Shenyang is the capital of Liaoning province and the largest city in China’s northeast, with over eight million residents. Once known as Mukden, Shenyang also briefly served as the capital of China’s last dynasty, the Qing. Its historical significance only grew in the 20th century, with the Japanese invasion of the northeast starting with an incident in the city in 1931. Today, Shenyang is a major industrial area, but don’t confuse industrial with ugly. While Shenyang may not be the best destination in winter, due to increased pollution caused by coal burning, it is a wealth of historical gems, like the Mukden Palace, the former imperial palace of Shenyang. Travelers looking for a less-congested alternative to Beijing’s Forbidden City will be delighted by Mukden’s Manchu-style architecture that rivals Beijing’s Han-style, particularly in the intricate details of the paint and carvings. There are also two must-see tombs: Zhaoling, the final resting place of the second Qing emperor, and Fuling, the imperial tomb of Nu’erhachi, the founder of the Qing dynasty.
Those who insist on going to Shenyang in the winter can enjoy one of the city’s three ski resort destinations.
Dalian, the second largest city in Liaoning, offers a welcome contrast to the industrial cities of much of the rest of the northeast. Founded in 1898, its history is as much Russian and Japanese as it is Chinese, and it is this colonial heritage that makes Dalian so unique. It was founded by the Russians as the southern tip of the Trans-Siberian railway and later handed over to the Japanese following Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. It is located on the southern tip of the province and is surrounded on most sides by coastline.
Its beaches and green spaces make Dalian one of China’s most livable cities and also a popular tourist destination for mainland travelers. For a city with over six million inhabitants, its pace of life is more on par with a coastal village than a major urban center. Take a stroll along Binhai Road, and experience the beauty of mountains to one side and sea to the other. Weary hikers can stop for a rest on one of the southern coastline’s beaches, with Tiger Beach being roughly in the middle of the 35km stretch.
Dalian isn’t just beaches, of course. In late April, the city’s 3000 cherry blossoms, located in the nearby village of Long Wangtang, burst into life, and all year long is a great time to see Dalian’s old colonial buildings. Some have been demolished, yes, but there still exists a large concentration of Russian architecture in Xigang District.
Panjin Red Beach
Red Beach, located in the small city of Panjin, is part of the world’s largest wetland and reed marsh. Its unique red color comes from the Suaeda salsa species of grass and starts turning its brilliant shade in April, while its mature red occurs sometime in August or September. The wetland is also the habitat for some 260 kinds of birds and 399 kinds of wild animals.
Jade Buddha Palace
Jade Buddha Palace, a temple complex in Liaoning’s Anshan city, is home to the world’s largest jade Buddha statue. The single piece of jade, weighing over 260 tons, has two Buddhas carved into it. On the front is the Sakyamuni Buddha and on the back, the Guanyin Buddha.
The city of Benxi offers tourists a wealth of natural sites to explore, including a subterranean river at the Benxi Water Cave National Park and the world’s smallest lake, located in Xihu district.
Bijia Mountain, located on an island in the Bohai Sea, can only be reached by boat most times of the day. During low tide, however, a cobblestone causeway appears and connects the island to the rest of Liaoning province. Atop the mountain sit many significant pavilions and Buddhist statues, and the mountain itself is said to be the location of Pangu’s creation of the world, associated with Chinese mythology.
Liaoning cuisine fits into the larger Dongbei, or northeast, style that starts in Beijing and spreads upwards. Many of the dishes are extremely hearty, with potatoes and wheat being staples in most. Popular dishes include steamed dumplings, pickled vegetables, twice cooked pork and di san xian, a stir fried dish consisting of potatoes, green peppers and eggplant. Dongbei is a cuisine favored by foreigners, due to its mild and approachable flavors. While Dongbei cuisine is largely consistent throughout the northeast, Liaoning is home to a unique variation that favors liberal additions of garlic and ginger.