The ways in which states and empires spy on and study one another has changed a great deal over time in line with shifting political priorities, written traditions and technologies. Even on this highly diverse global background, however, the long process of licit and illicit familiarization between Russia and China as Eurasian neighbours is a particularly compelling story, one told in engrossing detail in Gregory Afinogenov’s Spies and Scholars: Chinese Secrets and Imperial Russia’s Quest for World Power
(Harvard University Press, 2020).
Moving from the first engagements between seventeenth-century Muscovy and the Qing imperium, through the reformist era of Peter the Great, and up to nineteenth-century Russian annexation of late-Qing territory, the author tells dozens of richly-sourced tales of envoys, agents and missionaries and the worlds of information they wove.
As well as making us look in new ways at how knowledge is authored and acted upon politically, Spies and Scholars
is a trove of insights into the centuries-long entanglements which have shaped Sino-Russian relationships up to the present.
is Assistant Professor of Imperial Russian History at Georgetown University and Associate Editor at Kritika
, the leading journal of Russian and Eurasian history.
Ed Pulford is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.