Asia : East Asia : China : Northeast China
North East China (东北; dōngběi; historically known as Manchuria). The largest ethnic group are the Han. There are Manchu, Mongol and Korean minorities.
Even if the Chinese understand that there is civilization beyond the Great Wall, most tourists do not. The lands to the northeast of Beijing represent some of the least traveled and most challenging regions of China.
The region is historically known as Manchuria, and for centuries the main ethnic group were the Manchus. In 1644 the Manchus conquered China and founded the Qing Dynasty. The Qing ruled for over 250 years, until the founding of the Republic of China in 1911. During the Qing Dynasty, Manchuria was off limits to Han Chinese. That prohibition broke down as the Qing began losing power in the late 1800's. Today, the Han by far are the largest ethnic group in the region. However, the area still has a mysterious quality separate from the rest of China, and a Manchu minority still can be found in this area.
Russia sought dominance in the region in the 19th and early 20th centuries, taking Port Arthur (now called Dalian) as a naval base, building a railroad, and generally exerting great influence. After nearly two centuries of peace resulted in the stagnation of the Qing army, the failing Qing dynasty was unable to effectively oppose them. The British and Japanese tried to limit Russian influence, with mixed success. Russian influences continued in later times as well. After 1917 many White Russians fled to this region, or to Shanghai. After 1949 the communist government brought in many Russian advisors. Trade and tourism continue now.
The Qing dynasty fell in 1911. From 1915 to 1928, Manchuria was ruled by the Manchu warlord Zhang Zuolin, "the old marshal". At first he favoured the restoration of the Qing, but eventually he acknowledged the authority of the Nationalist government. He was therefore assassinated by the Japanese. His son, "the young marshal", fled to China with most of his army and became a prominent anti-Japanese fighter. At one point (the "Xi'an incident") he kidnapped Chiang Kai Shek and forced him to work out a truce with the the Communists so both could fight the Japanese.
Japan grabbed Manchuria and a chunk of Mongolia in the 1930s and set up a puppet state called "Manchukuo" under Puyi, the last Qing emperor, who had been deposed by China's 1911 revolution. They tried to expand further into Mongolia, but were soundly thrashed by a Russian/Mongolian force at Khalkin Gol. After that, they changed their strategy and struck South instead of trying to grab Mongolia and Siberia. As elsewhere, Japanese occupation was brutal; in particular millions in Manchuria were conscripted into slave labour.
China regained control of the region in 1945 when Japan lost the second World War because of the combined attack of the Allied forces which included China. With infrastructure already in place from its former masters, Russia and Japan, the Chinese government made North East the center of their efforts at development on the Soviet model, with five-year plans and a concentration on heavy industry. The region is still sometimes referred to as "the rust belt".
Since Deng Xiao Ping's "reform and opening up". other regions such as the Pearl River Delta and the area around Shanghai have developed enormously, based mainly on trade and light industry. The North East has not had quite that spectacular sort of development, but it is doing very well indeed. As elsewhere, the coastal regions have some of the fastest development; in the North East, Dalian is one of the most prosperous cities.
For most Chinese, North East probably brings to mind images of factory workers with bright smiles and a cheery attitude instead of wild men riding on horseback from an earlier age. Despite the industrial buildup, North East can claim China's largest natural forest area, its most uncontaminated grassland area, and one of its most spiritual lakes (Tian Chi).
The region is trying for a makeover since the industrialization of the region is falling apart. It is not known as the rust belt without just cause. Tourism, it is hoped, will help pump money back into the region and keep the local economies afloat. North East is still difficult to visit but, because it is not as hyped as other parts of China, is still fresh and free of the tourism problems of other parts of China.
As anywhere in China, Mandarin is the lingua franca; nearly everyone can speak it. There are substantial groups whose first language is Korean, Manchu or Mongolian, and Russian is fairly common as a second language. As elsewhere in China, English is not widespread but some people speak it quite well.
There are international airports at
There are domestic airports at
Rail service is extensive throughout the region but when you get off the main lines it slows down considerably. The major problem is that since the northeast is connected with the rest of China by a few main lines, long-distance tickets to other places in China past this bottleneck are few and far between, especially sleeper tickets.
The three province capitals of Harbin, Changchun and Shenyang can be reached by direct train from most major cities in the country, only from distant places will a shift of trains in eg Beijing be needed. Other cities in the region has connections from Beijing but not too much from other places.
Northeast China can be entered from Russia via the train from Vladivostok to Harbin. This is a very slow train doing the not very long journey in 35 hours. This train is not much used, you will have to wait long hours in strange places, and crossing the border is a mess. Another option from Russia is there more well-travelled route from Irkutsk to Harbin. It is also possible to go by train from North Korea to the region.
Extensive and fairly reliable, can take a lot of time and be very crowded.
As elsewhere in China, there is an extensive rail network. Rail is the main means of inter-city travel for the Chinese themselves, and many visitors travel that way as well. The system now includes fast bullet trains on most major routes; unless your budget is very tight, these are the best way to go — fast, clean and comfortable.
All the major cities have airports with good domestic connections; some have international connections as well. See the individual city articles for details.
There is also an extensive highway network, much of it very good. Busses go almost anywhere, somewhat cheaper than the trains. See the China article for more. Driving yourself is also possible, but often problematic; see Driving in China.
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