Liaoning Province
LIAONING PROVINCE has traditionally been one China's richer province. It has experienced more economic growth than other parts of the Northeast but in recent years has been outpaced by provinces in the south. Located between Beijing and North Korea, it lies in the northern reaches of the North China Plain, where massive agricultural communes were established that turned large areas of the province into corn and wheat fields with neat rows in the flat valleys and twists and turns around the hills. Liaoning's apples, peaches, and pears are exported throughout Asia. The province also contains massive strip mines and industrialized cities and has been the site of some China most extraordinary dinosaur fossil finds.

Liaoning Province covers 145,900 square kilometers (56,300 square miles) and has a population density of 295 people per square kilometer. According to the 2020 Chinese census the population was around 42 million. About 68 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Shenyang is the capital and largest city, with about 5.1 million people. The population of Liaoning is mostly Han Chinese. Minorities include Manchus, Mongols, Hui, Koreans and Xibe.

The population of Liaoning was 42,591,407 in 2020; 43,746,323 in 2010; 41,824,412 in 2000; 39,459,697 in 1990; 35,721,693 in 1982; 26,946,200 in 1964; 18,545,147 in 1954; 10,007,000 in 1947; 15,254,000 in 1936-37; 15,233,000 in 1928; 12,133,000 in 1912. [Source: Wikipedia, China Census]

The culture of Liaoning dovetails the culture of Northeast China and Manchuria as a whole with Manchu and to a lesser extent Korean influences. The one-character abbreviation for Liaoning (pinyin: Liáoníng; Manchu: Liyoo ning) is “liáo”, a name taken from the Liao River that flows through the province. The second character of the name “níng” means "peaceful". The modern province was established in 1907 as Fengtian province The name was changed to Liaoning in 1929. Under the Japanese puppet Manchukuo regime, the province reverted to its 1907 name, but the name Liaoning was restored in 1945.

Extraordinary fossils found in Liaoning — most notably from the Early Cretaceous period (from 145 million to 100 million years ago) — include Sinosauropteryx prima, first widely acknowledged feathered dinosaur unveiled at a scientific meeting in 1996; an early 'placental' mammal known as Eomaia; the intact embryo of a pterosaur; Repenomamus robustus, a cat-sized mammal who ate dinosaurs; and Sinornithosaurus millenii, nicknamed "Dave the Fuzzy Raptor".

Maps of Liaoning:

Geography and Climate of Liaoning

Liaoning map
Lying in the southern part of Northeast China and within Northeast Asia’s Bohai-Rim Economic Circle, Liaoning borders the Yellow Sea (Korea Bay and Bohai Sea) in the south, North Korea's North Pyongan and Chagang provinces in the southeast, Jilin to the northeast, Hebei to the southwest, and Inner Mongolia to the northwest. The Yalu River marks the international border with North Korea, emptying into the Korea Bay between Dandong, Liaoning and Sinuiju, North Korea. The main cities of Liaoning Province are Shenyang, Dalian, Anshan, Liaoyang, Fushun, Dandong, Jinzhou and Yingkou.

Liaoning has three geographical regions: 1( the highlands in the west, 2) plains in the middle, and 3) hills in the east. The highlands in the west are dominated by the Nulu'erhu Mountains, which roughly follow the border between Liaoning and Inner Mongolia. The entire region is dominated by low hills. The central part of Liaoning consists of the watersheds of rivers such as the Liao, Daliao, and their tributaries. This region is mostly flat and at low altitudes.The eastern part of Liaoning is dominated by the Changbai Shan and Qianshan ranges, which extends into the sea to form the Liaodong Peninsula. The highest point in Liaoning, Mount Huabozi (1336 meters), is found in this region.

Liaoning has a temperate, continental monsoon climate, with an annual average temperature of 16 degrees C and and annual rainfall averages of 440 to 1130 millimeters annually. Summer is rainy while the other seasons are dry. The province’s coldest month in January and hottest in July. Compared to inland cities, the coastal areas have a mild temperature change. Here, spring spans from March to May, summer from June to August, autumn in September and October, and winter from November through February. The province’s best season for traveling is from May to October, and January and February often experience ice and snow.

