Although the south Manchurian port of Newchwang was opened to foreign trade as early as 1858, it was only in the last decade of the 19th Century that the Chinese half of Manchuria came to the fore, again on Russian initiative. The Trans-Siberian railway was then being built, and a simple glance at a map indicated that a straight line drawn from Chita to Vladivostok would have to cross this Chinese territory. While Russia was ripening her plans, an accidental intrusion by Japan precipitated matters. The Sino-Japanese War of 1894 -1895 had begun in Korea, but Japanese successes promptly shifted the battlefield to Feng-t'ien in southern Manchuria, where the Japanese took Port Arthur in November 1894, and Newchwang in March 1895. When the Treaty of Shimonoseki ceded the Liao-tung peninsula with Port Arthur to Japan, Russia took the lead, in co-operation with Germany and France, thus compelling Japan to return this part of Manchuria to China in November 1895.

The Russian government opened Post Offices in China during the late 1800's with Tientsin and Peking opening during 1870, Shanghai opening 1897 and at Chefoo opening about 1897, whilst at Hankow the office did not open until 1904. Russia reaped the reward of her friendly intervention on 22nd May 1896, when Li-Hung-Chang, Ambassador Extraordinary of the Court of Peking, signed at St. Petersburg a secret treaty of alliance, including a concession for the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway (C.E.R.) across central Manchuria from Manchuli to Sui-fen-ho, linking at both terminals with the adjacent parts of the Trans-Siberian line. In implementation of this agreement, a Convention was signed in Berlin on the 8th September 1896, between the Chinese Government and the Russo-Chinese Bank, creating the Chinese Eastern Railway Company, and handing over to it the necessary lands, with exclusive rights of administration.

Before this major project could be brought to completion, the German landing in Shantung allowed Russia to secure a Leasehold in the Liao-tung peninsula, evacuated by Japan during 1898, together with the right to build still another railway line linking Port Arthur with the C.E.R. at Kharbin. By the end of 1899, Russia already had some 20,000 soldiers in the Leasehold, while detachments of Cossacks were patrolling the railway area, and protecting it from incursions by organised bandits, then infesting most of the country.

In Manchuria the Russian government opened post offices at Port Arthur, shortly after the occupation in 1899, at Dairen also in 1899 at Ta-lien-wan in 1900, in Ying-kou and Liao-yang during 1900, Mukden was opened in 1900, as was the post office at Kharbin also in 1900. Work on both railway lines was still proceeding when the Boxer rebellion broke out, and spread to Manchuria, where the rebels began to destroy the railway tracks, and opened fire on Russian shipping on the Amur river, exactly the kind of ill-devised provocative action most likely to invite Russian military intervention. The challenge was soon met, and Russian armed forces quickly overran Manchuria, occupying in turn Tsitsikar, Kharbin, Kirin, Mukden, and reaching Newchwang, on the Gulf of Chih-li, on the 5th August 1900. Manchuria, now officially called Pri-Amur District by the Russians, was placed under a Russian Governor-General (General Grodekov), and a permanent military guard of 12,000 men was assigned for the protection of the railway, but the local Chinese civilian authorities were maintained at their functions.

With Russian troops and civil servants, now on the spot, work on the railway progressed at a fast pace, and both the Manchuli-Sui-fen-ho main line, and the Port Arthur-Kharbin additional line, were opened to traffic in the autumn of 1901. By this time, the Boxer rebellion had been liquidated by the Protocol of Peking, and China was initiating negotiations which ended in the Russo-Chinese Agreement of 8th April 1902, whereby Russia agreed to evacuate Manchuria against guarantees, additional concession, and priority rights. The evacuation was to take place in three stages, and the first stage was carried out as agreed on the 8`h October 1902, when western Feng-t'ien (with the Chinese owned Shanhaikwan - Hsin-min-tun railway), was returned to China, the occupying troops withdrawing to the area of the C.E.R., east of the Liao river. In the meantime, however, influential Russian interests had secured an important timber concession in northern Korea, and were swinging St. Petersburg to a policy of infiltration in that country, which Japan considered as her own sphere of interest. In pursuance of this new policy, the Russians cancelled arrangements for the second stage of the evacuation which was to be completed by the 8th April 1903, presented fresh demands to Peking, re-occupied the area evacuated six months before, and sent a cavalry detachment to Feng-huang-ch'eng, near the Korean border and the timber concession area. Tokyo, where feeling was running high, attempted to negotiate, but the respective points of view were too distant to allow agreement, as the tension mounted, war looked inevitable, and Russia decreed mobilisation on the 28* January 1904. Japan replied to this move by landing troops in Korea and attacking the Russian fleet at Port Arthur on the 8`h February, and formally declared war on the 10th February 1904.