SHENYANG (沈阳, shěnyáng), the capital of Liaoning province (辽宁, liáoníng) and unofficial capital of the northeast, is both a railway junction and banking centre that’s served as host to the Manchus, Russians, Japanese, Nationalists and then Communists. An hour’s flight from Beijing, the city likens itself to the capital; any cabbie here will delight in telling you that they have the only other Imperial Palace in China.
Shenyang does indeed resemble the capital, but only in its wide, characterless avenues walled by Soviet-style matchbox buildings and glassy towers. In fact, the most remarkable thing about Shenyang is that it isn’t remarkable at all. All the ingredients for an interesting visit are here: China’s other Forbidden City, constructed by Manchus before their takeover of the Ming dynasty; a stunning monument to Chairman Mao built during the frenzied height of the Cultural Revolution; the tombs of two former emperors; architecture left over from Japan’s occupation, including one of China’s loveliest hotels. The list goes on. And a list is what Shenyang feels like, a collection of curios out of context in their industrial surroundings, with little to detain you for more than a brief stop.
Though well known in China as an important power base for the more radical hardline factions in Chinese politics (Mao’s nephew, Yuanxin, was deputy Party secretary here until he was thrown in jail in 1976), Shenyang had its real heyday in the early seventeenth century. Nurhaci declared the city (then known as Mukden) the first capital of the expanding Manchu empire. He died in 1626, as work on his palace was just beginning, and was succeeded by his eighth son, Abahai, who consolidated and extended Manchu influence across northern China. When the Manchus, having defeated the resident Ming, moved to Beijing in 1644 and established the Qing dynasty, Shenyang declined steadily in importance. The city began to take on its modern, industrial role with the arrival of the Russians in the nineteenth century, who made it the centre of their rail-building programme. Years later, the puppets of the Japanese state also set up shop here, exploiting the resources of the surrounding region and building an industrial infrastructure whose profits and products were sent home to Japan.Read More
The Imperial Palace
The Imperial Palace
Begun in 1626, the Imperial Palace (沈阳故宫, shěnyáng gùgōng) is a vastly scaled-down replica of Beijing’s Forbidden City. Located in what was the centre of the old city but is now largely shopping malls (bus #237 comes here from the South station), the complex divides into three main sections. The first, the Cong Zhen Dian, is a low, wooden-fronted hall where the Qing dynasty was proclaimed and which was used by ministers to discuss state affairs. Beyond here, in the second courtyard, stands the Phoenix Tower, most formal of the ceremonial halls, and the Qing Ning Lou, which housed bedrooms for the emperor and his concubines. In the eastern section of the complex, the Da Zheng Dian is a squat, octagonal, wooden structure in vivid red and lacquered gold, with two pillars cut with writhing golden dragons in high relief. Here, the emperor Shunzhi was crowned before seizing Beijing – and the empire – in 1644. Just in front stand ten square pavilions, the Shi Wang, once used as offices by the chieftains of the Eight Banners (districts) of the Empire, and now housing a collection of bizarrely shaped swords and pikes. Take time to wander away from the groups amid the side palaces, and note the Manchu dragons in bas-relief, unique to this palace.