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China, Relations with


From the mid-nineteenth century to the present, one of the core problems in Russian foreign policy has been how to manage relations with China. A vast Eurasian land power, Russia adjoins China, its giant neighbor to the south, along the sparsely populated territories of eastern Siberia and the Maritime Province. Further to the west, the buffer states of Mongolia and Kazakhstan lie between Russia and China. For most of the past century and a half, Russia enjoyed a significant power advantage visà-vis China in military and economic terms. The world recognized Russia as one of the great powers. Meanwhile, China, weakened by domestic turmoil and foreign imperialism, experienced the successive traumas of dynastic collapse, civil wars, revolution, and radical communism. More recently, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the balance of power between the two countries has shifted in favor of China. In the short term, a diminished post-Communist Russia, shorn of its Central Asian territories as well as its western borderlands, has worked out an amicable relationship with China. In the longer term, however, Russian policymakers, like their tsarist and Soviet predecessors, will continue to confront the question of whether an increasingly powerful China is friend, foe, or changeling.

from the seventeenth century to 1917

Russian-Chinese relations date from the seventeenth century. Russia's eastward expansion at the time was driven by a spirit of adventure, the quest for profits in the fur trade, and the dream of state aggrandizement. Unruly bands of freebooting Cossacks led by Russian adventurers such as Yerofei Khabarov established initial contacts along the Amur River with tribal dependents of China's ruling Qing dynasty. Conflicts that flared up within an as-yet-undefined frontier area came to the attention of Chinese officials, who viewed the Russians as the latest in a long series of armed aggressors from Central Asia. Meanwhile, early Russian diplomatic missions to Beijing, intended to promote commerce and to gauge the strength of the Chinese Empire, ran afoul of China's elaborate court ritual that the Russians neither understood nor respected. The Russian exaction of tribute from tribal peoples whom the Qing considered their dependents, and the encroachment of armed Russian settlements along the Amur, led to military clashes between Russian and Chinese forces in the 1680s. In 1689, the Treaty of Nerchinsk, the first modern international treaty between China and a European country, began to define a boundary between the two empires and established rules for regulating commercial intercourse. The Treaty of Kiakhta in 1728 readjusted the commercial relationship, further defined the border, and granted Russia permission to build an Orthodox church in Beijing, which became the nucleus of Russian sinology. Thereafter, relations stabilized for the next century on the basis of equality, reciprocity, limited commerce, and peace along the border.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Russia seized the opportunity afforded by the decline of the Qing dynasty to expand its eastern territories at China's expense. Its ultimate objective was to bolster its status as a European great power by playing an imperial role in East Asia. Nikolai Muraviev, the governor-general of Eastern Siberia, was the most prominent of the new generation of empire builders who were determined to make Russia a Pacific power. Combining the threat of force with skillful diplomacy and blandishments, Muraviev and his peers imposed upon China the Treaties of Aigun (1858), Peking (1860), and Tarbagatai (1864), which added 665,000 square miles (1,722,342 square kilometers) to the Russian Empire in Central Asia, eastern Siberia, and the Maritime Province. In 1896 Russian officials bribed and bullied China to grant permission to build the Chinese Eastern Railway across Manchuria (Northeast China), to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway with Vladivostok, Russia's major port on the Pacific Ocean. Russian occupation of Manchuria in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, an antiforeign Chinese nativist movement, and growing tension with imperial rival Japan over Manchuria and Korea, led to the Russo-Japanese War and Russia's humiliating defeat. With the Rising Sun ascendant, Russian influence in China was restricted to northern Manchuria and the Central Asian borderlands.

soviet-chinese relations, 19171991

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 had a profound and lasting impact upon Russian-Chinese relations. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1912, China dissolved into civil war and chaos. A small but determined band of revolutionary Chinese intellectuals, disillusioned with Western liberal democracy, discovered in Russian Bolshevism a template for political action. Desiring to revive China and promote revolutionary social transformation, they responded to Bolshevik appeals by organizing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1921 and joining the Communist International (Comintern), which ordered the fledgling CCP into alliance with the Chinese Nationalists led by Sun Yat-sen. Moscow dispatched veteran revolutionary Mikhail Borodin and hundreds of military and political advisers to China in the early 1920s to guide the Chinese revolutionary movement to victory. The Comintern dictated strategy and tactics to the CCP. In 1927, Chiang Kai-shek, Sun Yat-sen's successor, severed his alliance with the CCP, slaughtered tens of thousands of communists, and expelled all the Soviet advisers. The revolutionary project lay in ruins.

