Changchun History

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Clockwise from top: panoramic view from Ji Tower, Former Manchukuo State Department, Statue on cultural square, Changchun Christian Church, Soviet martyr monument.

Changchun (Chinese: 长春; pinyin: Chángchūn) is the capital and largest city of Jilin Province, and is located in the northeast of China. Lying in the center of the Songliao Plain, Changchun is administered as a sub-provincial city, comprising 7 districts, 1 county and 2 county-level cities. According to the 2010 census of China, Changchun had a total population of 7,674,439 under its jurisdiction. The city’s urbanized (or metro) area, comprising 5 districts and 4 development areas, had a population of 3,815,270 in 2010 as the Shuangyang and Jiutai districts are not urbanized yet.

The name of the city means “long spring” in Chinese. Between 1932 and 1945, Changchun was renamed Hsinking (Chinese: 新京; pinyin: Xīnjīng; literally: “new capital”) by the Japanese as it became the capital of the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo, occupying modern Northeast China. After the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Changchun was established as the provincial capital of Jilin in 1954.

Known locally as China’s “City of Automobiles”, Changchun is an important industrial base with a particular focus on the automotive sector. Because of its key role in the domestic automobile industry, Changchun was sometimes referred to as the “Detroit of China.” Apart from this industrial aspect, Changchun is also one of four “National Garden Cities” awarded by the Ministry of Construction of P.R. China in 2001 due to its high urban greening rate.

Early history

Changchun was initially established on imperial decree as a small trading post and frontier village during the reign of the Jiaqing Emperor in the Qing dynasty. Trading activities mainly involved furs and other natural products during this period. In 1800, the Jiaqing Emperor selected a small village on the east bank of the Yitong River and named it “Changchun Ting”.

At the end of 18th century peasants from overpopulated provinces such as Shandong and Hebei began to settle in the region. In 1889, the village was promoted into a city known as “Changchun Fu”.

Railway era

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Clockwise from top: panoramic view from Ji Tower, Former Manchukuo State Department, Statue on cultural square, Changchun Christian Church, Soviet martyr monument.

In May 1898, Changchun got its first railway station, located in Kuancheng, part of the railway from Harbin to Lüshun (the southern branch of the Chinese Eastern Railway), constructed by the Russian Empire.

After Russia’s loss of the southernmost section of this branch as a result of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, the Kuancheng station (Kuanchengtze, in contemporary spelling) became the last Russian station on this branch. The next station just a short distance to the south—the new “Japanese” Changchun station—became the first station of the South Manchuria Railway, which now owned all the tracks running farther south, to Lüshun, which they re-gauged to the standard gauge (after a short period of using the narrow Japanese 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge during the war).

A special Russo-Japanese agreement of 1907 provided that Russian gauge tracks would continue from the “Russian” Kuancheng Station to the “Japanese” Changchun Station, and vice versa, tracks on the “gauge adapted by the South Manchuria Railway” (i.e. the standard gauge) would continue from Changchun Station to Kuancheng Station.

An epidemic of pneumonic plague occurred in surrounding Manchuria from 1910 to 1911. It was the worst-ever recorded outbreak of pneumonic plague which was spread through the Trans-Manchurian railway from the border trade port of Manzhouli. This turned out to be the beginning of the large pneumonic plague pandemic of Manchuria and Mongolia which ultimately claimed 60,000 victims.

Changchun city planning and development from 1906–1931

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City planning map of Changchun

The Treaty of Portsmouth formally ended the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 and saw the transfer and assignment to Japan in 1906 the railway between Changchun and Port Arthur, and all the branches.

Having realized at length the vital importance of the geographical location of Changchun as the conjuncture of Japan, China and Russia, a mission of planners and engineers were dispatched to Changchun by Japanese Government to investigate on the spot the site for a new railway station.

Japan, without the consent of Chinese Government, did a secret purchase and grab of land from local farmers at considerable high price. Consequently, Changchun Railway Station was constructed and a leasehold of the South Manchuria Railway Affiliated Areas (SMRAA) was developed near and far. In order to turn Changchun into a stronghold for pillaging agricultural and mineral resources of Manchuria, Japan started to blueprint the master plan of Changchun and invested heavily on the urban construction of the city.

As the prelude and preparation of invasion and long-lasting occupation of China, Japan initiated at the beginning of 1907 the planning programme of the SMRAA which embodied distinctive colonial characteristics. The guiding ideology of the overall design was to build a high standard colonial city with sophisticated facilities, multiple functions and large scale.

