banner system, Manchu conscription system. Companies of Manchu warriors were grouped (1601) into brigades, each with a distinctive banner. The banner system integrated former tribal units into a bureaucratic war machine that enabled the Manchus to conquer and rule China as the Ch'ing dynasty (1644–1912). Banners (brigades) and their component companies did not live and fight as units but were garrisoned at various places and contributed a certain quota of men to make up a fighting force when needed. Later, banners of Mongol and Chinese adherents were also organized. About 1.5 million bannermen and their families were garrisoned at strategic points and major population centers throughout China. By the 19th cent. corruption and inefficiency pervaded the banner system, forcing the Ch'ing government to rely increasingly on provincial militia.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.