Discovering Dalian, Northeast China's thriving port city

By Bruce Connolly | | 2017-09-20 07:16

Discovering Dalian, Northeast China's thriving port city

Golden Pebble Beach. [Photo by Bruce Connolly/]

Northwest of the Korean landmass, Dalian occupies a narrow neck or isthmus close to the tip of the Liaodong Peninsula, a strategic area of land, which along with Shandong guards the entrance to the Bohai Gulf. The challenge of physical geography or topography has resulted in Dalian's urban layout contrasting with the sprawl from a central point more familiar to modern Chinese cities. Mountains and cliffs border the sea; many hills within the city alongside narrow stretches of flat land have resulted in a multi-nodal city with different functional zones spread out often in attractive coastal locations connected by an expanding metro and light rail system. Indeed, apart from the tram system, the metro was my preferred way of reaching many distant parts of Dalian.

Looking from my hotel room 19 floors above Shanghai Road I appreciated a close proximity to the harbour with large ferries regularly heading out across the water to Yantai and other ports in Shandong, for example. Dalian is one of China's largest and busiest ports. However, looking down on the immediate street layout it had an uncanny resemblance to Paris, with 10 avenues radiating out from expansive Zhongshan Square – today a place popular for photo opportunities with its flock of white doves. Originally known as Nikolayevskaya Square it was laid out in magnificent style by Russia in 1898 as part of a plan to create, in a Parisian style, one of the grandest cities of northeastern Asia. Late 19th century Russia was extending its cross-continental railway system south from Harbin. Close to where the Yalu River flows into the Bohai Sea, Liaodong has several excellent ice-free natural harbors. The area around today's Dalian was viewed with particular enthusiasm. Over a seven year period from March 1898 to January 1905 Russia leased an area of land, building up a commercial town and port centered on earlier fishing villages of Qingniwaqiao ('bridge over cyan mud swamp'), naming their settlement 'Dalniy' ('remote one'). North of the central railway station there is a tourist thoroughfare, Russia Custom Street, with some surviving buildings and structures dating from that period. Adjacent is the tranquil Dalian Railway 1896 Garden Hotel, a series of buildings carefully renovated in 2012 within a park-like and statuette setting, each villa having informative plaques, including references to railway construction in Northeastern China from 1896.

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