Historical Sketch of the Ecclesiastical, Political, and Commerical Relations of Russia with China / The Chinese recorder and missionary journal, Foochow: Nov 1870, Vol. 3, No. 6, pp 143-146
[Note: Pinyin used in this Internet edition. Author was a British doctor and medical missionary in China]



The absorbing policy of Russia in Eastern Asia, (on the principle of the stronger and more civilized power overcoming the weaker and semibarbarous,) the desire for extension of her frontiers and commerce, so as to reap advantage from her discovery of the opulence of China and the East, the question of refugees &c., brought her repeatedly into contact and conflict with Chinese arms. Defeat, abandonment of position and advantages, and submission to China's dictation, as to boundaries and trade, were neither of unfrequent occurrence at that time nor permanent as the sequel will show. The restless spirit of conquest and adventure soon broke through all barriers and treaties, and pushed forward, disaster only stimulating; to fresh renewals of the struggle. Unsuccessful in their attempt to approach China by tbe Selinga, they directed their efforts to the Amoor, seeking thereby to gain the oriental seas. After long continued efforts to maintain their foothold at Albazin, the Russian colonists of the Amoor were finally in part driven back to Nortchinsk and part brought captives to Beijing. These prisoners of war formed the nucleus of the Greek church in China and were the occasion of its foundation. Although treaties of commerce and amity existed afterwards between the two empires, peace was often disturbed and broken, caused by the continual annoyance of supposed mutual want of faith regarding the delivery of deserters, the extent and manner of conducting the trade and the limit of their jurisdiction. The treaty of 1689, which followed upon the fall of Albazin, settled the frontier question, and that of 1719 the question of commerce, and stipulated for the residence of a Russian Consul at the court of the Son of Heaven, and was the occasion of Russia's reaping much earlier than other European nations, many political ecclesiastical and scientific privileges. The only drawback to this new state of things,—and a very natural one from the Chinese standpoint—was the assertion by China of vassalage on the part of Russia, and so we find that she is reckoned in Chinese works on geography as a tributary state of the Chinese Empire. This empty indignity—the dependence of an outer on the central state—exists only in celestial minds and is trifling, compared with the solid advantages which she has gained by the connexion.

Very scanty information exists in English in regard to Russian intercourse with the Far East. Something on the early history of the colonies of the Amoor and particularly of the seige of Albazin, may be found in German drawn chiefly from Russian sources. Klaproth who understood both Russian and French has done good service in publishing information on Russia in the latter language.

One or two books in German have recently been published and will be noticed in the proper place. Besides the travels of our own countryman, Bell, who went to Beijing in the capacity of Physician to the Embassy of 1719; the translation out of French of Timkowski's travels of the Russian Mission and Mr. de Lange's Journal, published originally in German, little else is to be found in English. The information of the following paper, is drawn almost entirely from Russian sources, for which I am indebted to a few of the enlightened and learned members of the Mission here, who have manifested a praiseworthy desire to communicate all possible information regarding their Mission and its history. There is nothing to be feared from investigation and nothing to be gained by reticence and seclusion.

The archives of the Asiatic department of the Russian Foreign Office, the libraries of the Imperial Scientific institutions of St. Petersburgh and of the Synod of the church, contain valuable manuscripts and works (some of which we are sorry to hear have been lost) relating to the history, institutions, government, religions, medicine, botany, geography, astronomy &c., of China, of the most accurate and extensive character, from the pens of her Savants who have graced the mission here with their brilliant talents and learning, and who were peculiarly well-qualified from their intimate knowledge of the language, intercourse with officials, access to the Boards and protracted stay at Beijing, to give us the most authentic information. Very few of their works have ever been published and still fewer, translated. Those published in Russian have been practically hid in a language little studied by the European literati. All this is deeply to be deplored, inasmuch as many investigations, which they successfully wrought out with the results which they obtained must be begun de novo by the more Western nations. National vanity or jealousy may have had something to do with the retention so long from the European public of such valuable materials. The translator of Timkowsky says, regarding information possessed by the Russian Government, "if it has not prevented, it has at least done nothing to promote the publication of it."

How different is the situation of affairs now in China. More Western nations are represented at the Capital or elsewhere in China by virtue of treaties, and any advantage gained or possessed by one nation is the common lot of all by virtue of the favoured nation clause. Sinologues and merchants are busy at work all over China, and a vast store of useful information is being yearly collected and preserved; trade is developing; the country is thrown open to all alike, and its resources are still beyond calculation.

