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Inner Asian Frontiers: Chinese and Russian Margins of Expansion*

  • Owen Lattimore (a1)

The American tradition emphasizes the importance of sea power, especially the great age of sea power which began with Columbus and led first to the expansion of Spain and Portugal and then to the empire building of England, Holland, and France, and the development of North America. In America itself we are also familiar with the epic march across the continent to the Pacific, and the way in which the expanding frontier shaped, or at least strongly influenced, our society and our institutions, as expounded by Turner. Even our continental history, however, was initiated by the crossing of the Atlantic; and from then on even our period of most active continental expansion was never free of the influences and effects of sea power, sea-borne commerce, the investment of European capital, and acceleration of population growth by the immigration of Europeans.

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1 Turner, Frederic Jackson, The Frontier in American History (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920).

2 Within twenty years before and twenty years after the year 1600 the following events, among others, mark the beginning of the “convergence” of world history: defeat of the Spanish Armada; founding of the various East India companies; beginning of the Cossack conquest of Siberia and of the Manchu conquest of China; Tokugawa Shogunate in Japan; founding of Quebec in Canada and of Plymouth in New England.

3 See the introductory remarks in Lattimore, Owen, “The Outer Mongolian Horizon,” Foreign Aiffairs, XXIV (July 1946).

4 It is indeed a traditional Russian view that under the “Tatar yoke” of the Mongol conquest, beginning in the thirteenth century, the culture of Kiev was, “obliterated” and the spread of the tradition derived from Byzantium abruptly terminated. The contemporary Russian, view, however, is not so extreme. See the Soviet school text, Istoriya SSSk (History of the USSR), ed. Pankratova, A. M. (Moscow: Uchpedgiz, 1941), I, 7680. Here Marx (rather than a Russian source) is cited for the statement that “the Tatar yoke did not merely oppress, but outraged and withered the very soul of the people”; but on the other hand the point is made that the feudal nobles and the Orthodox clergy (who were of course bearers of what was left of the “higher” culture of Kiev and the Byzantine tradition), managed to save something for themselves by integrating themselves into the governing and tribute-collecting system of the Mongol Khans of the Golden Horde.

5 For a summary of pre-Mongol conquests on the Asiatic frontier of Russia, see Vernadsky, George V., A History of Russia (revised ed.; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930). Even better is a book published by the same author in Germany: Vernadskii, G. V., Opyt Istorii Evarzii (A Sketch of the History of Eurasia) (Berlin: Izdanie Evraziitsev, 1934).

6 A subsidiary question, as yet insufficiently investigated, is undernourishment complicated or aggravated by vitamin and mineral deficiency. In China, calcium is deficient in prevailing diets, and manganese may also be deficient. See Adolph, William H., ”Nutrition Research in China,” in Journal of the American Dietetic Association, XXII (November 1946), No. 11.

7 An exception is the Liao, flowing from the southeastern corner of Inner Mongolia and falling into the sea at a point outside of the Great Wall and therefore outside of what was long considered China proper. The lower course of the Liao nourished an agriculture which made that part of Manchuria, from neolithic times, a part of the Chinese culture complex, not the steppe culture complex. The Liao did not support a large area of irrigated agriculture, but cheap barge transport on the lower Liao, linked with cheap transport across the sea to the Shantung Peninsula, brought the grain of this region within economic range of the Chinese market. At the same time, however, the Liao enclave lay within closer strategic reach of the steppe than of China; therefore it was intermittently tributary to the steppe.

8 Mänchen-Helfen, O., Reise ins asiatische Tuwa (Berlin: Bücherkreis, 1931), pp. 3847, points out that the forest hunters of Urianghai are the only reindeer users who both regularly trap wild deer to cross with the deer in their herds and do not castrate their deer. Both points are important in suggesting the relative ease, for a very primitive people, of domesticating the reindeer.

9 See, for example, Pumpelly, Raphael and others, Exploration in Turkestan; Expedition of 1904. Prehistoric Civilizations of Anau; Origins, Growth, and Influence of Environment (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution, 1908), 2 vols.

10 In the terminology of the social sciences, there is frequently confusion in the description of “migratory” societies and “nomadic” societies. The term “nomadic” is here used of societies which are mobile because they control, and at the same time depend on, the movement of flocks and herds of domesticated animals. Compare the Greek words νέμω “to deal out; to dispense; to tend flocks,” and νομός “a pasture; an allotted or assigned abode; a usage, custom, law, ordinance.” A curiosity of cultural history is the wandering of the Greek root of these words, along the currents of the religious dispersals of the early Middle Ages, to the nomads of Mongolia, among whom it is used to this day in the form nom, “law, doctrine; religious text.”

