Aigun, Treaty of

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The Treaty of Aigun (May 28, 1858) granted the expanding Russian Empire vast new territories in eastern Siberia at the expense of China, which had entered upon a period of decline. In the late 1840s, after more than a century of stable relations with China, governed by the Treaties of Nerchinsk (1689) and Kiakhta (1728), Russia renewed its eastward expansion under the leadership of Nikolai Muraviev, the governor-general of Eastern Siberia, and Count E. V. Putiatin and General Nikolai Ignatiev, both of whom were diplomatic envoys. The three men shared a vision of Russia as a Pacific power, and operated as quasi-independent agents of an imperial state in this era before modern transportation and communications.

In the early 1850s, Russia sent a naval flotilla down the Amur River, established military settlements along its northern bank, and ignored Chinese protests. Focused on suppressing the Taiping rebellion that threatened the dynasty's hold on power, Chinese officials greatly feared Russian military power, the strength of which they overestimated. When they failed to persuade the Russians to withdraw from territories they considered part of their own domain, the Chinese had no choice but to negotiate with Muraviev, who had threatened them with war.

In accordance with Muraviev's demands, the Treaty of Aigun established the Russo-Chinese boundary along the Amur, from the Argun River in the west to the Sea of Okhotsk in the east. Russia was accorded navigation rights on the Amur, Ussuri, and Sungari rivers along with China, but third countries were excluded, as Muraviev feared encroachment by the British Navy. Trade, which had been previously been restricted to one point along the border, was now permitted along its entire length. China viewed the Treaty of Aigun as a temporary concession to Russian military pressure, but Muraviev and St. Petersburg correctly understood it as a giant step in Russia's rise as an Asia-Pacific power.

See also: china, relations with; muraviev, nikita


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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. Boston: George Allen & Unwin.

Tien-fong Cheng. (1973). A History of Sino-Russian Relations. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973.

Steven I. Levine