Four-centuries-long encounters between the Ottoman Empire and the Grand Duchy of Muscovy/Russian Empire point to complex relations that have been triggered and defined mostly by territorial, trade disputes, and wars, and maintained by diplomatic rivalry and occasional military alliances. Starting as friendly encounters during Sultan Bayezid II reign at the beginning of the 16th century, these relations, essentially and persistently asymmetrical, reveal an initial and long Ottoman dominance over the Muscovy/Russian side; one that lasted from the early 16th to the late 18th century—whereby the two sides shared no direct borders, traded and did not fight each other until the late 17th century—followed by a late 18th-century and mid-19th-century Russian ascendency. This ascendency was achieved largely thanks to the military reform that Tsar/Emperor Peter the Great undertook, namely, the establishment of a standing and professional army and consequentially due to the many wars that Russia won throughout the 19th century; the decisive ones being those fought during the reign of Empress Catherine the Great. The mid-19th century and the early 20th century—which witnessed the implosion of the Russian Empire due to the Bolshevik Revolution and the break-up of the Ottoman Empire by Britain and France—was a long period that saw few and brief military alliances, contested trade relations and yet continued wars. It was ultimately marred by an Ottoman drive to counterbalance Russia’s dominance, while the latter sought to preserve it, by involving other European powers (British and French)—the most crucial moment being the British, French, and Ottoman armies defeating the Russian one in the Crimean War (1853–1856)—transforming their bilateral interactions into multilateral but unsustainable relations.
Scholars often regard the Qing-Korean relationship as the most representative instance of the so-called tributary system, the Sino-centric hierarchical world order in early modern East Asia. It was also the most stable one, established in 1637 and ending as late as 1895 after the Qing’s total defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War. Precisely because this bilateral relationship was so typical and so stable, it was also unique in many ways. Although the Manchu regime largely inherited Ming China’s institutions in dealing with Korea (and, later, with other foreign states), this legacy revealed new meanings in the context of the Manchu conquest of China. As the Qing’s first and last subordinate state in the region, Chosŏn Korea served as both an ideological and a practical model in shaping the Qing’s geopolitical construction.
Beginning and ending with military clashes, the Qing-Chosŏn hierarchical relationship from the early 17th to the late 19th centuries was nourished and solidified by more peaceful interactions. Generally conducted under the Confucian zongfan (宗藩) principles, these interactions included rituals, diplomatic missions, trade, negotiations, cross-border jurisdiction, and cultural exchanges. Far from being imposed unilaterally by the Qing, the bilateral relationship was mutually constructed in a long process in which the Korean government and literati played a proactive role. During this time, the Korean attitude toward the Qing underwent a gradual change, from hostility to nuanced acceptance. In the late 19th century the two countries tried but failed to adjust their relationship in order to survive the geopolitical threat from industrialized, colonial powers. The collapse of the Qing-Chosŏn hierarchy eventually led to the rise of new national identities in both China and the Korean Peninsula in the 20th century.