11 “Qu'il ait existé des nomades se suffisant, exdusivement, avec la chair, le lait et le poil de leurs troupeaux, c'est possible; mais on n'en a jamais vu de semblables dans les temps historiques.”—Cahun, Léon, Introduction à I'histoire de l'Asie. Turcs et Mongols, des origines à 1405 (Paris: A. Colin, 1896), pp. 4950.

12 An important advance is marked by a recent Russian article: S. Yushkov, “K voprosu o dofeodal'nom (‘varvarskom’) gosudarstve” (On the Question of the Pre-Feudal [‘Barbarian’] State), in Voprosy Istorii (Questions of History), No. 7, 1946. This article is a penetrating comparative study of the rise of feudalism out of three different kinds of prefeudal society; that of the Kievan state of the ninth and tenth centuries; that of the pre-Chingghis Mongols, before the thirteenth century; and that cf the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the sixth to the ninth centuries. A weakness of the discussion of Mongol society in this article, however, is that it relies mainly on the late Vladimirtsov, B. Ya., Obshchestvennyi stroi mongolov: Mongol'skii kochevoi feodalizm (Social Structure of the Mongols: Mongol Nomad Feudalism) (Leningrad: Akademiya Nauk, 1934); although the equally learned and more recent work of Kozin, S. A. is also cited— Sokrovcnnoe skazanie (The Secret Legend) (Moscow-Leningrad: Akademiya Nauk, 1941). Kozin's work, the first of three projected volumes,, is a magnificant restoration, alphabetic transcription, and translation of the text of the Monggol-un nigucha tobchiyan, or Yuan Ch'ao Mi Shih, or Secret History of the Mongols, of the thirteenth century. Unfortunately both Vladimirtsov and Közin do not sufficiently emphasize the cyclical, rise-and-fall relation between successive “nomadic feudalisms” in the Mongolian steppe and successive agrarian-based dynasties in China, and their underemphasis reappears in Yushkov's otherwise brilliant comparative study as an underlying inadequacy of documentation.

13 For the importance of rivers and portages, see Kcrner, Robert J., The Urge to the Sea; The Course of Russian History. The Role of Rivers, Portages, Ostrogs, Monasteries, and Furs (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1942).

14 As a partial but important exception, it should be noted that there appears to have been an early but strong tendency, reminiscent of the Great Wall of China, to fortify with long walls the Kerch Peninsula in the Crimea and the Tarnan Peninsula opposite to it, across the “Cimmerian Bosporus” or Straits of Kerch. From the small-scale “Great Walls” are derived the old name Crim Tartary and the modern name Crimea—from the Mongol word kerem, “a wall.”

15 For general reference, see Minns, Ellis H., Scythians and Greeks (Cambridge: The University Press, 1913); Rostovtzeff, M., Iranians and Greeks in South Russia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922); also for the period from the sixth century onward, Vernadskii, Opyt lstorii Evrazii.

16 Kerner, The Urge to the Sea.

17 For the impact of the Cossacks on the Manchus and the Mongols, see ). Baddeley, J. F., Russia, Mongolia, China (London: Macmillan and Company, 1919). There is also a great wealth of modern Russian literature containing material on tile earlier and later Russian contacts with the Siberian tribal peoples, the effects of the yassak or fur tribute on tribal structure and colonial administration, etc. Only a few titles have been accessible to me, including, for the Yakuts, Tokarev, S. A., Ocherk. istorii yakuttkpgo naroda (Sketch of the History of the Yakut People) (Moscow: Ogiz Sotsekgiz, 1940); Okladnikov, A. P., Istoricheskii put narodov yakutii (Historical Path of the Peoples of Yukutia) (Yakutsk: Yakutskaya Gosudarstvennaya Tipografiya, 1943); for the Mongols, Buryat, Okladnikov, A. P., Ocherkf iz istorii zapadnykh buryat-mongolov (Sketches of the History of the Western Buryat Mongols) (Leningrad: Ogiz Sotsekgiz, 1937); Pomus, M. I., Buryat mongol'skaya ASSR (The Buryat Mongolian Associate Soviet Socialist Republic) (Moscow: Ogiz Sotsekgiz, 1937); Kudryavtsev, F. A., Istoriya buryat-mongol'skpgo naroda (History of the Buryat Mongolian People) (Moscow and Leningrad: Akademiya Nauk, 1940)—Buryat Mongol chronicles, the first two tides having Mongol text and Russian introductions, the third title having Mongol text and Russian introduction, translation, and textual notes; Letopisi khorinskkikh buryat (Chronicles of the Khorin Buryats) No. 1, ed. Poppe, N. N., No. 2, ed. V. A. Kazakevich (Moscow and Leningrad: Akademiya Nauk, 1935); Letopis' barguzinskikh buryat (The Chronicle of the Barguzin Buryats), ed. Vostrikov, A. I. and Poppe, N. N. (Moscow and Leningrad: Akademiya Nauk, 1935).

