Treaty of Kiakhta Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Treaty of Kiakhta defined trade between Russia and China for more than a century, and it freed the two empires from worrying about each other. Thus, the treaty enabled Russia to concentrate on developing its newly won position as a European power, while in China the Manchu Qing Dynasty could likewise concentrate on consolidating its control over its own far-flung and rapidly growing empire.

Summary of Event

Under Genghis Khan the Mongolian people conquered China and established the Yuan Dynasty, which ruled that country from 1279 to 1368. By the end of the seventeenth century, however, the warlike spirit of the Mongols had turned inward. They became embroiled in clan rivalry while national unity disintegrated. A growing interest in Buddhist spiritual pursuits had begun to absorb them instead of military or political expansionism. Other peoples were taking their turn in the limelight of global history. [kw]Treaty of Kiakhta (Oct. 21, 1727) [kw]Kiakhta, Treaty of (Oct. 21, 1727) Kiakhta, Treaty of (1727) Treaties;Russia and China Trade;Russia with China Kiakhta, Treaty of (1727) [g]Russia;Oct. 21, 1727: Treaty of Kiakhta[0710] [g]China;Oct. 21, 1727: Treaty of Kiakhta[0710] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 21, 1727: Treaty of Kiakhta[0710] Catherine I Tseren-van Sava Vladislavich-Raguzinsky Menshikov, Aleksandr Danilovich Kangxi Peter the Great

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Romanov Russia Romanov Dynasty and Manchu China Manchu China pressed Mongolia Mongolia from the West and East, respectively. The Treaty of Kiakhta in 1727 was an agreement between these two ascendant powers to maximize trade with each other and to minimize any threat from Mongolia. During this period, just as pioneer Americans were advised to go west to seek their fortunes, Russian explorers, adventurers, and businessmen began moving east into the vast reaches Frontier;Russian of Central Asia and Siberia Siberia for the same purpose. However, expeditions led into the Mongolian Mongolia territory of the Amur River Valley by Vasily Poyarkov, Erofei Pavlovich Khabarov, and others soon ran into Chinese competition. The Russians established a permanent base of operations at Albazin and began to colonize Colonization;Russians of Mongolia the area, but this audacity challenged a long tradition of Chinese predominance in the region. They ejected the Russians from Albazin and marched on Nerchinsk, a base of Russian activity farther west.

Russia and China were both undergoing major transitions at this time. As only the second Romanov czar, Peter the Great was establishing Russia as a force to be reckoned with on the global stage. China was also changing dynasties. The Manchu had gained control there from the Ming in 1644, founding the Qing Dynasty, Qing Dynasty and Kangxi was also the second in his line of succession. Both rulers had major problems elsewhere, so neither wanted a major war with the other in Central Asia. Europe was the primary focus of concern for Peter the Great. By means of a long series of confrontations with Sweden and France between 1700 and 1721 called the Great Northern War, Russia was able to extend its influence into Poland and the Baltic states. For most of his reign, Kangxi was preoccupied with eliminating the last elements of Ming resistance from central and southern China.

Russia was greatly energized by the same restless spirit of exploration, trade, and world conquest that animated the countries of Western Europe at this time, but China enjoyed many advantages in this confrontation in the Amur River Valley. This area had been part of China, Frontier;Chinese or under indirect Chinese control, for several hundred years, whereas the Russians were coming from far away. Their ultimate support lay in the European part of Russia, so their supply lines extended all the way back to Moscow or St. Petersburg. The Chinese capital of Beijing was much closer. In addition, even though the Manchus were new as rulers of China, they had ancient ethnic and cultural connections with Mongolia. When finally free to focus on this northern frontier, the Manchus were able to stop the Russian advance and define the bilateral relationship on mutually beneficial terms.

