China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

By Peter C. Perdue | Go to book overview

3

Central Eurasian Interactions
and the Rise of the Manchus,
1600–1670

As the Russians moved east, approaching Lake Baikal, they came into contact with groups of Mongolian nomads, who proved to be much more formidable adversaries than the Arctic peoples of western Siberia. The Mongols had last been united under Dayan Khan in the mid-sixteenth century. By the early seventeenth century they had fragmented once again into independent tribes, each under its own leader. In succession, from west to east, the Russian Cossacks and voevody came into contact with each of these major tribes during the early seventeenth century: first the Oirats (later known as Zunghars), then the Altyn Khans around the Altai, and later in the 1640s the Eastern Mongol (Khalkha) leaders, the Chechen, Tüsiyetü, and Jasaktu Khans.1 (See Map 4.)

The Western Mongols during the Ming had been known as the Derben Oirat (Four Oirats), designated variously as including the Khoshot, Zunghar, Derbet, Torghut, and later Khoit and Choros tribes. In fact the term "Four Oirats" rarely indicated any formal confederation of these tribes, who spent most of their efforts fighting one another. In the sixteenth century some of the Oirats had moved west and subordinated themselves to Kuchum Khan of Siberia. The collapse of Kuchum's dominion under Russian attack set many Central Eurasian peoples in motion, some of whom sought protection from the Russians, while others aimed to maintain independent domains. The extension southward to the edge of the steppe of the Russian fortresses, particularly Tara, Tobolsk, Tomsk, and Kuznetsk, increased contacts between the two disparate ecological zones of the taiga and the steppe. Tobolsk was the town most constantly in contact with the

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