Monday, October 01, 2012

Saint Petersburg - 璦琿條約

Saint Petersburg has many famous palaces and churches, one of which is The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood.  Its multiple onion domes resemble those of the famous Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.  It is also richly decorated with thousands of square meters of mosiacs.

It was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.  The tsar pursued a number of reforms, including the emancipation of the serfs.  He was considered to have made significant contributions to the modernization of Russia.  During his reign, Russian territory expanded significantly.  Plaques around the external walls proclaimed various achievements, some of which were translated into English.  I was surprised that I could recognize The Treaty of Aigun (璦琿條約), 16 May 1858, and The Treaty of Peking (北京條約), 2 November, 1860.

I remembered from my history books it was through these two treaties that China (in the Qing Dynasty) lost over 600,000 square kilometers of territory (to the north of Heilongjiang 黑龍江) to Russia.  The lost territory was only a bit smaller of the whole Northeast China (Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang). At that time, the Qing Dynasty was fighting the Taiping Rebellion as well as the Second Opium War with England and France.  Russia took advantage of the weakened position of the Qing Dynasty, threatened to invade, and forced the Qing to give up a huge chunk of land.

For us Chinese, it was a reminder of a painful and shameful period of our history.  From the Russian point of view, however, The Treaty of Aigun could be considered a victory and Tsar Alexander II a hero.  From the point of view of a member of the human race, it is but one of the many marks of greed, selfishness and in-fighting among brothers, certainly not one of our redeeming qualities. 

So, what are we primarily?  Are we Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Israeli, Palestinian, ..., first of all and humans only secondarily?  Aren’t we all human beings fundamentally, children of God and hence brothers and sisters?  Why can’t we find a way to live peacefully together?

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