RUSSIAN POST IN THE CHINESE EMPIRE
1. CHINA PROPER
“China proper” is here taken to comprise of the old Chinese Empire minus Mongolia (now an independent republic), Sin-Kiang (now called Xinjiang) and the three eastern provinces of Heilungkiang, Kirin and Fengtien, collectively known as Manchuria. Although the volume of material requires China proper to fill a book of its own, its postal history is so closely bound up with that of Mongolia that the two regions may be seen simply as the setting for the same extraordinary story. The following account is drawn from Dr Casey’s articles published in the British Journal of Russian Philately (BJRP) between the years 1991 and 2007, especially that of 2006 (BJRP 94/95), with an important amendment the following year (BJRP 96/97). Full bibliographic references are given in these articles.
Information found in the Central State Archive of the RSFSR for the Far East, formerly held at Tomsk, Siberia, gave fresh insight into the origins of the Russian post in the Celestial Empire. By taking advantage of a mistranslation in the Treaty of Peking (1860) and by calculated deception the Russian Government was able to set up an illegal post across Mongolia and northern China – the so-called Merchants’ or Mongolian Post. Rough designs for stamps and seals for this rogue post were prepared but, so far as is known, this part of the project never came to fruition. Around 1874 this sham Merchants’ Post was converted into a legitimate arm of the Imperial Russian Postal Administration, though how and exactly when is not known, the date commonly quoted (18 March / 4 April 1870) being wrong. Mention should be made of the English entrepreneur George Mitchell Grant who for some years ran a rival postal service threatening to put the Russians out of business.
Russia’s original post offices in China proper were located at Kalgan (now Changkiakow), Peking (Beijing) and Tientsin. The opening of additional offices in the Treaty Ports of Shanghai, Chefoo (Yentai) and Hankow (Wuhan) towards the end of the 19th century was linked to a diplomatic coup giving Russia far-reaching concessions in the Chinese Empire. This was the Li-Lobanov Secret Treaty that ultimately contributed to conflict with Japan and Russia’s downfall in the Far East.