"The City of the Unloved" Top 5 Page for this destination Changchun by mke1963

Changchun Travel Guide: 76 reviews and 128 photos

Changchun, city of eternal spring, as the name translates, is forever linked to the pathetic, melancholic Aixin "Henry" Puyi, last Qing emperor, and from 1932 to 1945 puppet emperor of the Japanese Manchurian dictatorship.
The guidebooks are universally scathing about Changchun, giving the impression that you should "visit it is you really must".
In reality, Changchun is a charming city, struggling with its precarious existence, relying on its legacy rust-belt industries, yet determinedly developing new, cleaner industries in the automotive and biochemical arenas. Automotive? Yup: this is China's Motown, churning out hundreds of thousands of Liberation trucks in days gone by, and now churning out Volkswagens and Audis and a host of domestic brands.

Like Crewe in England, Changchun exists only because of its railways. With no special geographical feature, other than its ferociously cold winters, Changchun was born simply because two railways, the South Manchurian Railway and China's Eastern Railway, bumped into each other in a field. Where they built a station. And then a goods depot. And an engine shed. And a post office. And so on, as Changchun grew fast from servicing the railway engines, to building them (and they still build railway carriages here), and with a smart piece of vertical integration, they started making the steel here as well.
Changchun grew to become a provincial capital (of "Kirin"), then the capital city of Manchukuo, and back to being the provincial city of the now renamed Jilin.
It is an unpretentious city: it knows it is industrial, and it knows it is not going to win any beauty contests, but there is a friendly charm about the wide tree-lined streets and carefully planned boulevards that make a visit to Changchun a worthwhile pursuit.

The town was laid out with military precision, and the master-plan is followed to this day, with the epicentre the gargantuan Renmin Square. Al around the city, the visitor can find traces of the Japanese and Russian influences in many old buildings, especially along Renmin Dajie which slopes downhill for several kilometres to end, presciently, at the railway station. Just two blocks up from the station, the old Manchurian post office is still the post office, its gothic architecture still inspiring. Further south, a crenellated department store looks largely unchanged from the 1930s postcard pictures of it.
Many of the older Manchurian buildings are now reincarnated as government buildings - ward, city, or provincial. Just walk; just explore.
Changchun is a busy, modern city, but with a more human scale than comparable cities like Chongqing, Lanzhou or Xi'an.
The people of Changchun may get a raw deal from the guidebooks, and its history may be one of being unloved, but Changchun quickly became one of my favourite Chinese cities, largely because it is simply Chinese.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Architecture, friendly people
  • Cons:Mall developments, climate
  • In a nutshell:Worth visiting! Honestly!
  • Last visit to Changchun: Aug 2004
  • Intro Updated Aug 14, 2004
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