Today, Manchuria which includes Heilongjiang Province of the People’s Republic of China is generally perceived as the territory of Qing before “entering the pass(ruguan).” However, this is a misconception coming from connecting the modern geographical idea of Manchuria with the home of the Manchus, the ruling group of the Qing Dynasty. In fact, the base of Nurhaci’s native group, Jianzhou Jurchen, was the north of Changbai Mountain and the east of Liaodong Peninsula. Even if the regional bases of the Jurchens were combined, the region was limited to the southern part of Manchuria. ‘The military district of Heilongjiang general’ was established in the Amur-Nun River basin and the direct rule of the Qing Dynasty began in 1680s, along the conflict with Russia.
Qing court established military bases and traffic routes mainly around Willow Palisade(liutiaobian) until the 1670s, and there were only few temporary bases outside Willow Palisade such as Ninguta. The direct territory of Qing was expanded in the 1670s due to the development of Jilin and the establishment of New Willow Palisade(xinbian), but the vast Amur-Nun River basin, the northern area of Mukden-Jilin-Ninguta, was still regarded as one of ‘the outer feudatories(waifan)’, which was not under the direct control of Qing.
This situation changed in the 1680s when Russians built a fortress in Albazin, located on the upper middle Amur River basin. As Albazin grew into a self-sufficient stronghold, Kangxi emperor proceeded an expedition to drive the Russians out of the Amur River basin. The First and Second Albazin Expeditions, which were commanded by the newly established Heilongjiang general, ended with the conclusion of the Nerchinsk treaty in 1689. In this treaty, the military district of Heilongjiang general was recognized as Qing territory.
Rather than the conduct of the war or the demarcation of borders, the expansion of Qing’s control over the region before and after the expedition was more important in terms of the formation of the military district of Heilongjiang general. Unlike the lower Amur and Songhua River basins, where Russians and Qing troops had conflict in the 1670s, the upper and middle Amur River basin did not have sufficient foundations to wage war in the 1680s. To mobilize a large army to attack Albazin, it was necessary to establish a Qing army garrison, and to develop supply routes for military provisions and postal relay routes for manpower and information. Kangxi emperor first dispatched officials to conduct a geography survey on the upper and middle Amur River basin. In addition, supply routes and postal relay routes were constructed, connecting Aihūn with the areas previously controlled by the Qing, such as Mukden and Jilin. The Qing court’s geographical understanding of the Amur-Nun River basin gradually deepened as a banner garrison(Zhufang) was installed in Mergen, which was confirmed to be important in the process of constructing the postal relay system. The Amur-Nun River basin changed from one of the outer feudatories, which had only a loose relationship with Qing court, to ‘the military district of Heilongjiang general’, a ‘direct territory’ governed by a Garrison General of Qing.