I.I. Serebrennikov


1922 "Vostochnoye Prosveshcheniye Company
Printing and lithographic works of the Russian Orthodox Mission Beijing
Translated by G. Nekranov, Melbourne, 1997
Internet Edition uses Pinyin

Among the multi-million population of China one can find a small group of people who call themselves "Albazenes".

They are the descendents of some dozens of Russians, who were settled in Beijing, Capital of the Celestial Empire by a quirk of Fate.

We Russians know very little about these Albazenes, these descendents of the brave pioneers of the Amur River country; we know little about the circumstances of their resettlement in China and have not heard much about their life in a foreign country.

Now, at a time when Fate has thrown so many Russians inside the borders of China, as they look for shelter from the storms of the Revolution, and when some of them become involved with the Albazenes in common cultural interest, it will be timely and proper to devote a few words in print to the latter.

…"That thus posterity

The bygone fortunes of the Orthodox

Of their own land may learn…"

[From Pushkin's "Boris Godunov", translated by Alfred Hayes]

As is well known, the conquest of Siberia proceeded exceptionally fast. The speed of the conquest was helped by favourable courses of the major Siberian rivers, whose tributaries were often in close mutual proximity.

By the 1630s Russians were firmly established on the banks of the Lena river. From here they began to "explore" new lands, further to the East bringing them under the "Tsar's own rule". In their progressive movement they had to come, sooner or later, to the last great river, the Amur[1]. This was facilitated by the fact that the right hand tributaries of the Lena, such as Vitim, Olekma, Aldan, in their upper reaches are close to the tributaries of the Amur.

Vitim led them directly to the Transbaikal country, towards the rivers Shilka and Arguni, which at their confluence produce the Armur, but because of its many rapids it turned out to be unsuitable to the movement of armed detachments.

Such drawbacks were lacking in the rivers Olekma and Aldan, therefore they were the first to guide Russian "landfarers" to the Amur.

The first to explore the unknown lands was one Vasiliy Poyarkov, a Chief Scribe.[2] He led his party of 132 from the town of Yakutsk by boat on the 15 July 1643. This party, after suffering many privations en route succeeded in traveling up the Aldan River and its tributary, the Uchur, then transferred to a tributary of the Zeya, traveling down the Zeya itself it reached the Amur. Having navigated the entire length of the Amur, Poyarkov's party reached the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk. From here the party marched overland to the river Maya and then followed it back to Aldan, returning to the Yakutsk on the 12 June 1646, with a party of 20 men. The expedition had lasted almost three years.

"The details of this astounding expedition were thoroughly verified through surviving historical documents," writes a researcher of the history of the Russian Amur country, "nevertheless the whole description of this expedition reads like a fairy tale. A band of men sets out into an unknown land, with unclear rumours as their only guide; they have to wrest every step from a wild and inhospitable Nature. Right in the beginning they find themselves deprived of almost all their ammunition, they suffer indescribably from cold and hunger, they reach the limit of human endurance against deprivation and terror. Their losses in battles are negligible, but starvation and sickness claim half their force. Notwithstanding all this they continue to go on and within three years they cover 7000 kilometres[3] and bring home a description of the land which they had explored. There could not be many such achievements in the entire human history."[4]

Poyarkov, in his debriefing produced descriptions of the rivers Zeya, "Silimba" (Selemdzha), "Shilka" (Armur) and "Shungal" (Sungari)[5].

It followed from Poyarkov's report that the annexation of the Amur Basin would be "Very profitable, for those lands are well populated and fertile, producing plenty of bread, those rivers are full of fish and [thus] the Tsar's soldiers would not suffer any bread shortage."

Several years went by after Poyarkov's expedition. Nobody dared to repeat his march. Yet the rumours about the wealth of the Dahur Land, as the Amur Basin was being called, continued to reach the local authorities. These rumours also continued to excite the local "New Settlers", who had not yet firmly settled in the wide expanses of the Lena Basin.

Private initiative now came to the fore. Yerofey [Geoffery] Khabarov a "trading man", well known in Siberia, who had established himself by that time in the Lena Basin submitted a request to the Yakutsk Voyevoda [military commander] asking for approval to equip at his own expense an expedition for the purpose of conquering the Dahur Land.

Approval was granted, together with a small monetary assistance from the funds of the Yakutsk Voyevoda, and in the spring of 1649 Khabarov, accompanied by 70 hunters set off for Amur. He departed from the Lena harbour of Ust-kuta, sailed down the Lena to the estuary of its right hand tributary Olekma. He then sailed up the Olekma and its tributary Tugir, dragged the boats across the Khingan and sailed down the river Urkan, a tributary of the Amur, into the Dahur Land.

