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The commander of the Guangxi Army, Pan Dingxin (潘鼎新), lay at Haicun, 30 kilometres behind Mufu, with 3,500 men.
Fifty kilometres to the west of Zhennanguan, 3,500 men under the command of Wei Gang (魏刚) were deployed around the village of Aiwa.
While he and Giovanninelli drew up plans for a western offensive, he ordered de Négrier to keep the Chinese in respect around Lang Son.
Meanwhile, behind the Chinese border, the Guangxi Army was also building up its strength.
The Battle of Bang Bo, known in China as the battle of Zhennan Pass (Chinese:鎮南關之役), was a major Chinese victory during the Sino-French War (August 1884–April 1885).
The battle, fought on 23 and 24 March 1885 on the Tonkin-Guangxi border, saw the defeat of 1,500 soldiers of General François de Négrier's 2nd Brigade of the Tonkin Expeditionary Corps by a Chinese army under the command of the Guangxi military commissioner Pan Dingxin (潘鼎新).
Brière de l'Isle and de Négrier examined the possibility of crossing into Guangxi with the 2nd Brigade to capture the major Chinese military depot at Longzhou, but on 17 March Brière de l'Isle advised the army ministry in Paris that such an operation was beyond their strength.
In fact most of the Chinese commands were considerably understrength with 300 to 400 men, and the strength of the Guangxi Army at the Battle of Zhennan Pass was probably around a couple thousand men, while all of Longzhou had 25,000 to 30,000 men under arms.
Even at this lower strength, it fearfully outnumbered the French.
The French, whose Vietnamese spies in Longzhou had been conscientiously counting the company flags of every Chinese battalion that passed through the town, estimated on 17 March that they were facing a Chinese force of 40,000 men.
This was an exaggeration, based on the assumption that each Chinese company was at full strength.
By the middle of March nine separate Chinese military commands were massed close up to the Tonkinese border around the enormous entrenched camps of Yen Cua Ai and Bang Bo. The entrenched camp of Yen Cua Ai was held by ten battalions under the command of Feng Zicai (冯子材) and a slightly smaller force under the command of Wang Xiaochi (王孝祺).