Stephanie Ziehaus

Archive. Primorsky kray. Russian Geographical Society. 2.2.5. 2311. by A.Iu. Nazarov, Map of the settlement by Chinese Subjects in the Amur Oblast. 1884.


Inner Asia: Between the Bear and the Dragon
Empire-Building and Cultural Transfer between the 17th and 19th Century

From the 17th century on, Russian and Qing sovereignties made the people of Inner Asia part of their process of Empire-Building, integrating the people and their territory into multi-ethnic empires and transferring autochthonous organizational structures into their centralized bureaucracy. Facing similar challenges in their frontier expansion, the Russian and Qing Empire shared numerous strategies for governing the borderlands, from tribute collection to the instrumentalization of indigenous elites and clan structures. 


This dissertation is part of the well-established and expanding fields of New Qing History (Rawski (1996) Reenvisioning the Qing) and Eurasian Studies (Gerasimov (2017) New Imperial History– Laruelle, Glebov, Bassin (2015) Between Europe and Asia). Especially with the rise of new paradigms in Empire, offering a more nuanced perception of empires, this dissertation project offers the ground for a new analytical framework to explore the concept of “old” imperialism, showcased by multiethnic, land-based Empires (Millward (1998) Beyond the Pass). The re-positioning of the Russian and Qing Empire in the analytical framework of Empire Studies presents a valuable addition to the New Imperial History Studies and global history in general, in which the Russian and Qing Empire still remain at the peripheries. In an effort to shift the focus from the center to the edges of the Empire, researchers have opened up a promising field of questions regarding incorporation of indigenous people into the imperial system and the inner workings of borderland administration (Chia Ning (2015) The Qing Lifanyuan and Solon People - Dameshek, et al. (2018) Local self-governance in Buryatia [ru]). However, most studies failed to bridge the gap between Russian and Chinese research results. So far there has not been a comparative study between the Russian and Qing Empire – a gap this dissertation seeks to fill.

My dissertation offers a radically new historical narrative of Russian and Qing Empire-Building, by writing their imperial history based on a micro-historic examination of the incorporation of institutions of indigenous self-governance in the area of Inner Asia, encompassing in this context Southern Siberia (Buryatia, Zabaikal’e and Amuria) and Northern Manchuria (Heilongjiang). These lands and people came to represent a borderland and middle ground (White (2011) Middle Ground) to the expanding Russian and Qing Empire. As they share intensive clan and kinship ties and therefore cultural closeness as well as a similar environment, they offer the ideal starting point to analyze where Russian and Qing Empire diverge, share similarities and showcase parallels and differences in Empire-Building. 

This research is going to explore the role that Inner Asia played in the formation of administrative structures and policies of the Russian and Qing Empire by tracing the impact of cultural transfer with Inner Asian ethnic groups and approaching the correlation between imperial, local and indigenous institutions and norms. Therefore, this dissertation adopts a longue durée approach to identify phases in the long-winding process of government reforms and policies shaping the indigenous self-governance models over the long 19th century, such as the Steppe Duma and clan administration in the Russian Empire and the Butha-banners in the Manchu Eight Banner system. 


The premise of Entangled History as well as Frontier- and Borderland-Studies allows for a re-definition of the processes of Empire Building in Inner Asia. First and foremost, this project aims to conceptualize the processes of culture change in the creation of syncretized structures during the territorial expansion of the Qing and Russian Empire, specifically through cultural transfer. The theory of cultural transfer assists in analyzing how cultural units, such as internal organization forms (clans) or tribute collection (yasak) that are embedded in the cultural context of one people group, get adapted, transformed and re-used by the bureaucratic apparatus according to the purposes of Empire-Building. 


Ultimately, a comparative study of indigenous self-governance institutions in the Russian and Qing borderlands as a middle ground will showcase the parallels and differences between Russian and Qing Empire-Building. As a result, the Russian Empire and the Qing Empire will finally take their place in the field of Colonial and Empire Studies. The features of their Empire-Building will come to represent crucial contact points for Imperial Studies concerning other land-based, “old” imperial formations as well as valuable contributions to the field. 

Stephanie Ziehaus is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Global History at the Department of History, writing her dissertation on Empire-Building and Cultural Transfer in Inner Asia as a contact zone of the Russian and Qing Empire. In 2018 she graduated with a Master’s degree in History, with a background in Russian and Global History, as well as Sinology. She has studied abroad at the Russian State University of Humanities (Moscow) and the Beijing Normal University. Her research interests lie in the realm of Comparative Colonial and Imperial Studies, especially in the area of Southern Siberia and Manchuria. In her position as Junior Researcher in the Sinophone Borderland Project at Palacky University, Olomouc, her work focuses mainly on notions of land ownership and ethnicity in the Amur basin as well as the historical legacies of colonialism and settlement that shaped the landscapes of modern borderlands. She has furthermore been awarded a DOC ÖAW scholarship, starting from September 2021.