But amongst the most active Foreign Devils that the Manchu dynasty had had to face, let us not forget the Russians.
By the mid-17th century, Western Siberia, Buryatia, and Central Siberia had become Russian provinces. This eastward Russian expansion was followed by many conflicts between Tsarist Russia and Qīng China to control the forested territories washed by the river Amur (Hēilóng Jiāng), over which the Manchu dynasty claimed suzerainty. These conflicts were mostly carried out, on the Russian side, by Cossack units, and their benefits were reaped by Russian trappers and fur traders.
The Treaty of Nerčinsk (1689) established the border between Russia and China along the rivers Argun and Gorbitsa and along the Stanovoy Range. This treaty remained valid until 1858.
In the 1850s, Russia took advantage of the Qīng's woes with the many Chinese rebellions and the many Western European invasions to wrest very interesting 'unequal treaties' from China:
- in 1858 by the Treaty of Àihún, China lost the left bank of the Amur to Russia — over 600,000 square kilometres!
- in 1860 by the Treaty of Běijīng, China ceded parts of Outer Manchuria to the Russian Empire (the territory extending from the confluence of the River Amur with the River Ussuri to Sakhalin Island).
Further west, Central Asia became the focus of Russian interest in the second half of the 19th century. Despite the harsh climate and difficult terrain of the region, Russian troops easily conquered the khanates of Kokand, of Bukhara, and of Khiva [this corresponds to Sogdiana and to Transoxiana on the map on p28 of The Celestial Empire]. This expansion was more like the colonial expansion of the other European powers: Russia would use Central Asian cotton for its manufactures, and local goods would resent from the competition of cheaper Russian imports.
The two empires' areas of control met in Turkestan. The 1851 Treaty of Kulja [伊寧 Yíníng] legalised trade between the two empires in this region.
The Russians took advantage of the chaos brought about by Yakub Beg's rebellion (see p40 of The Celestial Empire) to occupy the city of Kulja in Dzungaria. After General Zuǒ Zōngtáng and his Xiāng Army crushed the rebels, they demanded Russia return the occupied regions. Zuǒ massed Chinese troops toward Russian-occupied Kulja. After a few skirmishes and much diplomatic pressure, Russia retreated from the area in 1881 (Treaty of Saint Petersburg).