A brief review of the causes which led to the establishment in China of the first and oldest European treaty power with this country and the consequent founding of the Orthodox church in the Celestial Empire, may not be uninteresting at the present time to the readers of the Recorder and especially after the able and exhaustive papers by Mr. Kmowlton on the history of Protestant and Roman Catholic Missions in China. A notice of the Greek Church seems necessary to complete the picture of the various forms of the Christian religion propagated in China.

In a work at present being published in Russian by Archimandrite Palladius, one of the most erudite of sinologues, there is, I believe, ground for supposing that there were Russians at the court of the Yuan dynasty, (which had its capital at Kambalou, Beijing) during part of the Mongol power (Yuan dynasty) lasted in China only 88 years (1280-1368) the century and a half that the Mongol power dominated over European Russia. We shall soon be in possession of his learned researches and proofs, and in the meantime, we may date the entrance of Russians into China as early as 1567, regarding which there is authentic information. The Czar John the Cruel (der Grausame) sent the Cossack leader Petroff and Yalysbeff to explore the countries on the other side of the Baikal. They pushed as far as Beijing but failed to obtain an interview of the Emperor Muzong on account of their having brought no presents.

In Murray's China Vol. I p. 358 there is a pretty full account of the visit of Evashko Pettlin in 1619 to China. He reached Beijing but, was not received for a like reason.

The next notice we find and the first of an embassy properly so called, from Russia to China is in 1653. Chinese books speak of it as having reached Beijing in 1656 in the reign of Shun-che, with the view of establishing liberty of commerce. The Emperor ordered them to be received with honour and a house to be prepared for them. The Russian Ambassador Baikoff, who brought presents, was obliged as a preliminary to Koutou (i. e. to make nine prostrations, beating the forehead each time on the ground) or in other words, to recognise his master Alexis Michailowitz as a vassal, and the presents as tribute, which being refused, the embassy returned without accomplishing anything. The Koutou has ever been the great bugbear with foreign nations at the court of Beijing. It is an act of vassalage and indicates inferiority and dependance. All who send embassies have been considered by the Chinese as coming to demand favors, implore their aid or protection or to render homage. All Asiatics, we may observe, who recognize the sovereignty of China, are also invested (feng) with their authority from the Chinese Emperor.

In 1658 two embassies were sent to Beijing, under Perfilyeff and Yarykin. They took along with them goods to the amount of 40,000 rubles. In 1672 some envoys were again sent to the Chinese court, but always unsuccessful because of their unwillingness to make the prescribed prostrations.

In order fully to comprehend the negotiations already referred to and especially those to be mentioned afterwards, it is necessary to particularize the causes which brought them about, and all the more so, as they formed the turning point, as it were, in the relations of the two empires and paved the way for introduction of Russians and the Greek church into China.

Albazin.—The old historical records give a very, meagre account of the fort of Albazin. It is called by the Chinese Yakesa and stands on the left bank of the Amoor, opposite the point where the little river Albazitcha runs into the "river of peace." At this place the Amoor is 1200 feet broad and gets broader as it flows. It is filled with islands. It is the oldest Russian colony and fort in this neighbourhood. It was the site of an old colony of the Tunguses, who called the place after one of their princes, Albaza, who lived there and against whom the Russians afterwards fought. Several visits were made to this district in the beginning of the seventeenth century, by Cossacks and fur hunters. On their return they reported the wealth of the country in furs. In 1643 a division of Cossacks succeeded in following the Amoor along its whole course to the sea. After this it was resolved to found a colony and in 1650 the Siberian Cossack leader Khabaroff was sent to carry out this plan. After a difficult march from Irkutsk he reached the upper Amoor and chose Albazin as the place for the new colony on account of its conveniences in regard to water, fuel, wood and pasturage.

In 1651 the little fort was finished, the comrades built themselves huts, and from this as a centre, they went forth in quest of the Sable. The Tunguses, much enraged at the Russian inroads, but unable to withstand the colonists, soon yielded and withdrew before them. Resistance to men armed as they were, was useless. The Russians soon appropriated the surrounding country and went everywhere in search of furs. On account of the paucity of sable around Albazin, they stretched out in all directions and oppressed the poor Tunguses in every way. Thus it continued for years. The Siberian colonists grew worse and worse and plundered the natives, carrying their victorious arms across the Amoor. The Chinese grew furious on hearing of their depredations and outrages, and in 1667 sent an army and summoned the Russians to deliver up the place. Although the colonists were permitted to leave, taking arms and baggage, they notwithstanding allowed themselves to be beseiged. The Chinese erected batteries on the island before Albazin and began their attack, but the little fort held out for nearly two years under the greatest difficulties. Hunger at last compelled them to surrender.