Northeast China (Manchuria)

Northeast China is a cold and sparsely populated region that embraces Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces — which together cover an area of 308,000 square miles and have a population of 107 million people. Known to the Chinese simply as Dongbei (the Northeast), and to Westerners as Manchuria, it encompasses fertile plains, forested mountains and remnants of minorities that survived by hunting and herding reindeer. The term Manchuria is generally not used by Chinese because its association with the Japanese occupation.

Northeast China covers 1.554 million square kilometers (600,000 square miles), an area roughly the size of Alaska. It is separated from Siberia and Russia by the Amur River and two of its tributaries, the Argus and Ussuuri. The Tumen and Yalu Rivers divide it from North Korea. It south coast lies on the opening of the Yellow Sea. Inner Mongolia and Northeast China are roughly separated by the Khingan Mountains.

The northeast is diverse geographically, embracing the strategic natural harbor at Dalian, the heavily-populated Manchurian plain, rugged mountains along Korean border, and wetlands and forests in the north along the Russian border. In terms of agriculture, Jilin has traditionally been China's largest exporter of corn and tobacco, Heilongjiang is known as "the king of soybeans," and Liaoning's apples, peaches, and pears are exported throughout Asia. Ginseng from southern Jilin's Changbai mountain is a staple of Chinese traditional medicine.

The winters in Northeast China are cold and dry. The summers can be hot and wet. More than half the annual rain falls in July and August. During this time large amounts of corn, wheat, millet and soybeans are raised in the fertile, dark soil. There are also sizable fur and fishing industries. Fushun contains the world's largest open pit coal mine. Many of the cities are heavily industrialized.

The region is ethnically diverse. Although dominated by Han Chinese there are a strong Manchu, Mongolian, and Korean influences. The southern part of Jilin Province contains the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, known as "China's Korean Corner" and is home to several million ethnic Korean Chinese. Today Han Chinese make up 95 percent of the region's population. There are also sizable numbers of Mongols and Koreans. Unusual minorities include the Oroqen nomads, the Dauers, Ewenki and Hezhen. Their numbers are very small.

Northeast Chinese dishes include frozen melons, bread, vanilla ice cream, stewed moose nose with mushroom, Mongolian hot pot, "yellow flower" (chopped lily stalks), white fungus soup, monkey-leg mushrooms, Harbin potato-eggplant salad, pheasant shashlik. Near Russia dishes made with fatty meat, potatoes, rice gruel, stuffed cabbage, and green peppers covered in gravy are available.

Northeast China during the Russian and Japanese occupation

Early History of Northeast China

Northeast China is the traditional homeland of the Manchu — hence the name Manchuria. Originally a Mongol-like nomadic people, the Manchus ran China during the Qing dynasty from 1644-1912. For much of its history, Northeast China was a frontier land. It wasn’t really settled until the late 1800s and soon after that became the center of a strategic battle involving Russia, Japan, Korea, and China.

During different periods of time kingdoms and state-like entities rules by Koreans and Chinese nomadic groups ruled parts of northeast China. In the last half of the seventeenth century the imperial Qing government recruited migrants from south of the Great Wall (notably, from Shandong) to settle the relatively sparsely populated area of Fengtian Province (roughly corresponding to today's Liaoning). Many of the current residents of Liaoning trace their ancestry to these seventeenth century settlers. The rest of China's Northeast, however, remained officially off-limits to Han Chinese for most of the Manchu era. To prevent the migration of Chinese to those regions (today's Jilin and Heilongjiang, as well as the adjacent parts of Inner Mongolia), the so-called Willow Palisade was cons 1638 and 1672.

During the Qing Dynasty, Manchuria was ruled by three generals, one of whom, the General of Shengjing, ruled much of modern Liaoning. In 1860, the Manchu government began to reopen the region to migration, which quickly resulted in Han Chinese becoming the dominant ethnic group in the region.

