Shenyang notes

You don’t see many luxury goods shops, as the region has been deindustrializing since the 1990s.  There are modernist 1920s cement buildings scattered in some of the old central parts of the city, but nowhere is it attractive.  There is a nine-hour Chinese movie about the city falling on hard economic times, with its three segments called “Rust,” “Remnants,” and “Rails.”

If you travel a lot, you should not restrict yourself to “nice” places, which are more likely to disappoint.

Many of the city’s faces seem to have Korean, Japanese, or Turkic elements, befitting the location and the history.

The main sight is the Manchu imperial palace, a smaller, more accessible, and more atmospheric version of Beijing’s Forbidden City, but with hints of 17th century Manchurian and Tibetan styles.  This city ruled China in the early years of the Qing Dynasty, before the torch was passed to Beijing.

Embedded in Marshal Zhang’s Mansion is the best museum of money and currency I have seen; the Marshal was a heroic leader in the war against Japan, but later made “a wrong choice” and spent much of his 100-year life under house arrest.

The two major tombs in the city have little to offer except long walks on flat plains leading essentially nowhere.

For food the city shines, even by Chinese standards.  Laobian Dumpling serves what are perhaps the best dumplings I have had, and Xin Fen Tian is the place for fine regional specialties.  The city’s cuisine blends meat-heavy, dumpling-related Manchu dishes, rich and earthy casseroles, stews, and mushrooms, and finally Shandong-inspired seafood styles, stemming from the proximity to the coast.  The quality of the local fruit is high, blueberries and cherries included, and the nuts are famous throughout China.

Here is Wikipedia on the Soviet-Sino conflict of 1929, in which Shenyang (then Mukden) played a significant role.  The Mukden incident of 1931 was used to provoke/excuse the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.  Nowadays, Shenyang is a major stop on the North Korean refugee route to Laos (China returns them to NK, but some other countries will send them to SK).

Hardly any non-Chinese tourists come here, and that seems unlikely to change.  Yet this is a rich corner of history and cuisine, a former leader of Asian industrialization, a major seat of historic conflict, a crossroads of cultures, and now a mostly forgotten piece of turf.  What more could a boy want?

If Shenyang stays sleepy, the world will remain safe!


A nice erudite description of a place I would like to visit if I did not like so much where I live.

This seems wrong: "Nowadays, Shenyang is a major stop on the North Korean refugee route to Laos (China returns them to NK, but some other countries will send them to SK)." - Laos is not nearby. But seems like an interesting 'Soviet style" city, note the wide streets, like Moscow and most USSR cities, designed for tank transport, and the Soviet style high-rises.

A lot of Chinese cities are like this.

It is near NK though. You gotta stop somewhere between the Chinese-North-Korean border on your way to distant Laos.

@Ray: it is indeed wrong, but morally.

After WW2, the principle of non-foulement was developed in UN discussions. It means refugees should not be sent back to the country were they will face persecution.

Glad to know you enjoyed the visit, at least in the most vital part of trips - food, in Shen Yang, China. I think most urban part of Liaoning is boring, cement buildings and few good museums. But I always enjoyed the foods, wheat-based foods, sea foods, and some nice Korean bbqs.
Just finished reading your THE COMPLACENT CLASS, I'm wondering do you find the same problem in China? How about the situation in Liaoning? The region was once the most industrialized part of China, but the last 2 decades, at least, witnessed its falling behind in transferring. Do you think the people in the area have the similar problem in your great book? Or do you see it a transferring of geopolitics concern or anything else?

Looking forward to see your reply.

from China.
p.s. Love your book ;)

The nine-hour documentary is "West of the Tracks" by Wang Bing. Like everything by Wang Bing, who originally trained as a visual artist, it is worth every minute of your time. Shot entirely on a small DV camera, and post-produced, beyond the watchful eyes of the Chinese government, with money from the Rotterdam film festival's Hubert Bals fund, it is one of the great cinematic achievements of the last twenty years.

Nine hours??

The concept of episodes was invented for a reason.

The rice from that region is recognised as the best in China btw : ) (at least Northern China)

OMG! That is so right!

Shenyang has perhaps the best Mao statue. Not because of his likeness, it's the figures depicted at the base which are iconic.

I thought the huge parks with tombs were a nice respite. Wander around aimlessly among statues of dead Manchu emperors under a dense smog, no animal life in sight. There was also a battle between Russians and Japanese in 1905: "Involving nearly 625,000 combat participants and 164,000 combatant casualties." Manchuria is a great, gritty place to visit.

If you have found a place with the best dumplings (so far), do you continue trying other dumplings? Secretary problem?

"Korean, Japanese and Turkic elements"

Can you really tell them apart? There shouldn't be many Turks that far east, and all the Japanese for kicked out after ww2.

Apart from the attraction of the food I have no desire to visit China. Where else can I get such food? Taiwan? Singapore? Or even HK, which for this purpose I'd be prepared to treat as not-China?

I spent a month in Shenyang last year and found it to be a very beautiful city. Shenyang is a great mix of modern buildings an awesome shopping areas. We fell in love with China and the Chinese people. The Chinese people are so very friendly and made us feel like family. I would encourage everyone to take a vacation to China, you'll love it. ( yes the smog bad but after a couple days you tend not to notice)


I have been living in China for much of the last 30 years. I used to go to Shenyang a lot and enjoyed the dumplings, for which Shenyang is famous.

However regarding luxury shops, I once had a landlord that worked for the largest luxury items group. I can't remember which one but they have all the famous luxury French and Italian brands. Anyway, one day I was curious and I asked her which city was better for business, Beijing or Shanghai. She, surprisingly, said that neither of them were and that in fact Shenyang was her biggest client and one of the biggest in the world after Hong Kong. She told me they book direct charter flights with jewelry, clothing, handbags, etc. and the models to wear them and fly it all in for private showings among the rich in the city and it all gets snapped up in a night.

My guess is that a lot State Owned Enterprise money gets redirected into portable luxuries.

Anyway, glad you enjoyed the trip.

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