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Studying unpublished documents from the Russian archive provides new information on the Sino-Japanese rivalry over Korea at the end of the nineteenth century, a very complicated period in the modern history of Korea. These documents help researchers understand Qing China’s relations with Korea and analyze Chinese methods for preserving control of the country. Rivalry over Korea occurred against the backdrop of military and economic expansion of the European powers, which further complicated China’s position as a suzerain of Korea. The main milestones in the political dialogue between Qing China and Japan are discussed with a focus on specific Sino-Korean interactions. Qing authorities attempted to consolidate China’s control over Korea by deploying the ancient Chinese diplomatic practice of “using barbarians to control [other] barbarians.” Transferring this archaic method of maintaining political power into the modern environment of capitalist state expansion in eastern Asia failed. Qing China’s loss of control over Korea was the logical result of instituting this erroneous policy. Russian documents reporting China’s dialogue with Japan demonstrate that Qing China prioritized preserving traditional forms of contact with Korea, whereas Japan favored opening Korea to economic expansion.