Treaty of Nerchinsk Draws Russian-Chinese Border

The Treaty of Nerchinsk ended several decades of military confrontation between Russia and China on the Amur River and established a border and trade relations between the two countries. The treaty was China’s first agreement with a European power.

Summary of Event

In Manchuria in the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Tungusic-speaking Juchen tribes (called Manchus Manchus after 1636) were united into the Later Jin state by a warlord named Nurhaci Nurhaci . The Juchen economy at the time was based largely upon fur trade with the tribes of the Amur River region. With the weakening of the Chinese Ming Dynasty, the Juchens began to play a mediating role between the peoples of the Amur region and the Chinese fur market. Gradually, the Juchens extended their influence on the Sungari River and the Middle Amur. Other Tungusic-speaking tribes, the Duichers Duichers and Daurs Daurs , were subdued in the 1630’s and paid them tribute in furs. However, not only furs attracted the Manchus’ attention to the region: Subdued tribes were forcibly mobilized and included in the Eight Banner system Eight Banner system , the Manchu military first instituted by Nurhaci. The Manchus conquered northern China, and in 1644 their troops entered Beijing, instituting the Manchu Qing Dynasty Qing Dynasty (Ch’ing, 1644-1911) . [kw]Treaty of Nerchinsk Draws Russian-Chinese Border (Aug. 29, 1689)
[kw]Chinese Border, Treaty of Nerchinsk Draws Russian- (Aug. 29, 1689)
[kw]Russian-Chinese Border, Treaty of Nerchinsk Draws (Aug. 29, 1689)
[kw]Nerchinsk Draws Russian-Chinese Border, Treaty of (Aug. 29, 1689)
Diplomacy and international relations;Aug. 29, 1689: Treaty of Nerchinsk Draws Russian-Chinese Border[2950]
Expansion and land acquisition;Aug. 29, 1689: Treaty of Nerchinsk Draws Russian-Chinese Border[2950]
Russia;Aug. 29, 1689: Treaty of Nerchinsk Draws Russian-Chinese Border[2950]
China;Aug. 29, 1689: Treaty of Nerchinsk Draws Russian-Chinese Border[2950]
Nerchinsk, Treaty of (1689)
Russia;conflicts with China
China;conflicts with Russia
Golovin, Fyodor Alekseyevich
Poyarkov, Vasily
Khabarov, Yerofey

Meanwhile, the nascent Russian peoples were beginning to push east. The conquest of the Siberian Khanate, one of the remnants of the Golden Horde, at the end of the sixteenth century opened the way for Russia to colonize Siberia Siberia , and Russian explorers, traders, and Cossack troops advanced into eastern Siberia, through the weakly populated but fur-rich taiga and tundra regions. The lucrative fur trade was a basic impetus of early Siberian colonization. In 1632, the town of Yakutsk Yakutsk was founded on the Lena River, and it soon became the base of Russian expansion on the Amur River and to the Pacific Ocean. The indigenous peoples of Siberia paid to the Russians a tribute in furs referred to as a yasak.

In the middle of the seventeenth century, some Russian pioneers attempted to annex the Amur region in order to develop it economically. The region, however, was inhabited by tribes related to the Manchus. In 1644, the first Russian Cossacks Cossacks , under Vasily Poyarkov, Poyarkov, Vasily descended the Amur, bringing back news of the “great river Amur,” inhabited by flourishing agricultural tribes, where cattle and abundant stocks of sable were to be found. The Cossacks were the first Europeans to reach and descend the Amur River. In 1649, Yerofey Khabarov, Khabarov, Yerofey a trader and adventurer, recruited a band of Cossacks and appeared at the Amur River, burning to ashes villages down the river and killing hundreds of local people.

On the banks of the Amur, the Russians encountered not only desperate resistance by indigenous peoples but also punitive Chinese military expeditions, which had been sent to eliminate the “unknown Amur tribe” (as the local Manchu authorities first referred to the Russians). The Qing considered the appearance of Russians in the Amur region a threat to their own fur revenues, as well as their sovereign territory, and they decided to use scorched-earth tactics in response: In order to deprive the Russian expeditions of their food supply and tributary population, they removed practically all inhabitants of the middle Amur, far inland of Manchuria. For nearly four decades, the Amur Valley became the stage for a series of armed collisions between the Russians and the Manchu rulers of China.

Enlarging the sphere of their influence in the Amur region, the Russians at the same time undertook a number of steps toward the establishment of official relations with China: From the 1650’s through the 1670’, several diplomatic and commercial missions were dispatched to Beijing. The main purpose of these missions was to open regularized, state-controlled trade between China and Russian. In contrast to the Qing, during the diplomatic negotiations Russian representatives did not press toward the stabilization of the situation in the Amur region. They wished to leave open the possibility of further extending Russian influence in the area.