The whole voyage took 80 days: he had found a shorter route to the Amur than Poyarkov, his daring predecessor. Khabarov remained on the Amur for three and a half years. Throughout this time he only once visited Yakutsk; the rest of the time he spent in the new country in incident battles, military expeditions and in building forts and “ostrogi", (little forts).

Among the many ostrogi established was Ostrog Albazin. According to the surviving historical data, this ostrog was founded by Khabarov in 1651 on a site previously occupied by a small town of a Tunguz chieftain, on the upper reaches of the Armur, some 50 kilometres from the confluence of the Shilka and Argun rivers, near the point where the river Albazihka flows into the Amur. This ostrog, which is referred to in the Chinese historical works as Yaksa [雅克薩], was destined to become the base of Russian activity along the Amur.

This activity during the early phases of the conquest of the Amur Basin had numerous negative features. There was a change of rulers: Khabarov was replaced by Stepanov, Amur's dependence on Yakutsk was later replaced by that on Nerchinsk, but all this failed to instill a firm rule of law and order. The new settlers were too harsh with the indigenous people, - the Dahurs and other nationalities of the Tunguz group; military units often broke their discipline and plundered the local population not forgetting to help themselves from the Government funds as well. All this was complicated by an uncoordinated influx of a variety of people, who were attracted by the open spaces and a prospect of quick riches. Not infrequently there were bands of ruffians who plundered all and sundry.

The Amur district became insecure: there was a danger that a form of “Transrapid Sech” would come into existence.[6] The local indigenous people began to address their complaints to the Manchurians. The Manchurians had just come to power in China, where they founded their dynasty of Qing. It was natural that they would note the complaints of the local and offer resistance to the Russians, who by that time had begun to threaten Manchuria, the very homeland of the conquerors of China.

First of all the Manchurian authorities allowed the Dahurs to resettle from the banks of the Amur to the banks of the river Nonni, a tributary of Sungari. By this act they placed the Russians in a difficult situation with regard to the food supplies, since by that time many Dahurs were engaged in agriculture and were able to supply food to the newcomers, be it voluntary, or otherwise. The Manchurians began to move their army forces towards the Amur, conscripting many indigenous people. In their attempts to penetrate Manchuria, the Russians began to encounter determined armed resistance from the Chinese. These clashes were becoming ever more frequent. No reinforcements were forthcoming from Siberia. By this time the whole of the Amur Country "shook", as it was written in an historical document: “fights became violent and frequent”; the new arrivals found it ever more difficult.

In 1658 the Cossack force of Stepanov was surrounded below the Sungari Estuary by a superior force of Chinese and Manchurians and was soundly defeated; about half of the Russian fighting men died in battle, including Stepanov himself. Some Cossacks succeeded in breaking out and head for the Lower Amur. This led to further successes of the Chinese and in 1659 they captured Albazin and leveled it.

Albazin fell, - but not for long.

In 1665 another force of "free men" appeared on the Amur, led by Nikifor Chernigovsky, a trading manager from the same Ust-Kuta on the Lena River from whence Yerofey Khabarov commenced his famous expedition. Chernigovsky had fled to the Amur to escape punishment, being the killer of Voyevoda Obukhov. The fugitives re-established the ruined Albazin fort, and commenced to undertake expeditions into places where the Dahur land toilers were not yet removed by the Chinese authorities in search of food supplies. New attempts were made to impose a tax, yasak, paid in furs on the locals. Not content with this, Chernigovsky established Russian grain fields near Albazin, built a Church of Resurrection in the Albazin itself, and near the hamlet of Bryanoy Kamen founded a monastery dedicated to The Most Merciful Saviour. For all these services which benefited the State, Chernigovsky was pardoned by the Tsar in 1675 and became a Government official in Albazin. In the same year he undertook an expedition into Barga and imposed yasak on the natives.

The revival of Albazin signaled the beginning of a new influx of Russians into the Dahur Land. Little by little Russian settlements and grainfields began to appear, at different spots along the Amur, both upstream and downstream from Albazin there appeared peasants’ villages: Pokrovskaya, Ignashina, Monastyrshchina, Ozernaya, Panovo, Andryushkina and others. Simultaneous with a free colonisation, an enforced settlement of the region began: convicts began to arrive, although in small numbers.