Later History of Northeast China

Northeast China has been described as China's “cradle of industrialization." It was first developed by Japanese and Russian colonists. Between 1931 and 1945, it was occupied by the Japanese, who harvested its abundant resources — timber, coal, iron, copper, molybdenum, manganese and aluminum — and built factories that supplied by Japanese military machine. After the World War II the region was briefly occupied by the Russians and was the site of decisive victories by the Communists and over the Kuomintang.

Under Mao it was turned into the industrial heartland of China. Coal-fired power plants, iron-and-steel mills, oil wells and factories were built that churned out the majority of China's steel, cars, ships, and oil — 1 6 percent of China's industrial output with juts 8 percent of the population — and created lots of jobs but also produced a lot waste and pollution.

The northeast was home to some of China's largest state enterprises, including the massive Anshan Steel Works, the First Auto Works, and the Jilin Petrochemical Corporation But in a very short time Northeast China has gone from China's economic powerhouse to a region left behind to a region on the rebound. It suffered under the Deng reforms. Many of the state-run factories had become obsolete and were shut down, resulting in huge lay offs. Of the 31 mullion Chinese who lost their jobs between 1998 and 2002, one quarter lived in the Northeast.

In 2003, the “Revitalize the Northeast" Campaign was launched, offering job training and language classes for unemployed and luring foreign companies with high tech centers, tax breaks and other incentives. The region attracted a lot of foreign investment particularly from Japan and South Korea but considerable less than the Shanghai area and southern China.

Northeast China still has a ways to go to turn itself around. It still suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in China. Many of those that are employed work for inefficient state-run enterprises that should be shut down. Many of those who are unemployed don't have skills employers want.

Early History of of Liaoning

Liaoning is located in the southern part of China's Northeast. The region as a whole or parts of the region have been under ruled by 1) Korean kingdoms such as Gojoseon, Goguryeo and Balhae and 2) Chinese ones such as the Yan state, Han Dynasty, and 3) nomadic peoples such as Donghu, Xianbei, Khitan and Jurche. Wall of China sections in Hebei and Liaoning are thought to be the oldest. Some sections are said to be 2,220 years old.

The Ming Empire took control of Liaoning in 1371, just three years after the expulsion of the Mongols from Beijing. Around 1442, a defense wall was constructed to defend the northwestern frontier of the province from a potential threat from the Jurched-Mongol Oriyanghan (who were Ming's tributaries). In 1467-1468, the wall was expanded to protect the region from the northeast as well, against attacks from Jianzhou Jurchens (who were later to become known as the Manchu people). Although similar in purpose to the Great Wall of China, this "Liaodong Wall" was of a lower-cost design. While stones and tiles were used in some parts, most of the wall was in fact simply an earth dike with moats on both sides.

Despite the Liaodong Wall, the Ming Liaodong was conquered by the Manchus in the early 17th century, decades before the rest of China fell to them. The Manchu dynasty, styled "Later Jin", established its capital in 1616-1621 in Xingjing., which was located outside of the Liaodong Wall in the eastern part of the modern Liaoning Province (near today's Xilaocheng Village in Xinbin Manchu Autonomous County, part of Fushun City). It was moved to Dongjing (east of today's Liaoyang, Liaoning), and finally in 1625 to Shengjing (now, Shenyang, Liaoning). Although the main Qing capital was moved from Shengjing to Beijing after it fell to the Qing in 1644, Shengjing retained its importance as a regional capital throughout most of the Qing era.

The Qing conquest of Liaodong resulted in a significant population loss in the area, as many local Chinese residents were either killed during fighting, or fled south of the Great Wall, many cities being destroyed by the retreating Ming forces themselves. In the last half of the seventeenth century (starting with laws issued in 1651 and 1653), the imperial Qing government recruited migrants from south of the Great Wall (notably, from Shandong) to settle the relatively sparsely populated area of Fengtian Province (roughly corresponding to today's Liaoning). Many of the current residents of Liaoning trace their ancestry to these seventeenth century settlers. Later on, the Qing government tried to stop the migrants flow to Fengtian or even to make some settlers return to their original places of residence-or, failing that, to legalize them.