Meanwhile, playing a complicated game, Bolshevik Russia and, after 1924, the Soviet Union, successfully maneuvered to retain the imperial gains tsarist Russia had wrested from China in the preceding century. In other words, the Soviet Union simultaneously pursued both statist and revolutionary goals vis-à-vis China. Under its new leader, Mao Zedong, the CCP continued to look toward Moscow for ideological and political guidance while pursuing its own path to power.

On July 7, 1937, Japan's creeping aggression against China escalated into a full-scale war. To deflect the threat of Japanese attack against Siberia and the Maritime Province, the USSR provided Chiang Kai-shek substantial military and financial aid in his lonely war of resistance against Japan. Soviet military advisers were attached to Chiang's armies, and Soviet pilots defended Chinese cities against Japanese attack. In 1941, however, Moscow signed a neutrality treaty with Tokyo, and Soviet aid to China dried up.

The renewed civil war in China (19461949) that followed hard upon victory in World War II culminated in the victory of the Chinese Communist Party and the establishment of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Although suspicious of Mao Zedong, the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin quickly extended diplomatic recognition to the new communist government and, after intensive negotiations, signed a thirty-year Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance on February 14, 1950, with the PRC. Mao Zedong proclaimed that the Soviet Union provided a model of socialism for China to emulate. Thousands of Soviet civilian and military experts flooded into China while tens of thousands of Chinese students studied in the USSR and the East European satellite states.

Within a few years, however, a combination of Soviet high-handedness, Chinese suspicion, and differences over international political strategy eroded the bonds of Sino-Soviet friendship. Beijing challenged Moscow's leadership of international communism, claimed huge chunks of Russian territory, and condemned the USSR as a "social imperialist" state. In 1969, fighting broke out along the contested eastern and central Asian borders, and a large-scale war loomed but did not materialize. The Sino-Soviet Cold War gradually dissipated in the 1980s as new leaders came to power in Moscow

and Beijing. During Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's summit in Beijing in May 1989, the two countries proclaimed a new era of amity.

after the fall

Post-communist Russia suffered a sharp decline in economic and political power just as China was enjoying its greatest period of economic growth that translated into military power and international influence. Yet the two countries soon found common cause in their opposition to the exercise of unilateral American global power. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin in 1996 proclaimed a new Russian-Chinese strategic partnership that was largely rhetorical. By that time the border issue between the two countries had been basically settled, and stability restored to the relationship. However, Russians in eastern Siberia and the Maritime Province objected to an influx of Chinese illegal migrants and traders whose presence, they said, constituted a growing threat to Russia's hold over territories acquired only in the mid-nineteenth century. Levels of Russian-Chinese trade remained quite modest, although Russia became a main supplier of advanced military technology to the newly affluent Chinese who could now afford to pay. Within Russia debate continued over the question of whether China could be trusted as a friendly neighbor or whether growing Chinese power would eventually turn north and seek to reassert dormant historical claims against a weakened Russian state.

In cultural terms, Russian influence upon China peaked in the early to mid-twentieth century, but receded thereafter, leaving very little residue except among the older generation of Chinese who remember the brief era of Sino-Soviet friendship in the 1950s. Chinese influence upon Russian culture is also considerably less than it is in other Western countries, particularly the United States. Racist and condescending attitudes are present on both sides of the relationship along with genuine admiration and understanding of each society's cultural achievements on the part of educated Russian and Chinese elites.

See also: algun treaty of; central asia; cold war; colonial expansion; communist international; far eastern region; japan, relations with; karakhan declaration; nerchinsk, treaty of; siberia; peking, treaty of


Clubb, O. Edmund. (1971). China and Russia: The "Great Game." New York: Columbia University Press.

Mancall, Mark. (1971). Russia and China: Their Diplomatic Relations to 1728. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Paine, S. C. M. (1997). Imperial Rivals: Russia, China, and Their Disputed Frontier. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Quested, Rosemary. (1984). Sino-Russian Relations: A Short History. Sydney: George Allen and Unwin.

Tien-fong Cheng. 1957. A History of Sino-Russian Relations. Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press.

Steven I. Levine

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China, Relations with


CHINA, RELATIONS WITH. America has always been interested in China, but rarely has evidenced much understanding of the Middle Kingdom or of the different ways that the two countries viewed political, economic, and social issues over the years. In 1784 at Canton harbor, the empress of China opened trade between the new United States, now excluded from the European mercantilist system of trade, and China. At that time, China was, for the most part, self-sufficient economically, and America had few goods to offer until the expansion of the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest.

