This book is the first analytical treatment in any language of the “most durable ‘sino–foreign’ institution in modern Chinese history.” It traces the beginnings of a Russian-Orthodox presence in Peking several decades back before the commonly held date of its origin. It also shows how the news of the plight of prisoners from the Russian fortress of Albazin (taken by the Ch’ing in 1685) was transmitted back to Russia, and how the indecisiveness of the official Russian response colored the entire subsequent history of the mission. The chapters on the Orthodox missionary life in Peking and on the institutions of the mission provide us with new insight into life in the Ch’ing capital.
The tentative beginnings of Russian scholarly and scientific interest in Chinese matters, an outgrowth of the missionary presence in Peking, are also discussed. The book tackles an especially difficult case, for by ordinary standards the Russian ecclesiastical mission was a failure, not a success. The monks and students were an unruly lot, the mission itself never functioned as a full diplomatic institution, and the Chinese frequently treated the missionaries with neglect or disdain.
Yet, as the author demonstrates, even this apparent failure had a purpose. The mission served to maintain a minimal contact between the two empires throughout a long period of conflicting ambitions and actions in the Inner Asian theater.