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Here at Langston we believe that Shenyang is one of China's best kept secrets. It is the Middle Kingdom's other imperial city. Historical yet modern, large in size yet culturally very traditional. In Shenyang you'll have the perfect environment to practice your Chinese, because unlike other major Chinese cities, there are very few English speakers here. So while you will be able to find all the Western comforts you want, you're going to have to bargain for them in Chinese!

Let's learn a little more about Shenyang!

Shenyang located in Liaoning, the southernmost province of what was historically Manchuria; has long been northeast China’s most pivotal city.  Acting as a Mongol trading center as far back as the 11th century and as the capital of the imposing Manchu Empire in the 17th century; Shenyang has always held a high status among the cities of the Middle Kingdom and continues to do so today.  In fact the Chinese government chose Shenyang as one of only six cities outside of Beijing to hold the Olympics in 2008.

The center of Liaoning geographically, politically, and culturally, Shenyang is truly an international and forward looking metropolis.  Filled with modern amenities, yet surrounded by ancient culture, Shenyang displays a unique and, at times, contradictory mixture of old and new.  On one city block an individual can indulge in five star western cuisines, and yet just down the street experience a real Chinese meal in a tiny family run eatery.  Everywhere modern skyscrapers dominate the skyline, however, traditional Chinese architecture remains in nearly every part of the city.

People and Culture

Shenyang residents are classic Dongbeiren (Dongbeiren literally means “Northeasterners”). Scores of adjectives are routinely used to describe Dongbeiren: friendly, loud, drinkers, and straight-forward are just a few. Many of these stereotypes are accurate and they are titles in which Shenyang people take pride; however residents most like to point out their reputation for friendliness. It takes only a few encounters with strangers on the street to discover this stereotype holds true with most of the people one meets in the city.

Though Dongbeiren are also quite loud, locals prefer to describe themselves as being “reqing”, or “enthusiastic.” In most restaurants, Shenyang dinners converse with intensity that takes visitors by surprise. Old friends who are in the midst of affable conversation can appear to outsiders to be in angry argument. This tendency towards loud and spirited conversation raises the decibel level in most public places, especially restaurants.

Another phenomenon sure to be noticed in Shenyang restaurants is serious drinking. Dongbeiren are well known throughout China for their ability and willingness to drink. Again, they attribute this to their “reqing”. In restaurants shouts of “Ganbei!”, literally meaning “Dry your cup!”, can be heard from all directions. To Dongbeiren, willingness of new acquaintances or potential business partners to get drunk can be an important first step in deepening a friendship or a business relationship. When people are dinning together it is considered rude to take a sip of any alcoholic beverage without inviting at least one other person at the table to drink, which inevitably results in more shouts of “Ganbei!”

The people in Shenyang also consider themselves to be down-to-earth and straight-talking. Chinese culture is notoriously indirect – people often hint at rather than directly state what they want. Residents of Shenyang claim that they are not this way. To westerners they still seem quite indirect, but compared to other regions of China, Shenyang residents are perhaps more to-the-point in their interactions. This is why many in Shenyang will claim that when it comes to business, the Northeastern Chinese aren’t as crafty, or as successful, as their counterparts to the south.       

Though the population of Shenyang is greater 8 million, the earthy warmth and laidback attitude of its people make the city feel much smaller than it is. It’s the people of Shenyang that make it such a great place to live, or to visit.

A Brief History of Shenyang

Archaeological finds show that humans inhabited the Shenyang area as early as 7,200 years ago. However, the city of Shenyang was not established until 300B.C when Qin Kai of the Yan state (one of the seven states that fought for control of China during the Warring States period) wrested control of the Liaodong Peninsula from the Dong Hu, a nomadic Mongol tribe that occupied Northeast China and was once the dominant power in Mongolia. Shenyang was originally named Hou City and was renamed several times thereafter.  It was in 1625 when the Manchu leader Nuerhaci, the founder of the Qing Dynasty, moved his capital to Shenyang that the city began to play a central political and economic role in China. Nuerhaci once again renamed Shenyang: it became known as Shengjing in Chinese, or Mukden in the Manchu language (the Manchu name, Mukden, was used in English sources through much of the 20th century). Shenyang remained the capital of the Qing Dynasty until 1644 when Qing forces occupied Beijing and toppled Ming Dynasty rule.
Entrance to Shenyang's Qing Dynasty Zhaoling (Beiling) Tomb

Though the Qing Dynasty capital was moved to Beijing after overthrowing the Ming, Shenyang retained great importance as the older capital and the location of the tombs of early Qing rulers. Imperial treasures were kept in Shenyang and Qing emperors would make regular journeys north from Beijing to worship their ancestors and pray for the continued success and prosperity.