Later History of of Liaoning

In the 20th century, the province of Fengtian was set up in what is Liaoning today. When Japan and Russia fought the Russo-Japanese War in 1904–1905, many key battles took place in Liaoning, including the Battle of Port Arthur and the Battle of Mukden, which was, to that point, the largest land battle ever fought.

During the Warlord Era in the early twentieth century, Liaoning was under the Fengtian Clique, including Zhang Zuolin and his son Zhang Xueliang; in 1931, Japan invaded and the area came under the rule of the Japanese-controlled puppet state of Manchukuo. The Chinese Civil War that took place following Japanese defeat in 1945 had its first major battles (the Liaoshen Campaign) in and around Liaoning.

At the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Liaoning did not exist; instead there were two provinces, Liaodong and Liaoxi, as well as five municipalities, Shenyang, Luda, Anshan, Fushun, and Benxi. These were all merged into "Liaoning" in 1954, and parts of former Rehe province were merged into Liaoning in 1955. During the Cultural Revolution Liaoning also took in a part of Inner Mongolia, though this was reversed later.

Liaoning was one of the first provinces in China to industrialize, first under Japanese occupation, and then even more in the 1950s and 1960s. The city of Anshan, for example, is home to one of the largest iron and steel complexes in China. In recent years this early focus on heavy industry has become a liability, as many of the large state-run enterprises have experienced economic difficulties. Recognizing the special difficulties faced by Liaoning and other provinces in Northeast China because of their heritage of heavy industry, the Chinese central government launched the "Revitalize the Northeast" Campaign.

Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery of Yixian

The Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery of Yixian (250 kilometers west of Shenyang, Jinzhou City, Yixian County) was built in the ninth year of Kaitai period of the Liao Dynasty (A.D. 1020), and is more than 1,000 years old now. Wooden Structures of Liao Dynasty — Wooden Pagoda of Yingxian County was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Among existing Chinese ancient monasteries, the Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery is the biggest and the most integrated building of hall type with one tier of eaves. The whole building is made of high platform, column layer, brackets layer and roof layer. The building is regarded as an art treasury of Chinese culture, including colorful sculptures, paintings, sacrifices, steles, tablets, and so on. In 1961, it was declared by the State Council as among the first batch of state priority protected sites. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“The Liao Dynasty established by Khitan had lasted for 300 years, including 90 years of Xiliao Dynasty, and came to an end in Jin Dynasty to Yuan Dynasty (the12th-13th century). As a masterpiece in the history of ancient Chinese wooden structure, the Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery is a vivid evidence of historic culture in Liao Dynasty and an outstanding Buddhist architecture created by Khitan as an ethnic minority living in border areas who inherited and developed the traditional culture of central China.

“The Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery is the biggest wooden structure with one tier of eaves. The clay sculpture of the Seven Buddha in the hall are among the oldest, the biggest and the most beautiful group of sculptures in the world, which make the hall differ from other Buddhist temples. The hall is a sacred place of world fame to inherit and carry forward Buddhist classics. There are a lot of marvelous paintings of fairies on the beam frames of the hall, which are one of the unique features of the hall. The Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery shows refulgent Chinese civilization in architecture, sculpture and painting.

“The Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery and its cultural relics are unique artistic and technical creation in the world. "The Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery is one of three representative Chinese wooden structures (namely, Foguang Hall, Qifo or Seven Buddha Hall and Haihui Hall). The paintings of fairies on its beam frameworks remain vivid and brilliant, which are rare examples of ancient paintings on wooden structures". The Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery inherits the elegant architectural style and rise of the roof construction of the Tang Dynasty. The building is in a form of blending the styles of the Tang and Liao Dynasties, demonstrating the architectural charm of the two dynasties. It had exerted far-reaching influence on the architecture style of the Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties as well as contemporary Buddhist monastery complex. The Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery and its sculptures and paintings preserve the cultural features and memory of traditional Buddhist architecture of the Liao Dynasty, and keeps the precious artistic and scientific information of the Tang Dynasty and Liao Dynasty.

