Whirlwind

Made a quick stop by Shenyang to see the consulate folks who are just as worried about the country as the rest of you back home, but other than that they seem to be alright.  Took a whirlwind tour of stuff I didn’t see the other day I was here which started off with Shenyang’s imperial palace.  Shenyang, as I mentioned, was actually the first capital of the Qing dynasty (that’s the one that ended in 1911).  They used Shenyang as their seat of power before completely taking Beijing from the Ming in 1644 and moving the capital shortly thereafter.  It’s much less grand than it’s Beijing counterpart, but Qing emperors would often go back to visit, perform Shamanistic sacrifices and maybe just to relax.

The more I learn, the more I think the Qing resemble quirky gamblers.  What do I mean by that?  Well after the Manchus overthrew the Ming, they sealed off the northeast, dubbing it “the land of the rising dragon”.  They thought that since they came from the northeast, letting other people in there would ruin the luck that let them conquer the Ming.  Similarly, when they did conquer the Ming, they did it mainly with eight “banners” or battallions of 7,500 soldiers each.  While the army later swelled to much more than that, the eight banners remained the cream of the crop and being in one was a pretty big deal.  Just like the guy who wins at roulette ad then refuses to change his pants for the rest of the week in Vegas.

While it was smaller than the Forbidden City, it was still pretty damn opulent.  Not a whole lot to say about it besides the great collection of relics, beautiful furniture, and amazing filligree.  Maybe I’m just bad at describing these things.  Worth noting is that the architecture does differ somewhat from Beijing.  As you’ll see here, most of the buildings were divided into a bedroom and a main room, and in both rooms you’ll see a 1-2 foot-high ledge that runs around the entire border, protruding from the wall for about five feat.  That’s a 炕 (kang, long a) which today refers to a type of bed still used in a lot of northern China.  In its modern form, it’s a big brick box with a mattress on top that you head with wood underneath, so you’re literally sleeping on an oven.  This being the imperial palace, they wanted to be warm all the time, so I would guess most if not all daily life was conducted on the kang.

Also there were separate mini palaces (East and West) for the emperor and empress while in residence, both amazingly opulent.  Here’s some weapons and clocks, which the last emperor Puyi had a huge obsession with.

The more surprising find was a museum dedicated to allied POW’s who were relocated to Shenyang (then Mukden) to help fuel the Japanese war machine.  About 2,000 POW’s, mainly from the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Australia, and Holland, a lot of whom came from the infamous Bataan Death March, and the camp had a 16% fatality rate (compared to 1.2% for the German camps).  Not much of the camp is left, but the officer’s quarters, the chimneystack, one of the dorms, and one of the latrines are still standing.  The exhibit was mostly details on living conditions, pictures of the POW’s then and now, and cartoons that some drew to pass the time.  All in all pretty bleak, although the cartoons were entertaining.  There was also a memorial to those that died, and a hall dedicated to “foreign friends of China”, most of whom were doctors from various countries who helped the Chinese army during the war, but some Western military personel as well and writers like Agnes Smedley.  I was really touched actually, that this museum existed, that it placed so much emphasis of Chinese-American friendship, especially as out of the way it was at the end of the subway in a random suburb.  I later had the realization though that maybe the primary objective was just China jumping at another opportunity to lambaste the Japanese for their war crimes.  So depending on your mood I suppose it’s touching, hilarious, or petty.

Last up, Marshall Zhang’s Mansion.  Zhang Zuolin was one of the many warlords who sprung up in China after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, and had pretty good control over the northeast.  “Warlord” carries just as bad a connotation in Chinese as it does in English, buy Zhang, and more particularly his son Zhang Xueliang are pretty well regarded by the Chinese government.  This is mostly, again, because they cheesed off the Japanese.   When the Japanese blew up their own railway in 1931, they blamed it on the Chinese and invaded.  The Zhang Zuolin actually died in the explosion, becoming somewhat of a martyr, and were his son was quite instrumental in opposing the invaders.  Further helping Zhang jr.s care are the facts that a. he was super handsome, and b. he kidnapped Jiang Kai-Shek during the Xi’an incident and forced him to work with Mao Zedong against the Japanese. (Jiang still considered the Communists a bigger threat, priorities slightly out of whack).

He was under house arrest for 20 something years after fleeing Taiwan, but moved to the States in 1991 where he spent the last ten years of his life.  The estate is beautiful, first half traditional Chinese, with a European style building in the back.  Both exquisite and surprisingly well preserved.  There’s also, inexplicably, a room dedicated to his personal affects such as Christmas pins, birthday candles, and wheelchair.  Go figure.

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