Shenyang’s position as one of the centers of Qing Dynasty rule is a source of much pride to its residents. However, the period of history that is most vivid in the minds of Shenyang inhabitants is the tumult experienced over the past 100 years. Particularly painful, is the memory of Japan’s former occupation of Northeast China. Every year on September 18th, air-raid sirens sound throughout the city to commemorate the Mukden Incident.

The Mukden Incident began on September 18th, 1931 when a group of Japanese junior officers blew up an insignificant stretch of railway track near Shenyang (the Southern Manchurian Railway had been owned and controlled by Japan since defeating Russia in the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War). Their purpose was to blame the incident on the Chinese government and create a pretext from which the Japanese army could justify an invasion of Shenyang and the rest of Manchuria. The next day on September 19th, Japanese forces already inside Shenyang, opened fire on the Chinese garrison within the city. The sparse and inexperienced Chinese troops were no match for the Japanese. By that evening the fighting was over and the Japanese were in control of Shenyang; the battle cost 500 Chinese lives and two Japanese lives.  

The Mukden Incident was the beginning of Japan’s invasion of all of Manchuria and the establishment of a Japanese puppet-state, the Manchukuo State led by Emperor Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty.

For visitors to Shenyang who are interested in this period of Chinese history, a museum worth visiting is the 18 September History Museum (Jiu Yi Ba Lìshi Bówùguan) located on 46 Wanghua Nanjie. The museum is open daily from 8:30am to 4pm. It is filled with photos and relics of Japanese occupation. Some of the exhibits are quite gruesome and not for the faint-of-heart. They depict Japanese war crimes committed in Manchuria including atrocities carried out by Imperial Japan’s Unit 713. Unit 713 was responsible for the horrific medical research done on residents of Manchuria before World War II.

It was Russia that brought an end to the Manchukou State when they invaded Manchukou after declaring war on Japan. The Soviet offensive into Manchukou prevailed with little resistance. Emperor Puyi tried to escape to Japan where he hoped to surrender to US forces. However, he was captured by the Soviets and eventually Stalin repatriated him to China as a political favor to Mao Zedong. Upon his return to China he spent 10 years in a reeducation camp in Fushun, a city just to the east of Shenyang.

With the support of the Soviet Union, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) used Manchuria, as a base for operations against the Kuomintang from 1945 to 1949 during the latter half of the Chinese Civil War. For part of that time the Kuomintang was able to occupy Shenyang and other major cities in Manchuria; however, the Communists kept firm control of the countryside, having won widespread popularity for resistance to Imperial Japan in the form periodic guerilla attacks against Japanese outposts throughout Manchuria. On November 1st, 1948 the PLA attacked the Kuomintang forces in Shenyang and gained control of the city the next day. After destroying the Nationalist army in Shenyang, the Kuomintang was quickly pushed out of the rest of Manchuria, marking the PLA’s first decisive victory in the Chinese Civil War.

The New Shenyang in the New China

In recent years, Shenyang has experienced rapid development resulting from the economic reforms implemented by Denxiaoping. Its modernization has transformed the city into a fascinating mix of old and new. Amid Shenyang’s burgeoning modern architecture, the city is scattered with reminders of its ancient past. From Qing Dynasty palaces and tombs to 1,000 year-old pagodas and Ming Dynasty Temples, the city offers ample opportunity to explore its rich past.

Shenyang Sites

In addition to the many dynamic cities easily reached from Shenyang there are also many spectacular sights within and surrounding Liaoning’s capital.  

Imperial Palace
Construction on the magnificent 60,000 sq. m (71,760 sq. yd) Imperial Palace was undertaken in two stages. The main structure, completed in 1625 was the work of the first Qing Dynasty emperor, Nuerhaci. Nuerhaci's eighth son and heir, Abahai, completed the final phase of construction in 1636. The palace is a picturesque network of courtyards, palatial chambers, and well-preserved Qing Dynasty architecture.

Zhaoling Tomb
Zhaoling Tomb (North Tomb or Beiling Tomb) built in the 17th century. One of largest and best preserved imperial mausoleums in China, the Zhaoling Tomb remain as the final resting place of the second emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Abahai (Huang Taiji) and his queen, Bo'erjijite. More than 2,000 ancient pine trees surround the tomb in Shenyang's largest park which encircles the tomb walls. Most of the trees are more than 300 years old.

Fuling Tomb
A few kilometers outside of Shenyang lies the Fuling Tomb (Eastern Imperial Tomb).  Though smaller in scale, the Fuling Tomb predates the Zhaoling Tomb and houses the remains of the first Qing emperor, Nuerhachi, and his wife.  

Wuai Market
Wuai Market is one of the largest shopping complexes in China, if not the world – it must be seen to be believed. At Wuai Market one can buy traditional Chinese arts and crafts, clothes, fake designer fashion accessories (watches, purses, belts, etc.), luggage, electronics, DVDs, toys – anything and everything is to be found at this massive shopping complex. Show up ready to bargain because everything is negotiable at Wuai Market.