Slowly, official order began to be established. In 1674 Nikifor Chernigovsky was replaced as the Administrator of Albazin by Semen Veshnyakov, a Boyar son[7] from Nerchinsk, who, in turn was replaced in 1676 by Gavril Frolov. In 1678 Grigoriy Lonshakov was appointed the Administrator by an order from Nerchinsk. Having nominally accepted their subordination to Nerchinsk, local Cossacks were nevertheless dissatisfied with in and began to fret quietly. This caused the Nerchinsk voyevoda Fedor Voyeykov to dispatch his son Andrey to be Administrator of Albazin. This did not calm down the Albazin Cossacks, and in 1682 they elected a desyatnik[8] to replace him. Albazin’s subordination to Nerchinsk became purely nominal. In 1682 Albazin was visited by Ignaty Milovanov, a Boyar son, who was tasked with determining the amount of arable land along the Amur.

Following the departure of Chernigovsky, the position along the Amur generally began to deteriorate for the Russians: Cossacks became unruly and were oppressing not only the local natives and the Chinese, but also the Russian newcomer peasants. One after another complaints against the Cossacks were sent to Nerchinsk. “We suffer much harm from the Albazin Cossacks, they beat and abuse us,” complained Albazin peasants in one of their submissions. Nerchinsk also received a complaint that “in a remote monastery-owned hamlet, Cossacks ensnared some twenty Chinese traders in an empty building and then burnt them, and what possessions they had divided between themselves”.

Once again the Beijing Government began to prepare for a struggle against the Russians. In Manchuria it began to equip ships for the transportations of troops, to purchase food supplies and horses; it began to establish military settlements in areas adjacent to the Amur and to build towns, which could serve as bases in the forthcoming struggle. Thus in 1684 the town of Aigun[9] was built. This town exists even today and is located along the route from the Chinese city of Qiqihar [齐齐哈尔] to the Russian city of Blagoveshchensk.

Having prepared for was operations, the Bogdykhan[10] dispatched a message to Moscow, by means of Russians prisioners of war, using four different routes: via Yakutsk, Tobolsk, Selenginsk and Albazin. In his letter he advised the Russians to abandon the Amur.

The letter addressed to Albazin reached it in early 1684. It read in part as follows:

“You come to my country, you expel my tax paying subjects, you misappropriate sables and food supplies from my traders. You harbour Gantimur with his comrades and for many years you have been causing evil along my borders. I, Bogdykhan, have sent a large army against you, but I do not wish to kill or cause destruction upon you, for I pity you.

Abandon your evil ways: go back. Here my men have surrendered to you, I have requested their return and have said so to Sapfariy. You do not understand this and have begun to plunder more than ever: you hunt my subjects and burn them in fires; thus last year you ensnared my men into a house and burnt them. Men of Albazin and Nerchinsk, stop doing evil, hand over Gantimur[11] and depart. We shall live in love and accord. But if you do not understand kindness and continue to live on my land, then neither Heaven nor Earth will protect you. I would not be sorry to kill you. If it is too far for you to return, then come over to me, I shall reward you.”

The Albazin Administrator, Voyloshnikov read this letter with considerable ceremony to the assembled Cossacks , who had gathered for consultation and said:

“We shall not believe this subversive letter. We are under God’s will and that of the Great Tsars[12]. We should not abandon the property of the Great Tsars in Albazin. As long as the gunpowder lasts we shall fight and die for the Great Tsars, but will not abandon the ostrog.”

The Cossacks had one complaint only: “being very short of gunpowder, lead, weapons and cannon”. At that time there were only 120 Cossacks in Albazin, whilst 500 peasants lived in its surroundings.[13]

In 1684 Albazin was proclaimed as a voyevoda town and Alexei Tolbuzin arrived as the voyevoda. He began to prepare most energetically for a war with China.

In summer 1685 the Chinese besieged Albazin. 10,000 Chinese soldiers supported by a large number of cannon, both field and siege, were engaged in actions against the fort. The infantry was armed with bows and sabres with only a small proportion having guns.[14]

The Chinese offered the Albazin garrison to surrender, having dispatched a special letter to them. The Voyevoda refused to acknowledge it. On the 1st of June the siege began. In the very first days of the siege the Russians lost some 100 men, the tower and the fortifications were reduced to rubble by gunfire, rockets had set on fire the church, the belfry, the shops and the grain stores.

The Cossacks fought desperately as long as their ammunition lasted, but it was soon exhausted.

