How Russian Cossacks grew to become elite troops of the Chinese emperor

The struggle for the Much East

In the center of the 17th century, the Russian and Chinese civilizations, which until finally then only had a pretty obscure strategy of each other, satisfied on the battlefield for the to start with time. It occurred when Cossack detachments achieved the banking companies of the River Amur, which was inhabited by the Daur tribes who compensated tribute to Beijing.

The Qing Empire observed the arrival of the “barbarians from afar” in the land of its tribute-payers as an invasion of its zone of pursuits. Considerable forces of Chinese and Manchus (the Manchu dynasty arrived to the throne of China in 1644) have been despatched to fight the Russians. The major confrontation was above the stockaded settlement of Albazin, which was slowly becoming Russia’s key outpost in its conquest of the Considerably East.

When, in June 1685, a 5,000-solid Qing army approached Albazin, its garrison consisted of only 450 gentlemen. Regardless of their tenfold superiority in manpower and artillery, the Chinese and Manchus were being much inferior to the Cossacks in their degree of beat instruction. The Russians productively held out for a prolonged time, until finally it turned distinct there was no issue in waiting around for outdoors assist.

Siege of Albazin. Chinese painting of the 17th century.

Less than honorable surrender conditions, the Albazin garrison have been allowed to depart and return to their personal side. Nevertheless, the Chinese made available these apprehensive of the extensive and tough journey household to appear more than to the company of the Chinese for a excellent remuneration. Forty-five Cossacks expressed a desire to provide the emperor.

The very best of the finest

It was Emperor Kangxi’s own plan to entice the Russians above to his side. From the quite initially clashes with them he realized that the Russians ended up a harmful and sturdy enemy and it would be complicated to travel them out of the Significantly East. The emperor decided he required fighters like them, so, each time probable, he happily included them into his own military.

This policy led to more than a hundred Russians in total joining the military of the Qing Empire. Some did it of their have no cost will, whilst some others ended up captured as prisoners in navy campaigns and then made the decision to stay in a foreign land. All of them went down in history as ‘Albazinians’ following the premier group of volunteers from the fort on the River Amur.

The Cossacks have been treated with excellent honors. They have been ranked amid the hereditary military class, which was almost at the leading of the social structure in Qing Dynasty China. Only the privileged nobility had been earlier mentioned them.

Emperor Kangxi.

The Albazinians were enrolled in an elite contingent of Qing troops under the immediate command of the Emperor — the so-known as ‘Bordered Yellow Banner’ (there have been eight banners in complete, just about every numbering up to 15,000 soldiers). Inside of the banner, they had their personal “Russian company” — ‘Gudei’.

Apart from the Russians, only aristocratic Manchu youths had been allowed to sign up for the Bordered Yellow Banner guards device. The Chinese ended up barred from it.

A comfortable everyday living

The Albazinians had been showered with privileges: They had been supplied with housing and arable land and received financial payments and rice rations. Those people who had no families (i.e. the greater part) were being specified area Chinese and Manchu ladies — the widows of executed criminals — as wives.

The Chinese did not encroach on the religious religion of their Russian troopers. On the contrary, they permitted the Cossacks to use an aged Buddhist prayer household and transform it into an Orthodox church. Until finally then, the Cossacks had experienced to go to the Chinese capital’s Roman Catholic South Church to pray.

Albazinian liturgy in Beijing in the 19th century.

Orthodox Christianity acquired a foothold in China specifically thanks to the Albazinians and, in particular, Father Maxim Leontiev, who also arrived in Beijing just after the surrender of the Amur fort. As the to start with Orthodox Christian priest in the nation, he performed all divine products and services — baptisms, marriage ceremonies and funeral companies for his fellow believers and participated in all the affairs of the Russian colony in the Chinese capital. “He unveiled the light of Christ’s Orthodox religion to them [the Chinese],” Metropolitan Ignatius of Tobolsk and Siberia wrote about him. 

Continue to, the Cossacks ended up not recruited in buy to guide an idle daily life. There is evidence of their participation in numerous campaigns by Qing troops, in particular from the Western Mongols. Also, Albazinians had been utilized for propaganda applications — to persuade previous compatriots to join the emperor’s result in.


Above time, China and Russia settled their border conflicts and the military and political worth of the “Russian company” in the Bordered Yellow Banner started to diminish. Its responsibilities were being mostly lessened to garrison duties in the cash.

Getting built-in with the community Chinese and Manchu inhabitants, soon after numerous generations the Albazinians missing all their Russianness. Even so, they ongoing to practise the Orthodox faith and usually boasted of their privileged posture. In accordance to Russian travellers who visited Beijing at the conclusion of the 19th century, the Albazinian “in the ethical sense is a parasite residing on handouts at best and a drunk and a cheat at worst”.

Descendants of the Albazinians in 1900.

A really serious ordeal for the Chinese Cossacks was the Boxer Riot of 1900 versus foreign domination and Christianity. Many hundred Albazinians grew to become its victims — but even in the face of demise, they refused to renounce their faith.

Soon after the drop of the Qing Empire in 1912, the descendants of the Cossacks were being pressured to glance for new occupations in daily life. Quite a few of them became police officers, or worked for the Russo-Asiatic Financial institution and the printing push at the Russian Spiritual Mission.

Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, directed against anything foreign in China, dealt one more blow to the Albazinian diaspora. As a final result of persecution, a lot of of its customers were being pressured to renounce their roots.

Nevertheless, even today in modern-day China, there are individuals who regard themselves as the descendants of the Albazin Cossacks — the emperor’s elite troopers. They are not acquainted with the Russian language and it is not possible to distinguish them from the Chinese. On the other hand, they continue to cherish the memory of in which they arrive from.

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