The first attempt had been the Treaty of Nerchinsk Nerchinsk, Treaty of (1689) in 1689, but a clearer definition of the border and terms of future trade was necessary. When both Peter the Great and Kangxi passed from the scene in the 1720’s, their successors felt the need to resolve outstanding issues in this area. The widow of Peter the Great, Czarina Catherine I, and her intimate adviser, Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov, sent Sava Vladislavich-Raguzinsky as ambassador. The Manchu delegation was headed by Tseren-van, state administrator and brother-in-law of the local khan. The negotiations opened on June 14, 1727, and the final document was signed on October 21 of that year.

The Treaty of Kiakhta consisted of eleven articles dealing with all aspects of the Russian-Chinese relationship. Eternal peace was declared between the two countries. The border between Russia and Chinese Mongolia was defined in greater detail, extending to the west. Provisions were agreed upon for each nation to return fugitives and deserters from the other nation, who might otherwise cross the border hoping to find a safe haven. Forms of diplomatic relations were outlined, as well as mechanisms for resolving future disputes. It was agreed that a Russian religious and cultural center would be opened in Beijing. Finally, institutions for future commercial relations between the two countries were established and regulations were specified.

The arrangements for trade were of special importance. Three official centers for the Russian merchants were established: Kiakhta, Nerchinsk, and Selenginsk. The number of registered Russian traders was to be limited to two hundred. Each of these traders would be allowed one trip every three years to Beijing in the company of a Chinese Mandarin host. Not counting these restrictions, trade between the countries was to be free; that is, no duties were to be charged to the buyers or sellers of merchandise.

Perhaps as important as these specific terms was another collateral agreement arrived at informally. Russians dealing with Chinese officials would not be required to kowtow. These full prostrations involved extending the body in a prone position and knocking one’s head on the floor or ground. The Chinese thus recognized the Russians with a level of equality that was highly unusual, possibly even unprecedented, in the history of the empire. At the same time, however, Russians were banned completely from entering the Manchu homeland, Manchuria.

Significance

The Treaty of Kiakhta marked the first successful border negotiation between China and Russia, setting the tone for the two nations’ relationship for years to come. In 1768, a few supplementary provisions were agreed upon, adjusting the border in places, removing some Russian palisades, and ending the collection of questionable customs by Russian officials. Essentially, however, the Treaty of Kiakhta defined relations between Russia and China for more than one hundred years after it was signed. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the decline of the Qing Dynasty created a change in the underlying balance of power. Russia forced a renegotiation of the border, and it was redefined by the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 as the Amur River itself. The Manchurian homeland was also opened to Russian activity.

Since then, through all the massive turmoil of the Russian and Chinese revolutions in the twentieth century, the border in this area between these two major powers has remained intact. Only during the 1960’s did clashes once again occur. After consolidating his revolution of 1948, Mao Zedong began to agitate politically for the return of territory from the Soviet Union that he felt had been taken unfairly. Tension built until 1969, when a series of incidents involving Damanski Island, in the Ussuri River—an Amur tributary—took the lives of several hundred soldiers on both sides. Considering the general mayhem of the twentieth century, however, the border between China and Russia has remained amazingly quiet. The Treaty of Kiakhta must be considered an outstanding success.

Only the Mongolian people might see things in a different light. They have not enjoyed independence on a tribal or national level since the period when Kiakhta was being negotiated. All their tribes, or banners, have been subsumed into either Russia or China. The last serious resistance ended in 1757, when the Dzungar defied Chinese power and continued trying to build their own empire, including other Mongol tribes and Tibet. The rising Qing Dynasty eliminated them from the ethnic map at that time for their impertinence.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Adshead, S. A. M. China in World History. 3d ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. A general survey of Chinese history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Heissig, Walther. A Lost Civilization: The Mongols Rediscovered. London: Thames and Hudson, 1966. Mongolian history and the history of modern scholarship on Mongolia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Huang Pei. Autocracy at Work: A Study of the Yung-cheng Period, 1723-1735. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1974. Details of general Manchu Empire concerns while the treaty was being negotiated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hughes, Lindsey. Russia in the Age of Peter the Great. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. In-depth biography of the dominant Russian personality of the time.

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