The Albazin dwellers, seeing no other way out, begged Voyevoda Tolbuzin to begin surrender negotiations with a proviso that the people  would be allowed to leave for Nerchinsk. The talks began and on the 26 June Albazin was surrendered to the Chinese. Voyevoda Tolbuzin, together with Cossacks, traders and peasants left Albazin and headed for Nerchinsk, with no food supplies for the voyage.

During the surrender of Albazin the Chinese offered the defenders to enroll in the service of the Chinese Emperor. Only 25 men accepted this offer; they were taken into the China proper and settled in Beijing.

And these are those Albazenes, whose descendents live in China even today.

Currently it is hard to determine what induced the Albazenes to leave their native place and head into a country foreign to them. Was this decision a voluntary or a semi-voluntary one? Possibly this group of people, worn out by the fierce siege of Albazin was afraid of the prospect of additional privations and starvation on the way to Nerchinsk, and preferred to seek rest and security in a new country, which had offered them hospitality.

Perhaps this group which accepted the Chinese invitation was not from the battle-hardened Cossacks, but the peaceful land-toiling peasants, who at the beginning of the siege of Albazin fled there seeking safety from the advancing Chinese troops. Without military training they were, naturally, less implacable and less warlike than the Cossacks.

After capturing Albazin and other forts along the Amur, the Chinese leveled them and departed from the Amur Basin country, incidentally, leaving the grainfields untouched.

In Nerchinsk, however, newly arrived Russian troops were being concentrated. The then Voyevoda Ivan Vlasov, apprehensive of losing “the Tsar’s Dahur Country”, decided to send the servicemen and the peasants back to the Amur.

At the request of the Albazenes Tolbuzin was once again appointed as their Voyevoda, who was now supported by newly recruited troops under a foreigner Afanasy Beyton.

In August of the same year, 1685, Cossacks and peasants returned to their old ruins, teir re-built Fort Albazin and harvested grain from the near-by fields. In March 1686 Beyton at the head of 300 men went down the Amur reconnoitering for the enemy, he encountered along the route a Chinese unit and defeated it.

Chinese authorities were ordered once more to capture Albazin, should the Russians fail to surrender voluntarily. Tolbuzin did not have sufficient forces and arms, but never the less declined an offer of surrender and prepared to defend Fort Albazin.

The new siege of this Russian town commenced on the 7 July 1686. Russians, numbering not more than a few hundreds, had to defend themselves against a large number of Chinese soldiers, brought not just from Manchuria, but also from some provinces of Inner China.

During one of the assaults on Albazin Voyevoda Tolbuzin was wounded in the leg by a cannon ball and died. The town garrison with Afanasi Beyton at its head continued to fight valiantly, despite many privations. A close siege of Albazin continued until November, when the frosts forced the Chinese to fall back and merely blockade the town.

On the 6 May 1687 the Chinese withdrew from Albazin and ceased all combat operations. This was most likely caused by Moscow commencing peace negotiations with China regarding all Far East matters. On the 30 August an official cease fire agreement was signed.

The Albazenes once again commenced to go out of town and take up agriculture, also engaging in some hunting. By that time they were aware of the Peace negotiations between Moscow and Beijing. In Spring of 1688 they sewed grain, but in the summer the Chinese troops appeared once again and destroyed it all. The Albazenes continued to experience hunger.

Beyton described the situation in October 1688 thus: “Life in Albazin is hard. We are starving to death. Everybody is begging for bread and all want to go to Nerchinsk. It is uncertain how we can hold out. There is no food. I have already sent away 10 men. 100 puds[15] of bread which were received were distributed and consumed. Now we are facing winter. I am perishing from want and poverty. It is now the sixth week that I am confined to bed. Do not allow death by starvation to happen.”

The fate of Albazin was finally settled by the well known Treaty of Nerchinsk of 1689. According to this treaty “The town of Albazin which was built for the Tsar’s Majesty, is to be destroyed to the ground; all those living there, together with all their military and other stores are to be removed back to the Tsar’s Domain and no property or small belongings are to be left behind.”

Albazin was leveled to the ground and Beyton with 66 Albazenes marched for Nerchinsk where they arrived only in 1690. Following the fall of Albazin the entire Russian Amur Basin Region was ceded to China.[16]

As was mentioned earlier, after the surrender of Albazin in 1685, a group of 25 of the defenders, plus some women and children were taken to Beijing.

So there appeared in the Chinese Capital those same “locha”, (this was the name given by the Chinese to the Amur Russians), about whose valour and courage stories and rumours had been circulated in China.