The comprehensive plan was to meet the needs of:

  • Comfort demand of Japanese employees at Manchurian Railways
  • Assurances of Changchun to be a base for Japanese control of the whole Manchuria
  • Effective counterweight of Russia in this part of China.

Accordingly, nearly 7 million Yen on average was allocated on a year-to-year basis for urban planning and construction during the period of 1907–31.

Railway nexus status was thickly underlined in the planning and construction, the main design concepts of which read as follows: under conventional grid pattern terms, two geoplagiotropic boulevards were newly carved eastward and westward from the grand square of the new railway station. The two helped forming two intersections with the gridded prototypes, which led to two circles of South and West. The two sub-civic centres served as axis on which eight radial roads were blazed that took the shape of a sectoral structure.

This kind of radial circles and the design concept of urban roads were at that time quite advanced and scientific. It activated to great extend the serious urban landscapes as well as a clearly identification of the traditional gridded pattern.

With the new Changchun railway station as its centre, the urban plan divided the SMRAA into such rectangles as residential quarters of 15%, commerce of 33%, grain depot of 19%, factories of 12%, public entertainment of 9% and administrative organs(including Japanese garrison) of 12%. Each block provided the railway station with supporting and systematic services in the light of its own functions.

In the meantime, a comprehensive system of judiciary and military police was established which was totally independent of China. This accounted for the widespread domain of military facilities within the urban construction area of 3. 967k㎡,such as railway garrison, gendarmerie, police department and its 18 local police stations.

Perceiving Changchun as a tabula rasa upon which to erect new and sweeping conceptions of the built environment, Japanese used the city as a practical laboratory to create two distinct and idealized urban milieus, each appropriate to a particular era. From 1906 to 1931 Changchun served as a key railway town through which the Japanese orchestrated informal empire; between 1932 and 1945 the city became home to a grandiose, new Asian capital. Yet while the façades the town and later the capital—as well as the attitudes of the state they upheld—contrasted markedly, the shifting styles of planning and architecture consistently attempted to represent Japanese rule as progressive, beneficent, and modern.

Behind the development of Changchun, in addition to the railway trade driven, it suggested an important period of the Northeast modern architectural culture reflecting the urban design endeavours and revealing Japanese ambition of invading and occupying China. Japanese architecture and culture had been widely applied to Manchukuo to highlight the special status of the Japanese puppet. Once again, the urban planning will and should stem from a culture, be it aggressive or creative. Changchun’s planning and construction process can serve as a good example.

Changchun expanded rapidly as the junction between of the Japanese-owned South Manchurian Railway and the Russian-owned Chinese Eastern Railway, while remaining the break of gauge point between the Russian and standard gauges into the 1930s.

Manchukuo and World War II

On March 10, 1932 the capital of Manchukuo, a Japan-controlled puppet state in Manchuria, was established in Changchun. The city was then renamed Hsinking (Chinese: 新京; pinyin: Xīnjīng; Wade–Giles: Hsin-ching; Japanese:Shinkyō; literally “New Capital”) on March 13. The Emperor Puyiresided in the Imperial Palace (Chinese: 帝宮; pinyin: Dì gōng) which is now the Museum of the Manchu State Imperial Palace. During the Manchukuo period, the region experienced harsh suppression, brutal warfare on the civilian population, forced conscription and labor and other Japanese sponsored government brutalities; at the same time a rapid industrialisation and militarisation took place. Hsinking was a well-planned city with broad avenues and modern public works. The city underwent rapid expansion in both its economy and infrastructure. Many of buildings built during the Japanese colonial era still stand today, including those of the Eight Major Bureaus of Manchukuo (Chinese: 八大部; pinyin: Bādà bù) as well as the Headquarters of the Japanese Kwantung Army.

