Settling Siberia: Nerchinsk, 1689

The two sides met at the Siberian outpost of Nerchinsk, over 1,000 kilometers from Beijing and separated from Moscow by 6,000 kilometers of steppe and forest. Neither spoke the other’s language. All communication was through two Jesuit priests charged with translating between Russian, Latin, and Manchu. Just getting a reply to “How was your trip,” might take all morning.

The parties were meeting to settle a bloody boundary dispute between the Tsardom of Russia and the Qing Empire. The tectonics of two expanding empires had reached a critical level.