Unfortunately there is no record of the names, surnames or nicknames of the Albazenes who moved to China. Chinese historical records mention only some of them. Thus we know that they were led by an elder named Vasiliy.

If we were to judge by the oral traditions retained by today’s Albazenes, their forefathers had such Russian surnames as Dubinin, Romanov, Yakovlev etc.

The Albazenes were well received in Beijing and Emperor Kangxi directed that they be settled in the so-called “Berestovo Urochishche”[17] in the North-eastern corner of the Capital next to the city wall.

It would appear that the Albazenes were not without company in Beijing: some Russians had preceded them: they were the prisoners of War, who were captured by the Chinese in small party clashes along the Amur here and there. At worst, they were defectors, who went over to the Chinese at some earlier date.

Historical records of the Russian Amur Region relate one of the events of the capture of Russians by the Chinese.

In the summer of 1683, 20 Cossacks  and 46 traders under the command of Grigoriy Myl’nik were dispatched by boats from Fort Albazin on official business. This detachment was sailing along the Amur, and not far from the River Zeya estuary was surrounded by Chinese troops, who, however, were in no hurry to fight, but commenced negotiations with the Russians instead. Grigoriy Myl’nik was summoned to the Chinese for talks and was apprehended by them. Upon learning that their leader was captured, a part of the Cossacks charged the line of Chinese craft and broke through, whereas the other part remained and surrendered. The captives were moved to China and were quite likely settled in Beijing.

Two of the Russian prisoners, (formerly from the expedition of Grigoriy Myl’nik) were the ones who brought the Chinese Emperor’s epistle to Albazin, as mentioned earlier, (which demanded that Russians evacuate the Amur). The prisoners brought much news from China, informing that the Chinese Emperor was raising a massive army and was preparing for war, that there were frequent troop reviews and exercises. They also said that Grigoriy Myl’nik having found himself in China did not lost his wits and commenced to build factories to manufacture soap.[18]

It is quite possible that Grigoriy Myl’nik thus became the first Russian soap manufacturer in China. This suggests that in 1686 there were some dozens of Russians in Beijing. According to some records they numbered more than 100.[19]

In fact, they were all Albazenes, the victims of those major events along the Amur, where the town of Albazin was the centre fort for almost 40 years.

When the Russians left Albazin for China in 1683, they took with them some of the church place, from the church of the fort, amongst them was an ikon of St Nicholas of Myry, which was survived in Beijing to the present time; they also prevailed on the priest, Fr. Maxim Leontyev to go with them.[20]

The Albazenes in their new place of abode were provided with a Buddhist joss house, they turned this into a chapel and commenced to conduct services. The Chinese used to call this chapel luosha-miao[21].

Because of their profession, the Albazenes were classified with the military class, or more exactly the Manchurian Banner Troops, serving under the “Yellow with a Border” Manchurian banner. A special “Russian Company” was formed. Like all the other soldiers they were provided with Government accommodation, money for their initial outfitting, plots of arable land, they began to receive monetary pay and rice issues. Finally, those who wanted to get married were given wives from among the Manchurian women. Thus for the Albazenes a new life in exile had commenced.

Dressed in Chinese clothing, with shaven heads and long plaits, these newly created soldiers of the Chinese Bogdykhan soon took part in a campaign of the Chinese against the Western Mongols. According to the tradition Fr. Maxim Leontvev took part in this campaign.

Because of their lifestyle the process of assimilation took place very rapidly. – They became “Chinese” both physically and morally. They could have become completely assimilated in the Chinese mass of humanity, had they not been looked after by the Russian Orthodox Church, which by its careful ministering to the Albazenes laid the foundations of its missionary activity in China. Admittedly many efforts of the Russian Orthodox Church to keep the Albazenes in Orthodoxy often foundered on insurmountable obstacles, and Albazenes left Orthodoxy for paganism, but one must note, nevertheless, that the link between the Russian Orthodox Mission and the Albazenes was never completely broken during the many long years which had elapsed since the arrival of the Albazenes in Beijing; it remains unbroken to this day. One must also note that many devout and energetic missionaries, as well as translators of the Divine service books came from among the Albazenes.

Apart from this, the connections with the Albazenes were of considerable importance to Russian travelers arriving in Beijing, at a time when Russia and China were beginning to establish trade and diplomatic relations. The Albazenes were destined to be the first Russian translators and interpreters as Russian caravans and different kinds of missions began to arrive. As the caravans would arrive, Albazenes would engage in lively exchange of ideas with their compatriots, they guided them in their acquaintance with the Chinese merchants, they showed them the sights of the Capital, they told them the latest news in Beijing, they jointly feasted and drank.

