Global Studies Institute, University of Geneva
On 4 December 1675 (14 December in the Gregorian calendar), gunshots were fired into the air from the fortress of Nerchinsk. A conspicuous group of Cossacks had been approaching the fortress and they immediately answered the salute. It was a signal for the arrival of a special traveller, who had been sent by Tsar Alexis I to lead a Russian embassy to the court of the Chinese Emperor. This special envoy was the Moldavian literary man Nicolae Milescu Spătaru, known in Russia as Nikolai Spatharii or Spafarii, who had taken up service as a diplomat of the Tsar a few years before.
Spătaru was not the first envoy whom Moscow had sent to Beijing to discuss the settlement of the border between Russia and China, but he was the first to take the internal Siberian route from Moscow to China. He was also the first to provide the tsarist court with a fairly detailed, though sometimes imprecise, description of the geography of the Russian imperial possessions east of the Urals, which was published as Journey through Siberia from Tobol’sk to Nerchinsk and the Chinese Border (see photo above). However, scientific exploration was not the primary goal of the expedition. As the Cossacks had only recently pushed down to the Amur valley, the border situation was unstable, but the Russians hoped to secure both a good strategic position on the Amur and a stable trade route to China. This would have meant reopening a sort of Russian-branded Silk Road, almost 300 years after the collapse of the one that had accompanied the pax mongolica between the 13th and 14th centuries. Continue reading “Memory Erasure of Trans-Imperial History in the City of Nerchinsk”