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From the series Cities of China

I must admit that the memory of my first visit to Shenyang, Liaoning province, isn’t a particularly pleasant one. It was August of 1990, 14 teammates and I (and all of our luggage) were on a bus journey from Beijing to Changchun, trying to make it in time for the start of language classes at Northeast Normal University. The short version of the story is that there were no train tickets available so our fearless leader decided to charter a bus to take us on what he promised was a 14-hour journey. It wasn’t; we arrived in Changchun 30 hours after leaving Beijing.

We stopped for “breakfast” at a hole-in-the-wall jiaozi guan (dumpling shop) in what was then a gritty, grimy industrial city enveloped in an early morning black smog. We ate our jiaozi in haste and set out for the last leg of our journey to Changchun, most of us vowing not to return!

I managed to keep that vow until the spring of 1997, when my passport was stolen during a trip to Beijing. In order to get a new one, I had to venture back to Shenyang to the U.S. Consulate there. Although still not as nice as Changchun (in my mind), it was a much nicer city than I had remembered it to be. Partly that was due to shifting memories, and partly due to the fact that the city had modernized significantly since my last visit.

This video, posted to Vimeo, reminds me again that the city is not as I remember:

Shenyang, China – 沈阳 – Timelapse from bwfilm on Vimeo.

Historically the city’s claim to fame is as ancestral capital of the Manchu people, founders of the Qing Dynasty. At that time the city was named Mukden. In the 1920s it served as the capital for the warlord Zhang Zuolin. In 1931, it was the site of the famous Mukden Incident, an attack on the railway that the Japanese used as a pretext to launch a full-scale invasion of northeast China (Manchuria). Even though Changchun was the capital of Japanese-occupied China, Shenyang was an important industrial and military base.

Today Shenyang, with a population of more than 8 million, is the largest city in what is known as Dongbei (东北)—the Northeast.

Presbyterian missionaries are credited with bringing the gospel to Shenyang in 1876, with the arrival of Scottish missionary John Ross. The church he planted then is now known as the Dongguan Protestant Church, which is the oldest Protestant church in Dongbei and, according to Baidu, has 30,000 members.

Because of its cultural and economic prominence in Dongbei, Shenyang is now connected by air to numerous international cities, including Pyongyang, Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok, and Frankfurt.

Something tells me it’s time to pay Shenyang another visit!

Image credit: Aaron Sorrell, via Flickr.

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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