All the same the overall situation exerted a too powerful contrary influence on the Albazenes and some 60-70 years later by the middle of the 18th Century, Albazenes were hard to distinguish from other soldiers of the Imperial Guards. According to the Russian Orthodox Mission Albazenes knew no trades and considered it beneath their dignity to engage in any worthwhile activity, preferring idleness, accompanied at times by gambling and drinking.

At the beginning of the second half of the 18th Century, by which time there was already the fifth Russian Orthodox Mission in Beijing, the state of the Albazenes in Beijing was described by the mission’s historian thus:

“Albazenes have cooled to the Orthodox Faith and the majority of Albazenes in the Russian Company has not been baptized. Archimandrite Ambrosy began to exhort the unbaptized Albazenes and preach to them through the baptized interpreters of their own clan, drawing their attention to devotion of their ancestors. By this means 35 persons of both sexes were converted to Christianity. By the 1870’s there were 50 descendents of the Albazenes in the Russian Company.”

Eighty years later, the head of the Tenth Russian Orthodox Mission to China, Archimandrite Petr Kamensky in his report of 1831 wrote thus of the Albazenes: “In recent years, although missions were repeatedly dispatched, they were useless in their attempts to maintain Christianity among the Albazenes, since Russian priests have never studied the Chinese language, whilst the Albazenes have completely forgotten the Russian language and have therefore all and sundry have sunk into dark paganism. It could be said in contradiction that some of them have Christian names. This is true, but apart from that, there is nothing. The number of Albazenes among the Chinese is like a drop in the ocean; at present the Albazenes in their thinking and customs are completely Chinese. In keeping with common Beijing customs, usually (to the highest degree) destructive ones, no family can survive. Their kind of mutual assistance, called fen-tszy, their reciprocal and general gifts for the New Year, their weddings, funerals, make it possible to state definitely that even the richest are invariably ruined by the third generation. For example out of 30000 Princes of Royal blood, all of whom were rich at their family origin, one could hardly find 300 who could live like princes, as can be clearly seen from my daily notes. A dedicated description of their state of affairs would fill several volumes. After this class, of such high origin, what can one say about the ordinary eight-division nobility, to which the Albazenes belong? Now God’s Grace shone over them once again. Once fossilized in their paganism, like the dead, they now have the comfort and the warmth of the Holy Orthodox Church, thanks to the devotion of faith of the Great Russian Emperors. Now on the site where the once abandoned church stood among their dwellings, there is once again a House of God, properly equipped and signifying wealth, rather than poverty and testifying to the devotion of our great Tsars. Now living here are not only the devout, but also the most gifted persons capable of preaching the Word of God in clear Chinese language, explaining the duties of Christians. Adjacent to this newly built church a school for the education of children has been opened, where the young are maturing in the traditions of the holy faith. These devotional institutions are noticeably, slowly but inexorably being renovated.”

Archimandrite Petr counted the entire Albazene population in Beijing, including women and children to be 94.

In his report he also listed the names of the Albazene families, accompanying each with a short comment. Let us quote some of them.

Regarding the family of Pavel Ivanov, Archimandrite Petr writes:

          “Together with his three sons he receives 13 Lan per month plus full rations and could be even rich, but instead he is in debt by many thousands of Roubles. Nothing can set him straight. Except for him, all his family is baptized and is firm in their faith. Iosif (the second son of Ivanov, I.S.) used to be in an order of Chinese priests, but by the Grace of God was rescued from it.”

The brother of this Ivanov, Nikolay “was leading a bad life, but has now steadied, does not drink any more. His wife and son are now baptized.”

Another Albazene, Filip Petrov, newly baptized and the Archimandrite’s own godson, is “a trusted, honest, intelligent person, with some scientific education. All his family is newly baptized and his son is studying in the Albazene school.”

Albazene Afanasiy, an Ensign “is a man of considerable wealth and equal arrogance. In his house were Holy Ikons, which he had inherited from his ancestors, but he worships them in a pagan way, placing offerings before them; I gave him many Christian books but they proved to be of no use to him.”

These few comments should be sufficient to see how far the Albazenes had moved away from everything Russian and from Christianity. They had to be converted to the Orthodox faith and be baptized.

The efforts of the mission have not been in vain, though. Some 60-70 years later many of the Albazenes became resolute converts of their faith.

Their adherence to the faith of their fathers was tested in that difficult period for China. When in 1900 this country suffered the so called Boxer Movement, which was directed against the foreigners and everything foreign.

