Changchun Inspires and Surprises
“Long Spring” in Northeast China is the gateway to magnificent Mount Changbai and Heaven Lake
More recently, it has become the country’s “Car City” – but unlike its American counterpart, Detroit, it is booming.
Inspiration comes naturally in Changchun, whether it’s found in one of the city’s peaceful parks or by wandering around the former palace of the last emperor, contemplating the end of one dynasty for China and the beginning of a flourishing new era.
Originally named “Long Spring” by the Manchurians, Changchun was founded as a frontier post about 500 years ago by the Jiajing Emperor. It briefly took centre stage as the capital of Japan’s ill-fated Manchukuo “puppet kingdom” from 1934 to 1945. More recently, it has become the country’s “Car City” – but unlike its American counterpart, Detroit, it is booming.
This is obvious on arrival at the cavernous high-speed train station or at the aviation hub of Changchun Longjia International Airport, the principal entry points. A hotel limousine ride to the heart of the city and Shangri-La Hotel, Changchun will show that modernity has been kind to the city, which is transforming itself into a well-favoured resort destination.
On a summer’s day, the relatively cool temperatures are an attractive retreat for those roasting in China’s hot cities in more southern climes. They are perfect conditions to enjoy Changchun’s parks, in particular, South Lake by Xinmin Plaza, just a few blocks from the hotel. Here, if you are lucky, there will be light festivals and colourful folk performances. In the winter, you may find sledges pulled by dogs and even camels.
Located southeast of the city is “Clear Moon Lake” in the 200-square-kilometre Jingyuetan National Forest Park. The seasons constantly transform the scenery, a lush sea of trees framing the cool, clean beauty of the lake that is shaped like a quarter moon. The park really is worth visiting all year round just for the stupendous sight, but in the winter it also hosts various winter sports. The region is famous for its snow and has become a favourite destination of ski enthusiasts.
A must-see destination for anyone interested in aesthetics in a natural setting is the AAAA-rated Changchun World Sculpture Park, which contains approximately 450 works of first-grade art from international artists in a visually sculpted environment overlooking the city. Of particular note is the near 30-metre “Friendship Peace Spring” statue of sporty maidens adorning a pillar.
Palace of Puppets
Colloquially known as the “Puppet Emperor’s Palace,” the Museum of the Imperial Palace is a perfectly preserved slice of history. For those who enjoyed Bernardo Bertolucci’s cinematic dash of “The Last Emperor” and are piqued to learn more about the end of the imperial line in China, look no further. The official residence built by the Japanese invaders during World War II to house Puyi, the last emperor, bears all the splendour and sadness that it must have carried with it all those years ago. Take a walk in the tended Japanese gardens that Puyi must have wandered in and see if you can find the dim little bomb shelter they took shelter in when the air raid claxon sounded.
Changchun is famed for movie masterpieces as it is at the centre of the film industry and you can catch a glimmer of the stars at Changchun Film Century City, a 30-minute taxi ride from the hotel. Known as “Hollywood in the Orient”, it features advanced special-effect cinematic techniques including laser floating films, dynamic dome films, 4D special-effect films and 3D water-screen films.Here you can book a visit to studios where filming is taking place, check out special effects laboratories or enjoy the theme park and its movie-related attractions.
After an epic day exploring the city, treat yourself to dinner at Shangri-La’s own Shang Palace for a sampling of Executive Chef Tony Tang’s Dongbei (northeastern) cuisine, particularly the chicken dishes flavoured with local ginseng and the tender and slightly sweet sauerkraut. Fortified with the delights of Changchun and relaxing in a hot spring within the vicinity, a pilgrimage to “sacred” Mount Changbai and the cratered Heaven Lake is recommended. If you’re really lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the Lake Tianchi Monster. Changchun always surprises and inspires.