Later, in the aftermath of the Opium War (1839–1842) and the British imposition of the so-called unequal treaty system during the late nineteenth century, the United States sought to increase its presence in China. Americans came, as did Europeans, bringing religion (missionaries), drugs (opium largely from Turkey rather than, as did the British, from India), and warriors (naval forces and marines). In 1844, by the terms of the Treaty of Wanghsia, the Qing rulers of China extended most-favored-nation status to the United States.

In the 1840s, the United States settled the Oregon boundary dispute with Great Britain and defeated Mexico, there by acquiring a long Pacific coastline and several major anchorages. Trade with and interest in China certainly increased, however, the locus of activity shifted eastward. As the British forced open ports north of Canton and as opium continued to devastate South China, many Chinese would emigrate and a goodly number immigrated to North America (the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 helped facilitate such immigration), settling eventually in so-called Chinatowns in Vancouver, San Francisco, and elsewhere. Indeed, the Chinese phrase for San Francisco is "jiu jin shan" or "old gold mountain." As the United States began constructing the transcontinental railway and also began mining the great mineral wealth of the West, many of these immigrants found terrible, dangerous work. As the railroad building boom wound down and as the tempo of mining operations changed and became less labor intensive, the periodic cycle of boom and bust turned to depression. Resistance to Chinese emigration increased greatly and violence sometimes resulted. In response, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, suspending Chinese immigration for ten years and declaring Chinese ineligible for naturalization. It was the only time in American history when such drastic immigration legislation was aimed at excluding a single ethnic group.

The pace of China's disintegration accelerated in the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895, and U.S. Secretary of State John Hay produced the famous "Open Door" notes of 1899 and 1900. The western imperialist powers and Japan moved from Britain's model of informal empire that had dominated much of the mid-nineteenth century to grabbing territory and carving up China. While Hay certainly sought to preserve China for U.S. trade, he also was acting to preserve the idea of China and to help improve the image of the United States in China. The decision to use money from the Boxer Rebellion (1900) indemnity to educate Chinese youth also won favor, especially when compared to the actions of European countries and Japan.

The pace of change accelerated in China during the early twentieth century, as the Qing dynasty collapsed, Sun Yat-sen's Guomindang nationalists temporarily were frustrated by Yuan Shih K'ai, a military dictator, and China began a slow devolution into warlordism. Meanwhile, in 1915, as Europe was locked in mortal combat in World War I, the Japanese minister to China delivered the infamous "21 Demands" to Yuan; had Yuan agreed to them, China would have been made virtually a Japanese protectorate. President Woodrow Wilson helped Yuan by pressing Japan to withdraw the demands and the crisis ended.

Sino-American relations suffered following World War I. Modern Chinese nationalism began with the May Fourth Movement on 4 May 1919, when Chinese students in Beijing and other major cities rallied and were joined by towns people to protest the decision of the major powers to transfer Germany's concession in China to Japan. To China, it was outrageous, while, to President Wilson, it was a price to pay for passage of the Versailles Peace Treaty and to achieve his cherished League of Nations. The Washington Naval Conference (1921–1922) and the various treaties the attending powers signed, promising to respect each other's possessions in the Pacific and calling of an Open Door to China, in the words of historian Akira Iriye, left East Asia in an unstable state. Japan began taking aggressive action—first with the 1928 assassination of Chang Tso-lin, a Manchurian warlord, and then with the Mukden Incident in September 1931 and the takeover of this large and resource rich part of northeastern China. President Herbert Hoover and his secretary of state, Henry Stimson, would not intervene during these beginning years of the Great Depression but they engaged in a kind of moral diplomacy. During the 1930s, as Japan began expanding first into the Chinese provinces adjoining Manchuria, later crossing the Great Wall, and finally engaging in a more general war against the Nationalist government, President Franklin Roosevelt secretly supported the Chinese. Roosevelt ultimately began imposing sanctions on Japan, both to halt its aggression and to force it out of China.

After World War II (1939–1945), the United States became caught up in the Chinese civil war between the Nationalists and the communists, which had begun nearly two decades before. American marines went to North China to help accept the surrender of some 500,000 Japanese troops and found themselves defending communications and transportation as Nationalist leader Jiang Jieshr moved his best troops from southwest China to Manchuria. Communist leader Mao Zedong and his communist guerrillas, however, first won an overwhelming victory in Manchuria and later secured north China, crossed the wide Yangtze River and, in 1949, forced Jiang to flee the mainland for the island redoubt of Taiwan.