During that sad time the Russian Orthodox Mission in Beijing was totally destroyed by the Boxers. In the summer of 1900 all Mission buildings were ruined, its library with is rich collection, was destroyed. Only a few items, which were removed in good time into the European part of China’s capital were saved.

Also saved from destruction was the Ikon of St Nicholas, which was brought to Beijing by the Albazenes in 1686. This historical relic of Siberia which witnessed the legendary Russian campaigns to the Amur is now in the safe keeping in the Church of the Dormition of the Russian Orthodox Mission.

During the Boxer Rebellion many of the Albazenes set an example of dedication to their beliefs and courage and perished, falling victims to mob fanaticism. Killed by Boxers were more than 200 Orthodox Chinese, a considerable proportion of whom were Albazenes.[22]

The bodies of those killed were gathered after the rebellion and buried in a common grave, a vault in the Mission grounds. Over this vault a church, dedicated to the Martyrs for Faith was built by the Head of the Mission, Archbishop Innokentiy Figurovsky. In this church every year on the 11th of June (Julian calendar) a remembrance service for those who had thus perished is conducted.

Following the Boxer Rebellion the Russian Orthodox Mission in Beijing rapidly began to re-emerge from the disaster. It purchased big land plots, where it built one after another its establishments: churches, monasteries, library, as well as a variety of industrial enterprises. While working in these, the Orthodox Chinese laity was subject to a steadying influence of work and at the same time contributed to the material well being of the Mission.

Among these enterprises was a printing house, which at the beginning of the Russian Turmoil[23] was of considerable service to the Russian cause in the East, providing cheap books and textbooks.

Albazinians of the Family of De
photographed at Beijing in the
Year 1920. Some of the Women at
that time still wore their Hair
done in the elaborate Manchu Style.
photo from "The China Journal"
Vol. 17, No.1, July 1932, pp 10-11

Here in 1920-21 I found working those Albazenes, who were close to the Mission. The assistant to the manager of the Printing house was an Albazene, Fr. Protodeacon Vasiliy Du. In charge of the Russian type-setting was another Albazene Fr. Deacon Feodor Du, in charge of the store an Albazene Deacon Vladimir Du. Among the type-setters and printers were Albazenes Nikita Du, Savva Du, Ignatiy Shuang, Feofan Zhuy, Iona Bao and others. In charge of the book binding workshop was the Albazene Ivan Zhun. In the common residence of the male monastery lived the old Monk Papiy (formerly Luka Quan); in the common residences of the convent lived the Albazenes Sister Fiva and novice Sister Feodora Heng. The above were by no means the only Albazenes in Beijing. I came across two more Albazenes, who lived outside the Mission confines: one was an Army officer (a son of the monk Papiy), the other a Police officer.

Relatives of the Monk Papiy Quan
at his funeral in the year 1921.
They were mostly Albazinians themselves.
photo from "The China Journal"
Vol. 17, No.1, July 1932, pp 10-11

Once, in presence of the latter, upon learning that he was an Albazene, Fr. Vasiliy Du was asked:

“What is his surname?”
“Nikolay Luo,” replied Fr. Vasiliy
“Nikolay Romanov,” the policeman corrected him.

There were also in Beijing Albazenes, who were not of the Orthodox Faith. One of them was an employee of the Russian-Asian Bank.

I must state that tracing the family tree of the Albazenes is very difficult, especially with regard to any published material. According to Manchurian custom the surnames may change almost in every generation. Thus the father of Vasiliy Du was named Alexander Ai, whilst the father of Vladimir Du, was Kassian Lin.

In general one must note that during the two hundred odd years of residing in China the Albazenes became naturalized and became absorbed into the Chinese ways, as was the case with conquerors of China, the Manchus.

One should not forget that for a long time the Albazenes were part of the Manchurian Banner troops and were thus closer to the Manchurians than the Chinese. They lived mostly in the Manchurian suburb, they married Manchurian women etc. Even today the Albazene wives wear the typical Manchurian head gear. This is, however, all that one can notice from the Manchurian background of the Albazenes. In all other respects they are Chinese, in their physical features, however, one may note at times some indefinable traces, which remind one of their Russian origins.

All Albazenes speak Chinese, not one of them speaks Manchurian. The priests speak fairly good Russian, having learnt this language in their childhood in the Mission; ordinary Albazenes do not know the Russian language, except for those who have visited or lived in Russia. I did not hear any particular oral tradition regarding their Russian origin.

