Spies and Scholars: Chinese Secrets and Imperial Russia's Quest for World Power (Hardback)Gregory Afinogenov (author)
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The untold story of how Russian espionage in imperial China shaped the emergence of the Russian Empire as a global power.
From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire made concerted efforts to collect information about China. It bribed Chinese porcelain-makers to give up trade secrets, sent Buddhist monks to Mongolia on intelligence-gathering missions, and trained students at its Orthodox mission in Beijing to spy on their hosts. From diplomatic offices to guard posts on the Chinese frontier, Russians were producing knowledge everywhere, not only at elite institutions like the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. But that information was secret, not destined for wide circulation.
Gregory Afinogenov distinguishes between the kinds of knowledge Russia sought over the years and argues that they changed with the shifting aims of the state and its perceived place in the world. In the seventeenth century, Russian bureaucrats were focused on China and the forbidding Siberian frontier. They relied more on spies, including Jesuit scholars stationed in China. In the early nineteenth century, the geopolitical challenge shifted to Europe: rivalry with Britain drove the Russians to stake their prestige on public-facing intellectual work, and knowledge of the East was embedded in the academy. None of these institutional configurations was especially effective in delivering strategic or commercial advantages. But various knowledge regimes did have their consequences. Knowledge filtered through Russian espionage and publication found its way to Europe, informing the encounter between China and Western empires.
Based on extensive archival research in Russia and beyond, Spies and Scholars breaks down long-accepted assumptions about the connection between knowledge regimes and imperial power and excavates an intellectual legacy largely neglected by historians.
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Number of pages: 384
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm
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
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
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