The Chinese emperor, Kangxi Kangxi , eventually became dissatisfied with diplomatic efforts to solve the Amur question. Diplomacy, he believed, was also failing to yield results in a number of other areas, including the problem of the return of Duarian Prince Gantimur Gantimur , who had defected with his people to the Russians. Kangxi therefore decided to exclude the Russians from the upper Amur region by force. After suppressing the revolt of the Three Feudatories Three Feudatories, Rebellion of the (1673-1681) in 1681, the Qing concentrated their forces against Russia.

In 1682-1683, Chinese troops annihilated Russian settlements in the basin of the Zeia and Selemja Rivers; at the same time, preparations for an attack on the Russian fort of Albazin began. The siege of the fort and its 450 defenders by the 15,000-man Manchu army began on June 12, 1685. After one month’s siege, the Manchus forced the Cossacks into an honorable surrender. However, by autumn the settlers had already restored the fort, to the Manchus’ complete surprise. The second siege of the fort, in which one thousand defenders resisted eleven thousand Manchus, continued until the signing of the Treaty of Nerchinsk. The number of defenders had decreased from one thousand to sixty-six people, including children, by spring of the following year. The Manchus suffered enormous losses as well.

Facing further escalation of military conflict on the Amur, Princess Sophia’s Sophia government finally decided to bring the Amur question to the negotiation table. Fyodor Alekseyevich Golovin Golovin, Fyodor Alekseyevich was appointed the great and plenipotentiary ambassador for the negotiation of a peaceful settlement with the Qing. The Russian-Qing negotiations started in Nerchinsk (a Russian fort on the Nercha River, founded in 1653) on August 12, 1689. In spite of the fact that the Qing’s great ambassador Prince Suoetu Suoetu arrived in Nerchinsk at the head of an imposing fifteen thousand-man army in forty-seven ships (Golovin had about two thousand men), on the whole the circumstances were favorable to the Russian party, since in June of the same year Russia’s ally, the khan of Dzungaria Galdan Galdan , had crushed the Qing’s allies, the Khalkha Mongols.

The signing of the treaty took place two weeks later, on August 29. Territorial demarcation between Russia and China was determined in the first and second articles; a border was established along the Argun and Gorbitsa Rivers and the Stanovoi Range toward the Sea of Okhotsk. Some territories in the basin of the Uda River in the eastern frontier remained undefined. Thus, Russia agreed to significant territorial concessions: 600,000 square miles (1.5 million square kilometers) of the Amur region became part of the Qing Empire. According to the third article, the fort of Albazin had to be destroyed, and the Russians were excluded from the Amur. The fourth article determined the conditions of mutual extradition of defectors; the article had no retroactive effect, so Gantimur and his peoples remained in Russia. While making some territorial concessions, Russia at the same time could achieve one aim it had held for many decades, the establishment of permanent diplomatic relations and trade connections with China (articles 5 and 6).

Thus, the Treaty of Nerchinsk concluded several decades of military confrontation between Russia and the Qing. It differentiated the spheres of influence of Russia and the Qing and promoted a normalization of the relations between the two countries and the establishment of trade relations.


The Treaty of Nerchinsk was a result of compromises on both sides and therefore reflected the interests of both China and Russia. It constituted China’s first agreement with a European power. Concluded on an equal basis, it regulated the relations between the two countries until 1858, when the Aigun Treaty superceded it.

In Nerchinsk, the Qing succeeded not only in obtaining a buffer zone with Russia (the Amur region) but also acquired a powerful lever in further dealings with Russia by assuming control of caravan trade. The treaty considerably strengthened the geopolitical position of China in Central Asia, since it guaranteed Russia’s neutrality in China’s war with Dzungaria, and as a result, Galdan Khan was finally defeated in 1696. The treaty completed the formation of a Chinese system of “nominal vassalage,” in which some peoples of the Lower Amur and Sakhalin recognized their vassal dependence upon the Qing and obtained the formal status of provincial nations.

The treaty opened the door to China for Russian trade caravans and brought to Russia immediate mercantile benefits. At the time it was signed, then, it was advantageous to the Russian government, but in the long term, the treaty critically hampered the development of Siberia and the Russian Far East for the next 160 years, as Russia lost easy access to the Pacific via the Amur. Russia’s efforts to regain access to the Amur without harming its trade relationship with China determined the duality and inactivity of Russian policy in the Far East up to the middle of the nineteenth century.

Further Reading

  • Chen, Vincent. Sino-Russian Relations in the Seventeenth Century. The Hague, the Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966. Detailed description of Sino-Russian relations based on Chinese and Russian historical sources.
  • Evans, John L. Russian Expansion on the Amur, 1848-1860: The Push to the Pacific. New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999. A detailed overview of the Russian expansion on the Pacific Ocean and especially the occupation of the Amur River Valley; chapter 1 focuses on the Treaty of Nerchinsk and Sino-Russian relations in the seventeenth century.
  • Stephan, John J. The Russian Far East: A History. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994. The first comprehensive history of the Russian Far East in English. Part One is useful in explaining the historical context of the Treaty of Nerchinsk. Maps.

Rise of the Manchus

Russians Reach the Pacific Ocean

End of the Ming Dynasty

Manchus Take Beijing

Height of Qing Dynasty

Rebellion of the Three Feudatories

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