A modern, sprawling city on the Yellow Sea, DALIAN (大连, dàlián) is one of China’s most cosmopolitan cities, partly because it has changed hands so often. As the only ice-free port in the region, it was eagerly sought by the foreign powers that held sway over China in the nineteenth century. The Japanese took the city in 1895, only to lose it a few years later to the Russians, who saw it as an alternative to ice-bound Vladivostok. In 1905, after decisively defeating the Russian navy, the Japanese wrested it back and remained in control for long enough to complete the construction of the port facilities and city grid – still visible in the many traffic circles and axial roads. After World War II, the Soviet Union occupied the city for ten years, finally withdrawing when Sino–Soviet relations improved.
The “foreign devils” are still here, though they’re now invited: Dalian has been designated a Special Economic Zone, one of China’s “open-door” cities, with regulations designed to attract overseas investment. As a result, it is busier than ever, the funnel for Dongbei’s enormous natural and mineral wealth and an industrial producer in its own right, specializing in petrochemicals and shipbuilding. The city though manages to be a leisurely place, with green spaces and an excellent traffic control system. It’s popular with tourists who come here for the scenic spots and beaches outside the city, to recover their health in sanatoriums and to gorge themselves on seafood. The city’s football team, Shide, won the Chinese league ten times in 22 years, contributed six players to the country’s 2002 World Cup squad (the last time the national team qualified) and were the home team of one of the country’s first footballing exports, Sun Jihai.