Liaoning TV Tower
At 1002 feet /305.5 meters tall, the Liaoning TV tower is a landmark that can be seen from almost anywhere in Shenyang. We’ll ride an elevator to a viewing deck near the top of this impressive tower with a commanding view of the entire city.

Daxi Caihang Outdoor Market

At night, this lazy back street comes alive with people buying and selling a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, spices and much more. Locals enthusiastically haggle over prices and merchants advertise their products by shouting out over the crowds of people filing up and down this narrow market street.

Qianshuibeng Square
Located next to the US Consulate just a fifteen-minute walk from Langston, Qianshuibeng Square is a great place to witness the way Chinese parks come alive in the evening. From dusk well into the night, there are hundreds of people practicing traditional dance, various forms of martial arts, badminton matches, ping pong, and various other exercises. And adding to the festive atmosphere are groups of people both young and old out for an evening stroll.

Liuniao Tea House
Liuniao is Shenyang’s most well-known tea house. While there you can enjoy a traditional Chinese tea-making ceremony while kicking back in Liuniao’s unique environment surrounded by indoor fountains, lush plant life and parrots climbing on their large wooden cages.

Sites Near Shenyang

If you’re looking for adventure outside of Shenyang’s city limits, you’ll find that the Manchurian countryside is dotted with picturesque villages and farms where life is much the way it was a century ago. Though nowhere near exhaustive, below are a few sites near Shenyang that Langston students may be interested in.

Benxi Water Cave

A one-hour drive from Shenyang, the Benxi Water Cave is one of the longest navigable water caves in the world. Guests enter by boat and are motored 3km in via a year-round underground river flowing from deep inside. There are impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations throughout, and the largest cavern is more than 50 meters tall.

Yongling Tomb
The Yongling Tomb is a two-and-a-half hours’ drive east from Shenyang. Located next to Yongling Village at the base of Qiyun Mountain, the tombs are said to have excellent fengshui (advantageous positioning in relation to the Earth’s natural forces). As a result of the tomb’s presence, the surrounding forests and mountains have been protected since the beginning of the Qing Dynasty. Construction on the Yongling Tombs began in 1598 near the end of the Ming Dynasty and it is the final resting place of Nuerhaci’s father, paternal grandfather, paternal great grandparents and several other more distant relatives.

Wunu Mountain

Wunu Mountain is a three-hour drive from Shenyang and is the site on which the ancient Korean Goguryeo Kingdom was founded in 37 B.C. It was also the place where Li Manzhu, the third king of of Jurchen, established the Manchu kingdom in 1424. While approaching Wunu Mountain it is clear why ancient rulers chose to construct their fortresses at its summit. The top of the mountain is a small peninsula surrounded by vertical cliffs that would prove nearly impermeable to any kind of attack.

It's a steep hike up Wunu Mountain that requires a reasonable level of fitness. At the top you can see what remains of the Goguryeo Kingdom as well as an impressive view of the surrounding countryside. The hike down the opposite side of the mountain is exhilarating. A section of the path consists of a steel walkway bolted into a cliff. The path is quite safe, but those who are squeamish around heights may want to exit via the entrance path.

Wangtian Cave

Located near Wunu Mountain, more than a three-hours drive from Shenyang, this cave system has just recently been opened to tourists. It's a winding forty-five minute walk from the cave's entrance through a series of narrow passages that open into impressive chambers. Upon exiting the cave, those who are feeling adventurous can ride a zip line down to an area near the parking lot.

Hekou Village
Hekou is a friendly village surrounded by fruit orchards that was once home to a bridge linking it to North Korea across the Yalu River. The bridge partially remains; the US bombed it during the Korean War and the half that still stands on the Chinese side is now a tourist attraction. From Hekou you can take a boat ride offers a close-up view of several North Korean villages and inhabitants, as well as two military outposts where gun-toting soldiers guard the border. This is as close as a tourist can get to North Korea without actually entering the country. Hekou is about a three-hour drive south of Shenyang.

To and from Shenyang

Shenyang’s centrality makes it an ideal city for those wishing to experience all of Northern China.  For those traveling on a budget, direct railway lines connect Shenyang to most of China’s major cities.  Some of the closer and more convenient destinations include Beijing--China’s Capital; Dalian--Liaoning’s beautiful port city often called the “Hong Kong of the north;” Harbin--during the winter months this northern city transforms into an ice sculpture filled winter wonderland.  These are only a few examples of the many places one can easily visit by train from Shenyang.  Travelers on a less restricted budget can conveniently make use of Shenyang’s Taoxian International Airport, servicing most of China and several international destinations.


Shenyang's average temperature is 8.6 degrees Celsius, with its highest temperatures hovering around 35.2 degrees Celsius, and its lowest around 24.9 degrees Celsius below zero. The winters in Shenyang are cold and the summers are hot.  The spring and fall seasons are clear and cool.



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