18 For Siberia, Western, Potapov, A. P., Ocherki po istorii Shorii (Sketches of the History of Shoria) (Moscow and Leningrad: Akademiya Nauk, 1936); for Kazakhstan, , Materialy poistorii kasakhskoi SSR (Materials for the History of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic), ed. Vyaykin, M. P., Vol. IV—only volume accessible to me, dealing with the years 1785–1828—(Moscow and Leningrad: Akademiya Nauk, 1940); for Turkmenistan, , Materialy po istorii turfmen i Turkmenii (Materials for the History of the Turkmens and Turkmenia), Vol. II (the first published), ed. Struve, V. V., Borovkov, A. K., Romaskevich, A. A., Ivanov, P. P., Vol. I, ed. S. L. Volin, A. A. Romaskevich, A. Yu. Yakubovskii (Moscow and Leningrad: Akademiya Nauk, 1938 and 1939). For a good short description of Central Asian empire building involving the mastery of nomadic, agriculture, and urban populations, see Yakubovskii, A., “Timur, opyt kratkoi kharakteristiki” (Timur, An Essay in Brief Characterization) in Voprosy Istorii (Questions of History), No. 8–9 (combined issue, Moscow, 1946).

19 Schuyler, Eugene, Turkistan: Notes of a Journey in Russian Tunisian, Khokand, Bukhara, and Kuldja (Ist ed.; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1876). The third (enlarged) edition (1885) is an American classic of the definitive Tsarist conquests in Central Asia toward the end of the nineteenth century.

20 See the forthcoming volume, Liao, by Karl A. Wittfogel and Fêng Chiashêng, in the projected series, “History of Chinese Society,” under the general editorship of Karl A. Wittfogel. The General Introduction to the Liao volume, by Wittfogel, has already been published in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, XXXVI.

21 General references: Lattimore, Owen, Manchuria: Cradle of Conflict (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1932); The Mongols of Manchuria (New York: John Day Company, 1934); Inner Asian Frontiers of China (New York: American Geographical Society, 1940); Michael, Franz, The Origin of Manchu Rule in China (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1942).

22 In B.C. 33 the Khan of the southern tribes of the Hsiungnu offered to make himself responsible for the western sector of the Great Wall. A counselor of the Chinese emperor warned that many of the people along the border, under Chinese rule, were of Hsiungnu origin and might return to their old allegiance; the descendants of those who had accompanied the Chinese troops in occupying the frontier were poor and might go over to the nomads; the slaves of the border population were discontented, and having heard of the happier life of the nomads might run away to join them; escaping criminals would also have a refuge. Quoted from the Ch'ien Han Shu (History of the Earlier Han), chap. 94, second section, in Lattimore, Inner Asian Frontiers, p. 471n.

23 Bogdanoff, G. A., in North Manchuria and the Chinese Eattern Railway, ed. Mihailoff, I. A. (Harbin: Chinese Eastern Railway, 1924), p. 67.

24 Since the expression “steppe frontier” as here used actually includes also the deserts and oases of Central Asia, it is well to note that the original Russian word step' is used much more precisely to describe “a large treeless plain of grassland.” The Russian definition of steppes, semi-deserts, and extreme deserts, and of corresponding zoological zones, can be seen in Plates 43–44 of Bohhoi soveukji atlas mira (Great Soviet Atlas of the World), Vol. I (Moscow: Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R., 1937), eds. A. F. Gorkin, O. Yu. Shmidt, V. E. Motylev, M. V. Nikitin, B. M. Shaposhnikov.

25 For the relation between liberal reforms within China itself and liberal policies toward China's frontier minorities, see Lattimore, Owen, “The Inland Crossroads of Asia,” in Compass of the World, ed. Weigert, Hans W. and Stefansson, Vilhjalmur (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1944).

26 Lattimorc, Owen, “The Outer Mongolian Horizon,” Foreign Affairs (July 1946); Lattimore, Eleanor, “Report on Outer Mongolia,” Far Eastern Survey, XXIV (November 6, 1946).

27 Lattimore, Owen, “Chinese Turkistan,” The Open Court, XLVII (March 1933); Norins, Martin R., Gateway to Asia: Sinkiang, with an introduction by Owen Lattimore (New York: The John Day Company, 1944).

* A paper presented at the sixth annual meeting of the Economic History Association at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

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