In 1928, officers affiliated with the Manchurian warlord Zhang Xueliang undertook the tunken 屯墾 (land reclamation) of the Xing An region. They also established a Xing An Tunken Bureau, which was headed by Zou Zuohua 鄒作華 (1893-1973). The officer Gao Renfu 高仁绂 (1897-1966) organized three units of men to participate in the settlement.
For these men, the project was first and foremost an effort of national defense. According to the first year report:
The first phase of this tunken project will consist of military reclamation, the second phase civilian reclamation. The two former banners and various Mongolians in the area have never undertaken border defense and have no public safety measures in place to speak of. This is why in addition to launching immigration, construction, transportation, promoting animal husbandry, forestry, and mining, the most important task is to undertake military reclamation and using the military to protect the country and ensure public safety. The true significance of the military reclamation lies in the ability of soldiers who could both join production and protect the country. When they put down their guns and pick up their goes, the soldiers could farm and work to economically develop the region. When they put down their hoes and pick up their guns, they could kill our enemies and reinforce border defense.
After bombastic proclamations, three units of men left the nearest town, Tao'an, in late October of 1928, missing the entire growing season, which meant that they also had to immediately construct emergency housing and endure the harsh winter on the steppes. Camped out near Tao'an town in tents, the soldiers drew curious onlookers before their departure. Under strict military regimentation, the soldiers were told to rise at five in the morning for a jog. During the day they dug out ground dwellings. The real work of settlement began with the coming of the spring. At that time, approximately 4,800 refugees from Shandong and Henan joined the troops in the settlement zone.