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The Eight Banners (In Manchu: jakūn gūsa jakūn gūsa, In Chinese: 八旗 baqí) were administrative divisions into which all Manchu families were placed. They provided the basic framework for the Manchu military organization. The fundamental building block of the banners was the company (Manchu: Niru.png niru, Chinese: 佐領 zuoling), 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 simple language problem: 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 nearly all the pertinent records are in) the word qi 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 ethnic components: the Manchu, the Han, 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 banners 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.

Banner soldiers

From the time China was brought under the rule of the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1683), the banner soldiers became more professional and bureaucratised. 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 standardised, 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 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.

niru jalan gūsa
niru jalan gūsa

Eight Banners

English Manchu Mongolian Chinese L/R U/L Image
Plain Yellow Banner Gusa1.png gulu suwayan i gūsa Шүлүүн Шар Хошуу 正黃旗 zhèng huáng qí Right Upper
ManZhow 8Flag Yellow.jpg
Bordered Yellow Banner Gusa2.png kubuhe suwayan i gūsa Хөвөөт Шар Хошуу 鑲黃旗 xiāng huáng qí Left Upper
ManZhow 8Flag YellowInBorder.jpg
Plain White Banner Gusa3.png gulu šanggiyan i gūsa Шүлүүн Цагаан Хошуу 正白旗 zhèng bái qí Left Upper
ManZhow 8Flag White.jpg
Bordered White Banner Gusa4.png kubuhe šanggiyan i gūsa Хөвөөт Цагаан Хошуу 鑲白旗 xiāng bái qí Left Lower
ManZhow 8Flag WhiteInBorder.jpg
Plain Red Banner Gusa5.png gulu fulgiyan i gūsa Шүлүүн Улаан Хошуу 正紅旗 zhèng hóng qí Right Lower
ManZhow 8Flag Red.jpg
Bordered Red Banner Gusa6.png kubuhe fulgiyan i gūsa Хөвөөт Улаан Хошуу 鑲紅旗 xiāng hóng qí Right Lower
ManZhow 8Flag RedInBorder.jpg
Plain Blue Banner Gusa7.png gulu lamun i gūsa Шүлүүн Хөх Хошуу 正藍旗 zhèng lán qí Left Lower
ManZhow 8Flag Blue.jpg
Bordered Blue Banner Gusa8.png kubuhe lamun i gūsa Хөвөөт Хөх Хошуу 鑲藍旗 xiāng lán qí Right Lower
ManZhow 8Flag BlueInBorder.jpg


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 in rising western powers in the 18th century, and were to ultimately become highly ineffective in modern warfare by the second half of the 19th century. The later 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, 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.


  1. ^ Mark C. Elliott, [1]The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China, Stanford University Press, 2001:58

See also



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