Conflict next broke out in Korea in 1950, which soon widened into a fight between the United States and the new and communist People's Republic of China. As the Korean War dragged on until 1953, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy began searching for communists in the State Department and other government agencies, while some politicians questioned "who lost China" and a witchhunt began. Thereafter, in the wars breaking out in Indochina, the French received increased support from the United States while the Viet Minh received support from communist China. The Geneva Conference of 1954 brought a temporary halt to the fighting, but it resumed several years later, and President John Kennedy, convinced by the so-called domino theory (that if communists were permitted to take over Vietnam all Asia would eventually fall to communism), expanded the U.S. presence. When President Lyndon Johnson ordered large numbers of troops to South Vietnam beginning in 1964, he did so in part because he believed that the Chinese communist rulers needed to be contained.

In the summer of 1971 President Richard Nixon announced that he would travel to China early in 1972. In February, Nixon flew to Shanghai, then traveled to Beijing and met with both Premier Zhou Enlai and communist leader Mao Zedong. The visit benefited both the United States, which was seeking to balance Soviet expansionism and reduce its involvement in Vietnam, and China, which was concerned about the possibility of a Soviet preemptive military strike within its borders.

Since Nixon's visit, tens of thousands of Americans have visited China, and many thousands of Chinese have come to the United States to study and to work. Trade has increased, especially if the goods made in China and transshipped through Hong Kong are considered. Nevertheless, great points of stress still exist in the Sino-American relationship. Taiwan remains a source of tension, for Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait believe there is only one China, while the United States continues to support, in a fashion, a separate Republic of China situated on Taiwan. Another source of tension is that China does not always honor patent and copyright regulations and enjoys a huge balance of trade surplus with America while restricting American imports into the mainland. The Chinese crackdown on young people gathered in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 also upset the United States, although China viewed it as an internal matter. In addition, for many years, China sold arms to various groups that threatened the stability around the world and, often, American interests. In the aftermath of 11 September 2001, there appeared to be more concurrence in Sino-American thought on the threat of radical Islamic-based terrorism. The United States is currently the world's preeminent superpower, while China is the emerging power in eastern Asia; the relationship will have to continue to mature and develop.


Anderson, David L. Imperialism and Idealism: American Diplomats in China, 1861–1898. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.

Cohen, Warren I. America's Response to China: A History of Sino-American Relations. 4th ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Davis, Elizabeth Van Wie, ed. Chinese Perspectives on Sino-American Relations, 1950–2000. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edward Mellen Press, 2000.

Fairbank, John King. The United States and China. 4th ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Foot, Rosemary. The Practice of Power: U.S. Relations with China since 1949. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Ross, Robert S., and Jiang Changbin, eds. Re-examining the Cold War: U.S.–China Diplomacy, 1954–1973. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Van Alstyne, Richard W. The United States and East Asia. London: Thames and Hudson, 1973.

Young, Marilyn. The Rhetoric of Empire: American China Policy, 1895–1901. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968.

Charles M.Dobbs

See alsoChina, U.S. Armed Forces in ; China Trade ; Chinese Americans .

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China, relations with

China, relations with. Direct British trading contacts with China began in 1637, and were soon followed by a considerable artistic and cultural interest in the world's longest-established civilization. Difficulties in finding suitable exports to China, coupled with the problem of dealing with an empire which acknowledged no equals in the world, led to the first China (Opium) War in 1839–42. A British victory was rewarded with many privileges in five ‘treaty’ ports (a number later much increased), and by the acquisition of Hong Kong. Further differences precipitated the second China War when the Chinese were finally forced (1860) to conform to western ideas of diplomatic practice. The British thereafter had no wish to see China weakened further since they already enjoyed the lion's share of trade and investment. Competition for trade and concessions increased in the 1890s, and Britain participated in an international force to raise the siege of the legations in Peking by the Boxers (1900). In the 1920s and 1930s Chinese nationalism was strong enough to persuade the Foreign Office to start the renegotiation of the unequal treaties. On the other hand, from 1931 Britain was unable to assist China against growing Japanese pressure, while victory in 1945 temporarily made the USA the leading outside power in Chinese affairs. Britain, unlike the USA, recognized the new communist regime which came to power in China in 1949, and tried to moderate American policy towards Peking during and after the Korean War (1950–3). China insisted on the return of Hong Kong when the lease expired in 1997, and firmly opposed British efforts in 1993–4 to extend democracy in the colony.

C. J. Bartlett

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