“Wooden Pagoda in Yingxian County, Shanxi Province and the Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery in Yixian County, Liaoning Province are both important single wooden structure of typical style of the Liao Dynasty in People's Republic of China. Built in 1056, the 957-year-old Wooden Pagoda of Yingxian County is the oldest wooden multi-storey structure of the world, and this 67.31m-high and nine-storey building is also the tallest. Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery was constructed in 1020. The 993-year-old Hall has nine bays on its facade (47.6m) and five bays in depth (25.13m). The 24m-high building is the best preserved and largest wooden Buddhist structure with highest rank in China. The two structures represent the outstanding achievements in the design and construction of wooden structure of ancient China. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO

“The Wooden Pagoda of Yingxian and the Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery are two typical timbers buildings of the Liao Dynasty, which are helpful to have an objective understanding about the uniqueness, development and evolution law of buildings in Liao Dynasty. They provide examples to research the carpentry work, joinery work, paintings on the beam frames, wall construction, rise of the roof, and roof structure, etc., explore the typical feature of Liao architectures, evolution of wooden structure in Tang and Song Dynasties, and understand questions in the book Yingzaofashi of the North Song Dynasty.

“Both the Wooden Pagoda of Yingxian County and the Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery represent the prime level of wooden structured building of Liao Dynasty, manifest the great achievements in the fields of architectural technology and art in 11th Century in China.

Architecture and Construction of the Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery is an outstanding example of wooden structure of single eave in China in 11th Century and an excellent example of the transformation from palatial hall style to the hall type. Its architecture design is based on the module of Cai-Fen system, creating elegant appearance and graceful curve line. It shows the knowledge of ancient architects about the structural mechanics and solves the unfavorable factors of the flexural beams by using beams with six rafters and the Jiaobei structure on it. It is also an outstanding example for the integration between the advanced culture and the border area culture in ancient China.” [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“The Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery maintains its original shape when it was built a thousand years ago. The carpentry work, painting scheme, 21 huge statues, seven sets of stone articles for offer sacrifice, two couples of stone lions and the stone column bases were all constructed in the Liao Dynasty and are well preserved. Besides, the layout of Buddhist temple of the Liao Dynasty around the main hall is perfectly preserved. Therefore, the integrity of the Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery is well preserved.

The Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery has nine bays on the façade 47.6 meters long and five bays 10 rafters in depth 25.13 meters, and 24 meters in height. With magnificent appearance, the main hall also boasts perfect combination of art and technology in the inner structure. The Main Hall of the Fengguo Monastery is among the oldest in terms of the initial construction time and the biggest among the single wooden Buddhism buildings in China.

Liaoning Fossils

Beipiao (200 kilometers west of Shenyang and 400 kilometers northeast of Beijing) is a village near the Yixian Formation in Liaoning Province, home of one of the world's richest fossil sites for remains of dinosaurs and dinosaur-age creatures. It has yielded hundreds of major fossil finds. The site was discovered by a local farmer who found a fossil of a primitive bird and realized the significance of his find and split the fossil in half and gave them to rival scientific institutions in Beijing and Nanjing. [Source: Cliff Tarpy, National Geographic, August 2005]

The Jiufotang Formation in Chaoyang, Liaoning is another rich fossil area, with Early Cretaceous fossils (145 to 66 million years ago) . Many of the fossils are from the Mesozoic era between 130 million and 110 million years ago — a period marked by an extraordinary diversification of life forms, including dinosaurs, mammal, birds and flowering plants. At the time the fossils were created the region was covered by lakes and contained a diverse assortment of animals and plant life.

