Few Western tourists make it to DALIAN, a modern, sprawling city on the Yellow Sea. This is a pity, since it’s an extremely agreeable place with swaths of colonial architecture, proximity to some good beaches, and some excellent seafood. It’s also one of China’s most cosmopolitan cities, partly because it has changed hands so often – in the years around the turn of the twentieth century, it found itself under Japanese, then Russian, then Japanese, then Soviet occupation.
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. Unlike most Chinese metropolises, the city boasts green spaces and an excellent traffic control system, both the handiwork of the high-flying former mayor turned national commerce minister and Politburo member Bo Xilai. Despite his leaving the city in 2003, locals still seem to admire him as much as they do the city’s football team, the most successful in Chinese league history; they also contributed six players to the country’s 2002 World Cup squad (the first, and so far only, time the national team qualified).