Across the Manchu Heartland to Shenyang

After visiting the Koguryo ruins of Ji'an, I got onto a bus for Shenyang, capital of Liaoning Province and the largest city in the Northeast of China (also known as Dongbei).  The journey initially passed through gloomy coal mining towns in the southern hills of Jilin but eventually passed through larger and more prosperous looking medium-sized and small cities whose names most of us have never heard before, such as Tonghua and Fushun. Even then, the fruits of China's economic growth is everywhere - huge new malls and condominium projects with fancy names being built; well-dressed pedestrians; new motorways and chic bridges being constructed; farms and rural supermarkets with huge signs advertising organic or free range meat and food products to the new fussy middle class.

After leaving Jilin Province, we entered the Xinbin Manchu Autonomous County in Liaoning Province, whose tourism billboards proclaim the county to be the real homeland of the dragons as well as, bizarrely, eco-tourism heaven of Dongbei (i.e., the Northeast Provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning). 

The Northeast Provinces of China are the original heartland of the Manchu People, an ethnic group that founded the Qing Dynasty in 1644 (which only ended in 1912).  Within Dongbei, it was what is today the Xinbin Manchu Autonomous County in Liaoning Province that was where Nuerhaci, a tribal chief first began his campaigns to unite what eventually became the Manchu tribal confederation and ultimately set off to conquer China. The rise of a great empire which defined the borders of today's China also foretold the destruction of the traditional culture of the tribe that founded it.  Like most conquerors of China, they eventually became absorbed into Chinese culture and lost much of its own uniqueness, be it the Manchus and Mongols, and other long-gone tribal empires such as the Xianbei, Khitans and Liaos.  

Almost 10 million people in China still define themselves officially as Manchu but they are almost no different from ethnic Han Chinese in lifestyle, customs and everyday language.  The Manchu language is almost but lost.  As the bus passed through the autonomous county, I only saw Manchu language once - displayed together with Chinese at the entrance of the offices of the Government of the township of Yongling in the suburbs of Xinbin County.  The Government of Xinbin Manchu Autonomous County did not even bother to display signs in the Manchu language outside its offices, perhaps because they did not have anyone who is able to write the language.  Yongling, however, plays host to the first capital of the Manchu as well as the imperial tombs of Nuerhaci and the first officials of the emerging Manchu state...perhaps they have a few historian and museum staff who knows Manchu.

I reached Shenyang by 6pm.  This is the biggest metropolis in Dongbei and one of China's largest cities.  The city is packed with malls and skyscrapers, and like most major Chinese cities, atrocious traffic jams.  I checked into the Jin Bei Auto Business Hotel right at the shopping and CBD of Shenyang, for an ensuite room (complete with inetrnet) for only about US$25.  I look forward to visiting many of Shenyang's top attractions over the next few days, including the Forbidden Cty/Palace Museum of the Qing Dynasty in Shenyang, also a World Heritage Site. 

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