The rich furs offered too great a temptation, not to attempt once more a settlement in that region. In 1605 fur hunters consequently settled again in Albazin, but this time more peacefully to the inhabitants of the country. In 1670 Tschirnigowsky followed with a band of Cossacks and repaired the fort. When the news was carried to Siberia, there was a greater emigration than before to this place. Tschirnigowsky avoided all causes of annoyance with the Mantchus, but the latter apprehensive of the thriving of Albazin, and of the presence of too formidable a power there, built several towns on the frontiers and particularly Aigun in the middle of the Amoor, below Albazin.

On the 4th July 1685 another Chinese army appeared before Albazin and took up its former position in the island. The Russian garrison in the fort amounted to 450 men with three cannons and 300 guns, under the brave and experienced Tolbuzin. The Chinese army which came partly by land and partly by water, consisted of 15,000 men 50 battering guns and 100 field cannon. The Chinese first destroyed the surrounding Russian plantations and then began a seige on the fortress. The attack on the fort took place on the 22nd July and the Chinese were driven back for several days, with great slaughter. The Russians considering that nothing was to be gained by holding out, gave up the seige and retired. It is said they surrendered to the Chinese on the condition that they should have a free departure granted to them to Nertschinsk. To this the Chinese agreed, having enticed 25 Russians by advantageous promises to surrender themselves to them. These with the priest Maxin Leontyoff were conducted to Beijing, where Leontyoff founded the first Russian church. This was the first installment of Albazines taken to Beijing, and the only time that such a settlement of Albazines in Beijing is referred to in Siberian Annals. The rest of the Russians withdrew to Nertschinsk and the Chinese destroyed Albazin.

No sooner had the Chinese withdrawn than Tolbuzin again entered and on the 7th August began to repair the fort as the approaching winter would prevent the Chinese from returning. The fort was rebuilt and surrounded this time with an earth wall 20 feet high. A German nobleman named Beiton or Beuthen who had been exiled to Siberia, taken in the service of Poland, managed the works of the fortress. Tolbuzin was leader to the party which amounted to 736 men.

In July 1686 a Chinese army of 8000 men and 40 cannon appeared before Albazin and a fleet sailed down the Songhuajiang (Sungari) to assist by water. The seige lasted until May 1687. The Russians had strengthened themselves from Nertschinsk and so the war raged severely on both sides. The brave Tolbuzin fell during the seige, having been shot, and his place was filled by Beiton. With the same dexterity he so planned the defence that the Chinese were obliged to look for winter quarters on account of the approaching cold. The spring brought fresh reinforcements and necessaries to the Russians from Nertschinsk, and although the war lasted throughout the year, the Chinese did not gain one foot of land. In the winter of 1688 Beiton withdrew from Albazin, after he had held it for two years. It is said that when the Chinese were unable to take the fort, they withdrew from it to a distance of four wersts. Scurvy broke out among the Russians. The Chinese when they heard of it, proffered their physicians. The Russians declined the friendly offer and sent as a present to the Chinese camp, a large cake which weighed 40 lbs. Immediately thereupon the Chinese army withdrew.

On the 27th August 1689 the peace of Nertschinsk took place, by which the Russians were obliged to give up their entire settlements on the Amoor and in Mantchuria, Beiton was ordered back to Nertschinsk with all his forces and so Albazin was given up. The Chinese thereupon destroyed it. The fort had existed 38 years.

Up to the 18th century, the Chinese dictated the terms of peace to the Russians and the 'Son of Heaven' looked upon the Czar as a vassal. How are things now changed? The descendants of those filibusters rule there at large, and one stroke of the pen of the Russian minister is enough to detach entire provinces from China.

The ruins of the old fortress of Albazin lie on the left bank of the Amoor, opposite the most Northerly end of the Manchurian province Qiqihar. It was built in the form of a square, and each side was 120 paces. One side faced the steep bank of the Amoor. The Chinese batteries arc still to be seen. At the present day there stands a cross at the south corner of the wall of Albazin with the following inscription in Russian upon it.

