, or regional commanders) were given command over some troops belonging to the command of the governor-general. The power of governor-generals was thus curtailed: Governors-general and governors were civilian offices, not military ones.

Furthermore, the governors-general, governors and provincial military commanders had the right to order a dispatch of troops but were only given direct command over a small amount of troops (their own biao).

As a third point, the command of a regional commander (zongbing) could only be executed by a brigade commander (guandai 管帶), and not by the regional commander himself.

The last impediment to the accumulation of power was a parallel to the civilian paradigm of regular relocation of state officials: When a high officer was relocated, his personal file (bingji 兵籍) and salary (bingxiang 兵餉) fell back to the Ministry of War (bingbu 兵部), and was not related to any specific garrison before he was appointed to the new one. The troops formerly under his command remained in their garrisons and would not move with him.

While Green Standard troops played a crucial role in the many conquest wars of the early and high Qing periods, their efficiency – like that of the Banner Troops – declined in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Taiping Rebellion could only be suppressed by a systematic reform of the military system and the introduction of troops that were equipped with modern firearms and excellently trained. The paradigm of these new troops was Zeng Guofan's 曾國藩 (1811-1872) Hunan Army (Xiangjun 湘軍). In the second half of the century the Green Standard system was step by step abolished.

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