Sunday, June 22, 2008

Michael's Trip to Shenyang

After I finished in Nanjing (see the previous post), I flew directly to Shenyang in Liaoning Province. This is as far north as I had ever been in China. It is further than Beijing and the province is sandwiched between Inner Mongolia and North Korea. The area is called 'Dongbei' meaning 'Northeast' and that stands for the three provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang. Another name for this area more common to Americans is 'Manchuria'.

Shenyang is the 'capital' of Dongbei and the biggest city in the three provinces. However, it is a large, dirty and very polluted industrial city which has seen better days. Reminded me of my home city of Detroit [sorry if that bothers anyone].

Here is a shot of the campus and city from the lecture room of Dongbei Da Xue - Northeastern University.

Yes, it's that attractive in real life as well. The interesting feature of Shenyang is that it is the city that the Qing Dynasty originated from. During the late Ming Dynasty, Nu'erhachi was a chieftain of the Nuzhen tribe in Jianzhou. He unified all the tribes in Dongbei and declared himself 'Khan'. He began building this palace in 1625.

It is similar to the Forbidden City in Beijing, but a lot smaller. Like that palace, it is also called 'Gu Gong' which means 'ancient capital'.

The building above is the main palace and though my camera is not powerful enough to capture it, the roof tiles are ringed in green - an unusual color for an imperial palace - to remind them of the forests that they come from in the Northeast.

Below is the throne room with some impressive dragons reaching out over the throne entrance.

In another part of the palace grounds, Nu'erhachi had built houses for his eight brothers. I thought that they were kind of small for princes, but maybe the emperor wanted to keep them a little cramped.

The structure below was the most interesting of the whole grounds. It was to be Nu'erhachi's office and it is built in the Mongolian style. Although it is made of wood, it looks like one of those big Mongolian tents.

And a shot of the workspace of the emperor. Kind of makes you wonder though. He doesn't seem like a guy who did a lot of paperwork. The workspace might have been a little open so that Nu'erhachi could bring a sword out easily. Just musing.

The columns were impressive, with dragon designs on each one. There are eight columns, one for each direction: East, Northeast, etc.

And the "office chair". As I said, not really designed for essays or policy analysis.

This palace was used by the early Qing emperors and was their main residence. After they conquered Beijing in 1644 the court moved there as the main residence and the Shenyang palace became a secondary capital. The Qing emperors who visited Dongbei would stay here until at least 1829.

The picture above is a room for religious rituals. The Qing practiced a kind of northern shamanic religion and this room there was a table for killing a sacrificial pig, pots for boiling it, and the boxes on the table above for making the offering. A guidebook says that the ritual also involved pouring boiling water into the live pig's ear in order that its screams would attract ancestors. Nice. Not many vegetarian Manchus I'll bet.

The palace was completed by Nu'erhachi's son, Huangtaiji, who inherited the throne of Khan in 1626. He conquered much of northern Asia but died just before they would take Beijing in 1644. That would occur during the reign of Huangtaiji's son Shunzhi. Shunzhi was deeply in love with one of his concubines named Donggo. Some accounts say she was Mongolian, others that she was part Manchu and part Han. In any event, below is a Mongolian style baby basket.

The story is that Donggo had a child that died of smallpox when it was very young. She became so distraught that she died a month later. The emperor, Shunzhi was then distraught and died soon after that. Well, some accounts also claim he became a monk.

Below is a simple pole with a feeding bowl on it. It was constructed by Huangtaiji [or one like it was!] to honor crows as divine birds who helped him gain power. The bowl would always be filled with corn and meat so that crows could feed.

It seems that Huangtaiji was felled in battle. Crows would surround the corpses on the field and eat the dead soldiers. As Huangtaiji was covered in crows, his enemies left him for dead. When he recovered he inferred that the crows had saved him and he was duty bound to offer sacrifices for them.

