This article examines the roles of Mongolian monasteries and lamas in transportation between the Qing Chinese (1636–1911) and Russian Romanov (1613–1917) empires during the latter half of the nineteenth century. A series of treaties between 1858 and 1882 granted Russian subjects the right to trade in Mongolian territories under Qing sovereignty, and the resultant increase of Russian trade across Mongolia provided new wage-earning opportunities. Larger monasteries, with their access to pack animals and laborers, acted as brokers, while for poorer lamas haulage was one of the few sources of paid labor available in Mongolian territories, making working in transportation a strategy of survival for many Mongolian lamas. Mongolian porters provide a window on to how the broad processes of nineteenth-century imperialism in the Qing empire affected labor on the Sino–Russian frontier, and on to how imperialism was experienced in one of the most remote corners of the Qing empire.
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