Construction of Hsinking

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Hsinking Master Plan Map (1934)

Hsinking was the only Direct-controlled municipality (特别市) in Manchukuo after Harbin was incorporated into the jurisdiction of Binjiang Province. In March 1932, the Inspection Division of South Manchuria Railway started to draw up the Metropolitan Plan of Great Hsinking (simplified Chinese: 大新京都市计画; traditional Chinese: 大新京都市計畫; pinyin: Dà xīn jīngdū shì jìhuà). The Bureau of capital construction (simplified Chinese: 国都建设局; traditional Chinese: 國都建設局; pinyin: Guódū jiànshè jú) which was directly under the control of State Council of Manchukuo was established to take complete responsibility of the formulation and the implementation of the plan. Kuniaki Koiso, the Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army, and Yasuji Okamura, the Vice Chief-of-Staff, finalized the plan of a 200 km2 (77 sq mi) construction area. The Metropolitan Plan of Great Hsinking was influenced by the renovation plan of Paris in the 19th century, the garden city movement, and theories of American cities’ planning and design in the 1920s. The city development plan included extensive tree planting. By 1934 Hsinking was known as the Forest Capital with Jingyuetan Park built, which is now China’s largest Plantation and a AAAA-rated recreational area.

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Manchukuo supreme court (built 1938) 

In accordance with the Metropolitan Plan of Great Hsinking, the area of publicly shared land (including the Imperial Palace, government offices, roads, parks and athletic grounds) in Hsinking was 47 km2 (18 sq mi), whilst the area of residential, commercial and industrial developments was planned to be 53 km2 (20 sq mi). However, Hsinking’s population exceeded the prediction of 500,000 by 1940. In 1941, the Capital Construction Bureau modified the original plan, which expanded the urban area to 160 km2 (62 sq mi). The new plan also focused on the construction of satellite towns around the city with a planning of 200 m2 (2,200 sq ft) land per capita. Because the effects of war, the Metropolitan Plan of Great Hsinking remained unfinished. By 1944, the built up urban area of Hsinking reached 80 km2 (31 sq mi), while the area used for greening reached 70.7 km2

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Manchukuo ministry building (built. 1935)

(27.3 sq mi). As Hsinking’s city orientation was the administrative center and military commanding center, land for military use exceeded the originally planned figure of 9 percent, while only light manufacturing including packing industry, cigarette industry and paper-making had been developed during this period. Japanese force also controlled Hsinking’s police system, instead of Manchukuo government. Major officers of Hsinking police were all ethnic Japanese.

The population of Hsinking also experienced rapid growth after being established as the capital of Manchukuo. According to the census in 1934 taken by the police agency, the city’s municipal area had 141,712 inhabitants. By 1944 the city’s population had risen to 863,607, with 153,614 Japanese settlers. This population amount made Hsinking the third largest metropolitan city in Manchukuo after Mukden and Harbin, as the metropolitan mainly focused on military and politics function.

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Hsinking Master Plan Map (1934)

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Datong Avenue in Hsinking (1939) 

Japanese chemical warfare agents

In 1936, the Japanese established Unit 100 to develop plague biological weapons, although the declared purpose of Unit 100 was to conduct research about diseases originating from animals. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and World War II the headquarters of Unit 100 (“Wakamatsu Unit”) was located in downtown Hsinking, under command of veterinarian Yujiro Wakamatsu. This facility was involved in research of animal vaccines to protect Japanese resources, and, especially, biological-warfare. Diseases were tested for use against Soviet and Chinese horses and other livestock. In addition to these tests, Unit 100 ran a bacteria factory to produce the pathogens needed by other units. Biological sabotage testing was also handled at this facility: everything from poisons to chemical crop destruction.

Siege of Changchun

On August 20, 1945 the city was captured by the Soviet Red Army and renamed Changchun. The Russians maintained a presence in the city during the Chinese civil war until 1946.

Kuomintang forces occupied the city in 1946, but were unable to hold the countryside against communist forces. The city fell to the communists in 1948 after the five-month Siege of Changchun by the People’s Liberation Army. As many as 80 percent of the civilian population starved to death under the siege; estimates range from 150,000 to 330,000. As of 2015 the PRC government avoids all mention of the siege.

People’s Republic

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Chinese Red Army entering Changchun.

Renamed Changchun by the People’s Republic of China government, it became the capital of Jilin in 1954. The Changchun Film Studio is also one of the remaining film studios of the era. Changchun Film Festival has become a unique gala for film industries since 1992.

From the 1950s, Changchun was designated to become a center for China’s automotive industry. Construction of the First Automobile Works (FAW) began in 1953 and production of the Jiefang CA-10 truck, based on the Soviet ZIS-150 started in 1956. Soviet Russia lent assistance during these early years, providing technical support, tooling, and production machinery. In 1958, FAW introduced the famous Hongqi (Red Flag) limousinesThis series of cars are billed as “the official car for minister-level officials”.

Changchun hosted the 2007 Winter Asian Games.

Posted in Changchun.

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