Below are some steps that number 28. This is supposed to be significant - as everything is in China. Maybe there are 28 different festivals during the year, something like that. In any event, Chinese people can be very particular about photography - "okay, now you will take a photo here". Notice, it was not in the form of a question.

So here was my guide and interpreter Gong Xiao Li. She teaches English at Dongbei University.

The building below has an interesting story - at least I thought so. It was the library so it was painted in the "cool" color of black ... the library caught fire and the manuscripts had to be sent to other cities such as Xi'an, Beijing and Nanjing.

So much for the ancient theory of colors!

Here is a interesting sign. It has two languages - on the right is 'Chinese' or better 'Han-zi'. On the left is 'Manchu' or 'Man-zi'. People here will often say that the Qing were not Chinese, by which they mean that they were not Han. Early in the dynasty, the Qing hated the Han and discriminated against them both politically and culturally.

There were several signs in the temple that had three languages: Han-zi, Man-zi, and Mongolian. But the signs were very old and worn down. The run down quality of the signs and my weak camera meant that I came away without any clear picture.

We left the Imperial Palace and went to an 'old' restaurant in Shenyang. In fact, it was an old chain. The family restaurant was started by Bian Fu in 1829. He sold dumplings in Shenyang city and the family has never stopped.

The title is just Lao Bian Jiao-zi Guan [Old Bian's Dumpling Restaurant]. The food was pretty good, but the guy with the water kettle below was too much. He walks around pouring water into people's tea cups but the stick on the end of the kettle has to be 4 feet long.

It was fun to call him over and fill up my teacup. However, it was also a little disconcerting - maybe a little Freudian. Hey guy, get your stick off my table!

And a plate of fried jiao-ji for lunch. Yum.

Below, a simple street shot in Shenyang.

And below a picture of one of the many women who walk around Shenyang with scarves over their faces. At first I was frightened a little. What are they up to? Is it some kind of religious practice?

Actually, they just do it to keep the dust and sand off their faces. Shenyang is both dry and polluted, so there's a lot of particles whipping around.

Below is Huangtaiji looking very military. This is the North Tomb where Huangtaiji is buried.

It is a fairly extensive system of buildings - most of which are being painted and redone for the Olympics [Shenyang is one of the sites for the soccer games].

Below you can see both the main buildings and and the tomb which is actually the big mound with a tree on top. Huangtaiji is under that.

Most of the structures were built in 1665 by Huangtaiji's grandson Kangxi. [That's Sunzhi's son and Nu'erhaichi's great-grandson for those who are keeping track. What? No one?]

Below is the altar on which the emperors would come and make sacrifices to their ancestor Huangtaiji.

Below is a dragon head water faucet. Water would come flowing out of the dragon's mouth into a well.

We were told that this was the origin of the Chinese word for faucet - which is shuilongtou, or literally water-dragon-head.

In the evening we went to a restaurant that served some typical Dongbei food. The food was kind of bland - but I think that was the restaurant and not the cuisine.

Below is my guide Gong Xiao Li and her husband Liu Wen Chao.

At night they took me to a park where about 500-700 people had gathered - and gather every night - to dance, play music, fly kites, etc. While many people were ballroom dancing or modern dancing, the main attraction was the old timers who do a dance every night in a style they said was yang ge or the song of the spring shoots. It was so dark that my camera could not record much video.


Anonymous said...

Michael! I was keeping track! I thought Shunzhi's son died of smallpox and he died soon after (or became a monk--aren't they celibate?). Oh, I'm so confused ;). So very interesting, and the Freudian water boy made me laugh out loud! Thanks!


Michael said...


I heard conflicting stories about him either dying or becoming a monk (but being prevented by his wives). I heard the smallpox part but also that he was given a smallpox infected rattle by one of Shunzhi's wives to eliminate a rival to the throne. Ah, court life!

Michael [hey, I'm posting to my own blog - how dumb is that!]

Gabby Girl said...

Shenyang nearly froze my butt off!