History and culture in Shenyang
Shenyang has a rich cultural history. It is the birthplace of one of China’s greatest imperial dynasties and was the imperial capital during the reign of two emperors. It is considered one of the most important historical and cultural cities in China.
The city of Shenyang dates back to 300BC, when Qin Kai, a general of the State of Yan, established the city of Houcheng. It took its modern name – or something close to it, Shengjing – in 1625, when it became the capital for the Qing Dynasty.
The Qing dynasty, also known as the Manchu, would go on to rule China as a whole from 1644 to 1912 – an extraordinary span of almost three centuries that formed the map of the modern Chinese state. The area around Shenyang is where it all began, and the Qing era of cultural effervescence is reflected in many historic places and artefacts today. Shenyang boasts three World Cultural Heritage sites.
The most famous is the Imperial Palance of Shenyang, also known as the Mukden Palace. It was built in 1625 and the first three Qing emperors lived there from then until 1644. Today, it is an impressive museum. The architecture of the palace is reminiscent of the Forbidden City in Beijing – indeed, its presence on the Unesco World Heritage list is as an extension of the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which is the Beijing Forbidden City’s formal name – but combined with Manchu and Tibetan styles.
Another World Cultural Heritage site is the Fuling Tomb, or East tomb, where the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Nurhaci, and his wife, Empress Xiaocigao, were interred. The mausoleum, an elaborate complex of gates, archways, pillars and rooms, is also open to public visits.
The third World Cultural Heritage site is the Zhaoling Tomb, or North Tomb, within Beijing Park in the city’s north. Built between 1643 and 1651, it is noted for its ornate gates, a row of animal statues leading to the tomb, scenic gardens and an impressive temple complex.
Beyond the World Cultural Heritage lists, there are several other impressive historical monuments in Shenyang, such as the beautiful and imposing Fujin Gate – one of nine gates built for Shenyang city in the Qing dynasty; the Xinle Archaeological Site, which chronicles a primitive society dating back 7,200 years; the Xibe Family Temple; the Four Pagodas and Seven Temples of the Ming and Qing Dynasties; Marshal Zhang Xueliang’s Mansion; and the Nanguan Catholic church.
Shenyang has many museums. One fascinating institution is the Shenyang Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, in a German-designed building opened in October 2010. This museum covers many subects, from the earliest settlement of the city to the plans for its future; its centrepiece is a 1,500 square metre demonstration model of the city behind which a film, “A Blessed and Thriving Shenyang”, is projected.
Another is the China Industry Museum, in the Tiexi district of Shenyang, at the heart of the city’s industrial history.
A third is Shenyang’s Financial Museum, a fascinating place covering the history of money in China – from China’s earliest dynasties to the present day – with rare artefacts and comprehensive commentary. It traces the history of the currency and the very idea of money and exchange from prehistory to the present day, covering everything from counterfeiting to internet finance along the way. Many of the presentations have explanations in English.
Increasingly, football is part of Chinese culture too; President Xi Jinping is known to be a fan and to have made a priority of progress in the sport. In that context, the Shenyang Olympic Stadium – one of the main venues for football matches during the 2008 Beijing Olympics – should be seen as another part of Shenyang’s rich cultural heritage.