Сперва описывается китайское иерархическое понимание вселенной, в котором не было места для равных наций, отношения Китая с соседями рассматривались исключительно в терминах данничества и вассалитета, а понятие фиксированных границ отсутствовало.
Under the tribute system, China had no fixed boundaries but rather a web of bilateral relations with a changing assortment of frontier people.
The arrival of the West Europeans shattered the tributary system because they, unlike the foreigners who had come to China before, were technologically superior to the Chinese and, therefore, were unwilling to play their prescribed role. Unlike traditional border peoples, they were also able to turn the tables on China in order to impose the European framework for international relations. When the Chinese were forced to accept European notions of fixed territory, sovereignty, international law, and independent nation states with equal legal rights, they had to discard their framework of China at the center, surrounded by concentric circles of ever more uncivilized barbarians. While China's modern history has been a history of the struggle of the Chinese people to amalgamate enough of European civilization with their own to become technologically advanced, it has also been a history of their struggle with the ambiguous emotions resulting from importing so many foreign ways.
Not only were Chinese officials unprepared to deal with Europeans, but they had a number of crucial misperceptions applying specifically to the Russians. While West European demands for treaty ports were an entirely new phenomenon for the Chinese, advances into Chinese territory by barbarians from the north was a common cause of dynastic collapse. Two centuries earlier, the Manchus themselves had moved from their tribal lands in the north to overthrow the Ming dynasty. Therefore, once the Manchus understood that the growing numbers of Russian vessels on the Amur river system were not isolated incidents but part of a coordinated policy, they looked upon the Russians with particular fear. They did not immediately understand the economic and military power of the West Europeans, but Russian expansion southward fit in all-too-familiar pattern preceding the overthrow of a dynasty. They thought of the Russians in traditional terms: as a potentially dangerous barbarian state moving onto China's outer frontier area. Although past experience prepared them to perceive the military side of the threat, they could not visualize its technological or cultural side, for the Industrial Revolution was an unprecedented event in human history.
Moreover, the Chinese did not understand that the overland barbarians - the Russians - and the overseas barbarians - the British, French, and Americans - all shared a common European civilization. Before the 1858 Treaty of Argun, Chinese memorialists did not generally compare Russian actions in the north to those of the other Europeans in the south. Only with the treaties resulting from the Second Opium War did the Chinese begin to understand the connections among European states. At the same time, they also learned that the Russians did not accept their notion of vague frontier and shifting alliances. Rather, the Russians saw borders in terms of definite lines drawn on a map and legitimized by treaties. Therefore, although the Manchus clearly considered the Russians to be dangerous, they did not fully understand the nature of the threat. Rather they mistook the Russians for a traditional enemy of the Central Asian variety.
Adding to this Manchu anxiety was a gross misunderstanding of the relative power of Russia and Britain. In 1855, the Hsien-feng Emperor had requested that his officials report to him on the Crimean War. Their memorial described Turkey as a Russian vassal state which "recklessly defied authority" by murdering Russian subjects in Turkey and afterward by invading Russia. When Russian forces threatened to defeat Turkey, the latter had enlisted the help of Britain and France, whose naval forces Russia subsequently obliterated. Britain then attacked three Russian vassal states, but Russia had defeated the British land and naval forces, almost completely destroying the British army. Russia then sent a punitive naval expedition, which had bombarded Britain for thirty days. In desperate straits, Britain had enlisted the help of such disparate states as the United States, France, Luzon (the Philippines), and Holland. Britain had also ordered Hong Kong to strengthen its defenses. The memorialists concluded: "Russia is still as strong and prosperous as before. England appears as if it lacks the power to oppose her."
Not only did the Chinese government totally misunderstood who actually had won the Crimean War, but its estimates of Russian military forces during the latter's various naval expeditions down the Amur consistently exaggerated the numbers and did not accurately distinguish soldiers from colonists. Nor did Chinese realize that Russian naval forces were not only inferior to those of the British, but vastly so. This meant that the Chinese believed that the Russians posed a much greater threat than they actually did. Moreover, the Chinese did not understand the severe limitations on Russia's ability to supply troops in the event of border clashes, let alone to send enough colonists to populate vast expanses of Siberia. Also, as is clear from the misinformation about the Crimean War, the Chinese did not have the vaguest understanding of European politics or of world geography.