These are the few short items of information which I succeeded in finding regarding the Albazenes, and which I decided to pass on to the Russian readers.[24]

The episode with the Albazenes is a but a small feature from the past of the once great and immense Russia, of the history of the unstoppable eastward movement of Russians. This episode, apart from its historical value is significant in showing how a small group of people thrust into a foreign country, did not assimilate into it to such an extent as to disappear without a trace and to forget its origins.

Ask these descendants of the Russian “landfarers” of their origins and each one will answer proudly:

“I am an Albazene.”

I.I. Serebrennikov
Beijing 29 October 1921

[1] Known as Heilong Jiang [黑龙江] by the Chinese

[2] a Civil Service rank in the old Moscow State, Tr.

[3] The old Russian distance measuring unit of versta was very close to a kilometre and is being translated here and subsequently as such, Tr.

[4] Priamurye. Facts, figures and observations. Collected in the Far East by the officials of the all-Zemstvos organisation. Moscow 1909, page 4

[5] Known as Songhua Jiang [松花江] by the Chinese

[6] This refers to a Cossack Republic formed by runaway Ukrainian Cossaks near the Dniepr River rapids, which had caused much trouble for Poland and Turkey, Tr.

[7] a junior official, Tr.

[8] a military rank, Corporal equivalent, Tr.

[9] 瑷珲 Àihún

[10] Russian term for the Emperor of China, Tr.

[11] Gantimur, referred to in the above letter was a Tunguz potentate, who at that time together with all his tribes, had become a Russian Subject, His descendents live in Russia even today under the name of Princes Gantimurov. The other person referred to, Sapfariy, a Greek by birth was the Russian Ambassador, who went to China in 1675.

[12] At that time Ivan V and Peter I, both minors, were “Co-Tsars”, Tr.

[13] A.P Vasilyev. Transbaikal Cossacks, historical account, Vol. 1 Chita 1915. Published by the Materiel Directorate of the Transbaikal Cossack Host

[14] The command of the Chinese army was exercised by General Lantang, see: “A Short History of the Orthodox Mission in China”, Beijing, 1916

[15] approximately 1500Kg, Tr.

[16] The courageous defender of Albazin, Affanasiy Beyton, subsequently moved from Nerchinsk to Irkutsk, where he continued to serve. It would appear that his services were rewarded by granting him real estate. This block of land was located on the right bank of Angara River, opposite the major settlement of Kamenka; nowadays there is a village of Beytonova, colloquially referred to as Baydonova.

[17] Berestovo -- birch grove; Urochishche -- natural terrain feature; 桦皮厂Huàpíchǎng

[18] His name actually means “soap maker”, Tr.; A.P.Vasilliev. “Transbaikal Cossacks”, p.169

[19] In his report of 1831 regarding the Albazenes Archimandrite Petr Kamensky states inter alia the following: “From the book of Ba-tsi-tun-dzhi” (sic) and from the translations of Mr Leontyev it is apparent that some of the ancestors of the Albazenes, namely seven men, defected to China before its capture (evidently, before its capture by the Manchus, I.S.) Later, after the capture of China, in the summer of 1683 in the 22nd year of the reign of Kangxi, 31 other Russians were captured” (seemingly these were Grigoriy Myl’nik and his party, I.S.) Later on Petr Kamensky adds: “In 1688 Ivan and his comrades were brought to Beijing and later twice groups of 70 were brought, which formed a complete Company.” The first Commander of the Russian Company was a defector, who went came to Beijing in 1648. In Manchurian he was called Ulangery. He was a Russian subject, a Muslim, Unsanov, who was once a grounds caretaker employed by the Yakutsk Voyevoda Frantsbekov. See brochure “Report of Archimandrite Petr regarding the Albazenes of 9 January 1831, Beijing. {Peking 1906}

[20] A photograph of this Ikon has been published, possibly for the first time ever, in the Illustrated Appendix to the newspaper “The Free Russian Thought” printed in Shanghai.


[22] Details of persecution of the Orthodox Chinese during the Boxer Rebellion are recorded in the magazine “Kitaiskiy Blagovestnik”, 1917, №12, 13-14, 15-16.

[23] Revolution & Civil War, Tr.

[24] In Chinese literature one can find information regarding the Albazenes in multi-volume works Ba-tsi-pun-chzhi and Shou-fan-bey-chen. The last named contains fairly detailed information regarding the struggle between the Chinese and the Russian in the XVII Century for the control of the Amur. In particular it highlights the attitude of the Emperor Kangxi to this struggle.