Cover: Spies and Scholars: Chinese Secrets and Imperial Russia’s Quest for World Power, from Harvard University PressCover: Spies and Scholars in HARDCOVER

Spies and Scholars

Chinese Secrets and Imperial Russia’s Quest for World Power

Product Details


$47.00 • £40.95 • €42.95

ISBN 9780674241855

Publication Date: 04/14/2020


384 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

6 photos, 13 maps

Belknap Press


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Jacket: Spies and Scholars

PAPERBACK | $35.00

ISBN 9780674294035


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The history of Sino–Russian relations appears in a much-altered light thanks to Gregory Afinogenov’s impressive new book. From the mid-17th century, the Tsarist empire outdid all other European powers in gathering political, industrial, and commercial intelligence about China under the Qing dynasty. It is a little-known story, and the Georgetown University scholar tells it beautifully.—Tony Barber, Financial Times

Long before Chinese attempts to pilfer U.S. technologies, the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) was the target of espionage by Western powers eager to probe its boundaries and discover the secrets of its crafts. As Gregory Afinogenov traces in this vivid account, Russia—which frequently traded and clashed with the Qing—was one of the main players in this early great game as it sought the status of a global power.—James Palmer, Foreign Policy

Superb… At once a history of science, of empire, and of espionage, the book traces the rise of the Russian empire as a putative rival to Qing dynasty China in the Far East. Afinogenov has chosen a genuinely compelling cast of characters to populate this story of imperial intrigue… A vividly written, entertaining, and skillfully researched history of information in motion.—Benjamin Breen, New Rambler

A stimulating study of Russian intelligence about and against Qing China… As ambitious in its scope as it is rigorous in its analysis of primary sources, Spies and Scholars investigates the transformation of Russian knowledge about China.—Camille Neufville, Ab Imperio

Details three centuries of Russian attempts to pry information out of China, from the secrets of porcelain-making to Qing policies and inclinations… Afinogenov is a clear writer with a penchant for the interesting story and arresting personality… His focus on information and the people that were involved in gathering it provides a surprisingly effective lense through which to view the history Sino–Russian relations.—Peter Gordon, Asian Review of Books

Draws on never-before-seen material from Russian archives… Afinogenov’s research shows that Russian intelligence on China was highly coveted in Europe, granting Moscow greater prestige among European powers.—Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Axios

A fresh story of the multiple, disjointed, and often secretive aims of an imperial impulse as it penetrated different sections of the Russian–Chinese borderlands.—Alfred J. Rieber, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

Reads like a detective novel… Afinogenov has written a tour de force that offers new information about the rise of empires and the globalization of the world in the early modern period of history. It should be widely read.—John W. Steinberg, Journal of Jesuit Studies

A wonderful book—wide-ranging, creative, richly researched, engagingly written—on a topic general readers will be thrilled to discover and specialists will be stimulated to rethink in new ways. Spies and Scholars is a major contribution to the study of Russia’s relations with China and the history of Russia’s place in the world during the early imperial era.—Willard Sunderland, author of The Baron’s Cloak: A History of the Russian Empire in War and Revolution

An impressive work on multiple levels. Spies and Scholars combines diplomatic history and history of knowledge while focusing on a relationship and period—between the Qing Empire in China and the Romanov Empire in Russia during the eighteenth century—that has not yet received the attention it deserves. One is stunned by how significant the Russian conduit is for most European knowledge about the Chinese at the time. Afinogenov writes engagingly and the book is, in many places, a page-turner.—Michael Gordin, author of Scientific Babel: How Science Was Done Before and After Global English

An outstanding study of imperial Russia’s centuries-long effort to gather intelligence about Qing China. Under Afinogenov’s shrewd gaze, opaque institutions resolve into a galaxy of remarkably colorful characters—diligent scholars and posturing grifters; pious missionaries and their depraved brethren; scheming careerists and timeserving burnouts. The dramatic, crisply paced narrative rests on a foundation of pathbreaking archival research and deep erudition. Essential reading for anyone interested in the worlds of information and imperial knowledge in Russia, China, or Europe.—Matthew Mosca, author of From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy: The Question of India and the Transformation of Geopolitics in Qing China

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