Shenyang is the capital of Liaoning Province and the largest city in northeastern China. Though most people have never heard of this interesting city, Shenyang has played a key role in Chinese history. It was the capital of a Manchu State and briefly the seat of China’s Qing Dynasty. What’s more, three outstanding architectural ensembles from that period have survived until today. The UNESCO included these marvels in its World Heritage Site List. Besides, Shenyang hosts several lively pedestrian streets, colorful squares, and many different heritage buildings. Additionally, the world’s biggest wetland is just a step away. The following are our 10 most interesting facts about Shenyang city.
01 Shenyang Is China’s Twelfth Largest City
Shenyang is China’s twelfth-largest city trailing behind Xi’an and Hangzhou. That is excluding Guangzhou‘s satellite cities, Foshan and Dongguan. According to the last Official Census of 2010, the urban population of Shenyang was 5.7 million people. At that time, 8.1 million people lived within the Shenyang Metropolitan Area. In the last decade, the city has grown at a stable pace. Recent estimates place Shenyang’s urban population at 7.3 million. Today, Shenyang is one of China’s ethnically most diverse cities. Apart from Han Chinese, 37 ethnic groups live in the city, including the native Manchu and Xibo people.
02 It’s Name Means the Sunny Side of the River
Shenyang’s name is composed of two Chinese characters: Shen and Yang. Shen is the river that crosses the city, while Yang the sunny, bright, or positive side of the Yin-Yang symbol. Thus, the city’s name literally means the sunny side of the river Shen. Chinese tradition considers places north of rivers and south of the mountains to be sunny. The cities of Guiyang and Luoyang got their names this way too. However, when Shenyang was the capital of Manchu, its name was Mukden. That is, the Rising capital, since mukdembi means to rise in Manchurian.
03 Shenyang Was a Regional Capital
Shenyang boasts a long and rich history. Archeological findings confirm humans settled in the area some 8000 years ago. However, the first city was built around 300 years BC. For centuries, different powers ruled Shenyang, until the city rose into prominence in the early 17th century. In 1625, the Manchu people captured Shenyang and made it their capital city. That same year they built their opulent Royal Palace. Fortunately, the palace has survived until today. In 1644 after the fall of the Ming Dynasty, they established the long-ruling Qing Dynasty and moved their capital to Beijing. Shenyang, however, remained as the spiritual capital for centuries to come.
04 The City Center Is in Three Districts
Shenyang is a big city with a relatively large center. Though Shenhe is the most central district, a section of the center is in the Dadong and Heping districts. Most of Shenyang’s historical sites are in Shenhe. The city’s main street, pedestrian Middle Street, is here too. Well, at least partially, since its eastern end lies in the Dadong District. Heping district is home to various cultural and entertainment areas. The popular Korea Town in Xia Street and the Taiyuan pedestrian street are here. The city’s nicest plaza, Zhongshan Square, is in Heping too. Several palaces built during the Japanese occupation line the enormous square.
05 World Heritage Sites Dot Shenyang
Shenyang has its forbidden city, a replica of the famous one in Beijing. We are referring to the imposing Shenyang Imperial Palace or Mukden Palace. The original palace is from 1625, but some of its pavilions are from 1631. It successfully blends Chinese with Manchu and Tibetan elements. The first three Qing emperors lived in the palace. Nurhaci, who founded the Dynasty, is buried in the monumental Fuling Mausoleum, east of the city center. The second emperor Hong Taiji is in the Zhao Mausoleum inside Beiling Park in north Shenyang. UNESCO included the palace and both mausoleums in its World Heritage Sites.
06 Shenyang Hosts Plenty of Architectural Heritage
If you think three World Heritage Sites are more than enough, you are wrong! A beautiful complex of historic houses lies close to the imperial palace. The Former Residence of Zhang Zuolin and Zhang Xueliang comprises several grand villas that blend western and eastern architectural influences. The nearby NanGuan Catholic Church is a beautiful neo-gothic cathedral from 1861. Shenyang Railway Station, the oldest train station in the city, is a superb example of Japanese Imperial architecture. Finally, just 2.5 km outside of the former city wall, we find four Tibetan pagodas in each cardinal direction: north, west, south and east.
07 The City Boasts an Impressive Cultural Park
During the early 1980s, Shenyang was China’s industrial hub. In fact, China’s northeast was so important at that time that it accounted for 20% of the country’s industrial production. A decline in industrial output led to Shenyang’s financial downfall. Luckily, the city has come back in the past two decades. Shenyang is repurposing its massive industrial sites, especially in the Tiexi District. Shenyang 1905 Cultural and Creative Park is a fantastic example. With an area of 4000 m2, it is the largest cultural park in northeastern China. Folk performances, experimental shows, art studios, bars, and cafes populate the park. Today, it is one of Shenyang’s main tourist attractions.
08 Shenyang’s Contemporary Architecture Lags Behind
Shenyang took time to recover from its economic downturn, thus its relatively monotonous skyline. Fortunately, things are changing, and Shenyang is slowly starting to catch up with other Chinese metropolises. The Palace 66 Commercial Center is the first large scale building designed by renowned world architects in Shenyang. The nearby imperial palace inspired Kohn Pedersen Fox Studio Designers, thus the series of giant glazed roofs that crown the center. Even more notorious is the Shengjing Grand Theater, formerly known as Shenyang Culture and Arts Center. The cultural venue resembles a giant diamond. Finally, the School of Architecture at the Northeastern University Hunnan Campus, with its series of square buildings and patio, resembles the Chinese character Pǐn (品). Fabulous!
09 The Biggest Wetland in the World Is Near
One of the most overlooked natural sites in all of China is just a step away from Shenyang. The Red Beach in Panjin is the largest wetland and reed marsh in China and the world. We are talking about the area that surrounds the Panjin Shuangtaizi River right before it enters the sea. More than 260 different types of birds and 399 species of wild animals make up this diverse ecosystem. The endangered Black Beaked Gull and Red-Crowned Crane live here too. Since the area is protected, tourists can only access a tiny section. The name Red Beach comes from the plant called Sueda that turns red in fall.
10 Shenyang Metro Is China’s Tenth Oldest
When Shenyang opened its metro in 2010, it was the 11th urban rail transport system in Mainland China. Since then, the system has grown steadily and now boasts 116 kilometers (72 miles) on 4 different lines. The shape of the metro is unique. While the original lines 1 and 2 form a typical cross-system, lines 9 and 10 form a large circle. Circular metros of one line operate only in China’s largest cities. The city’s ambitious development plan includes a total of 13 metro lines, several currently under construction. A 60 kilometer (37 miles) long tram network further enhances Shenyang’s transportation system.