Before the seventeenth century China had been almost a myth; a legendary giant land in the Far East, barely visited by Europeans, a subject for dreams. But in September, 1689, China must have woken up to her existence in the rapidly developing world, because a treaty was drawn up between her and another mysterious giant – Russia.
During previous centuries, Russia had been mentioned,if she was mentioned at all, by the Mandarins as a kind of vassal state of China, but now trouble was brewing between the two enormous countries, especially on the borders between Tsarist Russia and Quing Dynasty China (q.v.). Russia was expanding across Siberia. By 1642 Russian traders were travelling southwards into the Amur region of Northern Manchuria. Not only that, but the same traders were demanding tribute from Amurian tribes that owed allegiance to the Quing. The Russians even built a large stockade, defended by a garrison, at Albazin on the River Amur, and the ruling Chinese dynasty was perturbed enough to send a siege force there.
Extreme violence was avoided because both great nations were sensible enough to call for a peace settlement, knowing that if they made war on each other, either one side or the other would ally with neighbouring Mongol tribes in the west. This was the very last alliance both China and Russia desired.
Representatives of both nations met at Nerchinsk, a Russian-founded town, and a treaty was made whereby control of the Amur river region was awarded to the Quing Dynasty in return for which Russia would be permitted to send trading caravans to the Chinese capital at Pekin (now Beijing). Though difficult to believe, the Nerchinsk Treaty lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century, when energetic and uncaring Russian expansion in the Amur region led to further territorial concessions being forced out of a generally enfeebled Quing Dynasty.