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The 1689 peace negotiations in Nerchinsk between Muscovite Russia and Qing China resulted in the first bilateral settlement of the territorial disputes between the two empires and led to extensive surveys in the frontier region. More importantly, the surviving textual and material evidence qualifies this encounter as a site of knowledge exchange that provides exemplary insights into the Jesuits' activities as knowledge brokers in late imperial China. By using Jesuit, Russian, and Qing sources, this article reconstructs the exchange of geographic information in Nerchinsk and traces the knowledge fragments that made up the Jesuits' new spatial imagination of these lands. In arguing that their European cartographic training ultimately prevented them from successfully integrating the fragments of local geographic knowledge that were exchanged at the negotiations, it presents the Jesuits as highly problematic go-betweens and their allegedly "superior" knowledge as essentially refracted.
Despite these deficiencies, the Jesuits were nonetheless successful in devaluing local practices of knowledge production while at the same time diffusing and consolidating their self-purported image as experts in geography and cartography through their connections to the European Republic of Letters. By matching the Jesuits' accounts with contemporary maps, travelogues, and geographic descriptions produced by Muscovites, Manchus, and the native peoples of Northeast Asia, this study rehabilitates the supposedly inferior knowledge of these local actors and traces the distorted picture of the Northeast Asian coast found in many historical European atlases to the Jesuits' failed knowledge brokerage.