China Sketches: Dalian 2001 skyscraper photo essay

It had passable beaches, a large shipbuilding industry and a lot of impressive skyscrapers; from the top of any of these you could see the port and in the other direction the green hills marking the end of the urban sprawl. At that stage of my life, I hadn’t seen Shanghai, Hong Kong or New York. I was overwhelmed by the shiny skyscrapers in Dalian. When I later visited New York, the first museum I went to was the Sky Scraper Museum, my enthusiasm has since waned due to overexposure to tall buildings…

Victory Mansion 胜利大厦

Dalian was administered by the Russians until the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. After that the Japanese were there, constructing, among other things, a tram system. In 1945 the Russians took over again for a short period until Manchuria was returned to Mao and friends. In the nineties, Dalian became a glowing example of the new China, a modern metropolis showpiece for the CCP. Rising star Bo Xilai was the mayor before he moved on to other roles, and ultimately house arrest for corruption and being a threat to Xi Jinping.

Downtown Dalian

The tallest and most beautiful building in Dalian, Victory Mansion, was frequently used in TV programs boasting about the construction boom. The building itself was completely empty: an unfurnished husk. Work on it stopped just short of completion due to the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. I wanted to look inside, but as I approached past a huge hoarding of Comrade Deng, I was prevented from entering by an apologetic guard. I could not see anything of the lobby across the lush green lawn, which might as well have been a mote, keeping The People out from the inside of this Stupa to the dream.

I think this is taken from Victory Square, pretty sure that’s some Russian architecture in front of the skyscrapers.

My hotel in Dalian was on Russian Street: a scene which made a change from all those skyscrapers. The Street featured a mixture of recently erected copies of Tsarist-era buildings, and somewhat away from the limelight, a few sturdy originals. The copies had not been built with good quality materials, giving them a cheap look. The street was around two hundred meters long, ending in a defunct fountain and beginning with a bridge over a small stream. Being for pedestrians only, it was a pleasant place to wander down and stop off to have a beer, eat a few chicken’s feet or meat skewers at one of the street-side BBQs. There were locals practising calligraphy, using water on the light-coloured paving stones; and I saw a few Russian tourists down from Vladivostok or some other town in Eastern Russia. Out of the places I stayed in for some time in China — Dalian has provided the fondest memories.


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