Gregory VEECK

Perched at the tip of the Liaodong Peninsula on China’s northeast coast, the city of Dalian has undergone many changes through the years. It became a major seaport during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and has since been occupied by the British, the Russians, and the Japanese. Today it is both a popular and thriving tourist destination in Liaoning Province and China’s largest oil and gas port.

In many ways the history of Dalian (urban area 12,574 square kilometers) and its adjacent district of Lushunkou (Port Arthur) represents the tumultuous history of most of coastal China over the last 150 years—from dynastic decline and colonial occupation during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) to Cold War stagnation under Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong (1949–1976) and finally to economic resurgence under the policies introduced by party leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978.

The site has been populated for more than two thousand years, but its mention in dynastic records as a major seaport during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) really begins the modern era. Since then the city’s excellent natural harbor and strategic coastal location as the “Gateway to Manchuria” have brought both tragedy and prosperity. Incomes and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) are some of the highest in China due to a fortuitous location for trade with China’s increasingly important northeast Asian neighbors—Japan, South Korea, and Russia—combined with a diverse and balanced economy.

During the dynastic era the city’s location at the southern tip of the Liaodong Peninsula allowed quick commercial and naval access to the rest of coastal China via the Yellow Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The Chinese were not alone in appreciating this location. Interest in the harbor led to a first brief foreign occupation by the British during the Second Opium War (also called the “Arrow War,” 1856–1860). Returned to the Chinese at the end of the war, the site was rented, under pressure, to the Russian empire (1898–1904) and renamed “Dalny,” only to be lost to Japan as a concession under the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Occupation by the Japanese—first directly and later as a portion of the Japanese “puppet state” of Manchukuo—lasted until 1945. Dalian citizens continue to have quite mixed emotions about this era and the Japanese. While a few historic buildings are all that remain from the Russian era, Japanese influences on the city, then renamed “Dairen,” remain profound. Until post-1978 reform-era investment drastically expanded and modernized infrastructure, much of the city’s industrial infrastructure as well as the port and transportation network must be credited to Japanese occupation-era development. Dairen was the terminus of the rail network that brought iron, coal, and oil from Manchuria to feed the great wartime factories of the Japanese empire. In 1937 Japanese planners rebuilt and expanded the entire city, which was then considered one of the most beautiful in the empire. Of course, everything—the parks, the roads, the railroads, the warehouses, and the port—was built on the backs of Chinese conscripted laborers. At the end of World War II Dalian had one of the highest proportional concentrations of Japanese outside of the home islands. Ironically, the expatriate Japanese population at the present time is also one of the largest among the cities of China.

Before the city was restored to full Chinese sovereignty in 1955, it was jointly governed for a decade by the Russians and Chinese as the city of Luda. Little of note changed until after 1978, when the policies of the reform era and commensurate growth in international trade brought newfound prosperity. Renamed (again) “Dalian” in 1979, it was one of the first fourteen “Open Door” cities selected in 1984 for foreign investment opportunities. The industrial sector remains focused on petrochemical processing, but there is also recent growth in electronics and semiconductors. The city is China’s largest oil/gas port and the country’s third-largest seaport in terms of gross tonnage. It is one of a few Chinese cities that is both an important industrial center and a tourist destination. With a beautiful, rugged coastline, many historic Russian and Japanese buildings, excellent seafood, and more than seventy spacious, landscaped parks, Dalian bases an increasing portion of its economy on tourism.

Further Reading

Kratoska, P. H. (Ed.). (2005). Asian labor in the wartime Japanese empire: Unknown histories. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Meyers, R. H. (1982). The Japanese economic development of Manchuria 1932 to 1945. New York: Garland Publishing.

National Bureau of Statistics of China. (2006). Zhongguo Tongji Nianjian 2006 [China statistical yearbook 2006]. Beijing: China Statistics Press.

South Manchuria Railway. (1922). Manchuria: Land of opportunities. New York: Thomas F. Logan.

Yahoo! Travel. (2007). History. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from

Source: Veeck, Gregory. (2009). Dalian. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 558–559. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Aerial view of Dalian, the second largest city in Liaoning Province. The city’s former mayor, Bo Xilai, inaugurated the “Green Storm,” a campaign that resulted in the numerous city gardens, forest parks, squares, and scenic spots on the seaside.

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