"The town of Albazin was built in the year 1651 by Khabaroff the conqueror of the Daours and the people of the Amoor. In the year 1665, it was rebuilt by Tschirnigowsky. In the year 1685, under the leader Tolbuzin, who defended the fort with 450 men 3 cannons and 300 guns, it was given up to the Mantchus, who beseiged the city with 60,000 men 100 field pieces and 50 battering cannon.

In the same year 1685 Albazin was again built. From June 1686 to May 1687, Albazin was defended by the brave Tolbuzin, who during the seige was killed by a cannon ball and then was held by the German Beiton against 8000 Mantchus with 40 cannon. The Russians left Albazin in 1689."

"This Cross is erected to the memory of the brave defenders by D. Komanoff 30th May 1857,"*

* Romanoff was a Russian Tourist who travelled long on the Amoor.

In the preface to Lange's Journal it is said that the correspondence between the two courts took place early as 1040. This is evidently a printer's error for 1640, for the 16th century is immediately mentioned below in the same connexion. Vide Bell's Travels Vol. II p. 224.

Albazin is said in the same preface p. 229 and at page 395 to be on the south bank of the Amoor, but this is wrong as we have shown. The treaty of Nertschinsk in 1689 is given correctly, but all the events that led to this treaty, the building of the town—the capture and removal to Beijing of the prisoners are here given as subsequent to it. Consequently no reliance can be placed on these dates. By this account Albazin fell as late as 1715.

There is some confusion about the date of the treaty of Nertschinsk. Pauthier in his "Histoire des Kelatione politiques de la Chine avec les puissances occidentales" 1859, says p. 81 that the treaty of Nertschmsk took place on the 22nd August 1688. The Embassy from Russia for the purpose of making and ratifying this treaty arrived in China in the beginning of 1688, the 27th year of Kangxi. Its object was the determining with common accord the limits of the two empires. It was under Golovin (according to Klaproth) the son of the Governor General of Siberia. A commission was appointed of three high officials with a retinue of several mandarins, but as not one of them understood Russian or Latin, the Emperor named two interpreters Antoine Pereira and Jean Gerbillon—two Portuguese missionaries, who had the rank of 3rd button conferred upon them. They started from Beijing on the 29th May 1688. Both plenipotentiaries met at Nertschinsk on the 22nd August 1688. The Russians demanded then what they obtained 170 years later at Tianjin—that the Amoor or Sakhalien-oula in its entire length should be the boundary line between the two empires. A treaty of peace was concluded—the first Chinese treaty with a European power, and was signed 8th September 1688, in which the river Kerbetchi (Ouronon in Mantchu) and which flows into the Amoor, should be the boundary line along with the chain of mountains, which extends from the source of the river to the sea Ochotsk. All within these mountains and the Amoor on the North was to be Chinese, and all beyond the mountains, to Russia. This treaty was drawn up in Latin.

The above is the substance of Pauthier's remarks on this treaty. It is not explicit enough. Gerbillon made two journeys, the first from the 30th May 1688 to 7th January 1689; and the second he left Beijing on the 13th June 1689. The peace of Nertschinsk (in Chinese Nibuchu) took place in the 28th year of the Emperor Kangxi, September 1689. (Compare Du Halde Tome IV p. 186. German Edition.)

The following is the account of the Chinese Ambassadors who were sent from Beijing to the Chinese army which was operating against the Russians. The origin of the war and the complaints of the Chinese are here given.

These (peoples) who live on the boundary of the lands subdued by the Grand prince of Moscow are situated in the provinces of Yakesa (Albazin) and Nipchon (Nertschinsk) which belong to our Lord the Emperor. They have practised there much violence and murder. The matter has been complained of at Moscow but no answer has been received. Our Lord the Emperor sent in 1686 some of his people to the Muscovite officers in order to adjust the differences; but a certain Alexis, Governor of Yakesa, paid no respect but took up arms. This compelled our Lord the Emperor to beseige Yakesa. He was successful in possessing himself of the city. But while our Lord the Emperor believed that the Grand prince of Moscow would not be satisfied with the conduct of his Governor, he commanded that no Muscovite should be killed. Indeed he ordered that those of the garrison who wished to return home should be furnished with all necessaries, and those who did not wish to return, should be conveyed to Beijing with the promise that they should be treated according to their rank. Alexis was himself plunged into tears by the magnanimity of the Emperor. Vide Du Halde IV p. 147.
Beijing, 23rd June, 1870.

(To be continued.)