Richard Stone wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “In a pine forest in rural northeastern China, a rugged shale slope is packed with the remains of extinct creatures from 125 million years ago, when this part of Liaoning province was covered with freshwater lakes. Volcanic eruptions regularly convulsed the area at the time, entombing untold millions of reptiles, fish, snails and insects in ash. I step gingerly among the myriad fossils, pick up a shale slab not much larger than my hand and smack its edge with a rock hammer. A seam splits a russet-colored fish in half, producing mirror impressions of delicate fins and bones as thin as human hairs. One of China's star paleontologists, Zhou Zhonghe, smiles. "Amazing place, isn't it?" he says. [Source: Richard Stone, Smithsonian magazine, December 2010]

Most of the fossils found in Liaoning province come from mudstone created from layers of clay, silt and ash deposited in lakes up to 150 million years ago. The fossil were embedded in fine-grained sediments that have preserved details as fine as the veins of leaves, the wings of insects, tissues of animals, filaments of feathers and the patterns of skin. Some have called Liaoning a Mesozoic Pompeii because of how well preserved the fossils are.

The best-preserved animals and plants were covered by gray volcanic ash that was deposited on the bottom of shallow lakes. Soft tissues and fine details were preserved because the layers of ash and mud covered the fossils were so fine they shut out oxygen and prevented decomposition. Smithsonian scientist Hans-Diter Sues told National Geographic, “The site preserved not just bodies but often whole skeletons and some birds were reserved so well can distinguish between male and female."

Many of the animals are thought to have been killed instantly when they were engulfed by thick deposits of volcanic ash or by volcanic gases, followed by a covering of ash or mud. Repeated volcanic eruptions created layers of fossil beds that have enabled scientist to accurately date the fossils and observe their evolutionary progression.

Many of the fossils from Liaoning are associated with a 130 million-year-old lake. The fact they were in a lake also was a factor in their preservation. Flowing rivers tend to break up smaller bones while lakes tend to preserve small bones and even soft tissues with layers of sediment that are gently deposited on them.

Liaoning Fossils Animals and Their Importance

As of 2005, 60 species of plant, 90 species of vertebrates and 3000 species of invertebrate have been discovered in the Liaoning fossil beds. Important discoveries include primitive birds with primitive fur and feathers, the first fossilized internal organs of dinosaurs ever seen, dinosaur skin shading patterns, the first fossil dinosaur containing a mammal it had just eaten and fossils of birds with seeds they had just eaten in the stomach, moments before they died. The skin patterns do not indicate color but they show that small dinosaurs hade spots and stripes on their skin like modern animals.

A stunning array of well-preserved fish and insects have also been found. Dinosaur-era insects include dragonflies and bees. The fish include sturgeon-like creates with soft backbones. There are even well-preserved skeletons of amphibians, which are rare because their bones are so thin. The array of animals, the details that preserved and organized way they are organized in the volcanic layers has enable scientists to study population dynamic, succession within communities, predator-prey relationships and even child-rearing behavior.. One 125-million-year-old fossil found in Liaoning revealed a psittacosaur with 34 young psittacosaurs. Because 34 young seemed liked too many for a single parents to take care of some viewed the discovery as evidence dinosaur day care. Psittacosaurs were herbivorous beaked dinosaurs that lived between 135 million and 100 million years ago and ranged in size form three to 6.5 feet. They are ancestors of helmeted and horned dinosaurs like Triceratops. The fossils were discovered near Lui Tai village, near Yixian. The discovery was announced in 2007.

Richard Conniff wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “What has emerged from beneath the fields of Liaoning province (and parts of neighboring provinces) is, however, bigger than dinosaurs: A couple of decades of digging have uncovered two miraculously well-preserved ancient worlds. The first, called the Yanliao Biota, is from the middle-late Jurassic period, 166 million years ago. The second, the Jehol Biota, is Cretaceous, from 131 million to 120 million years ago. The Jehol is more famous among paleontologists, and far more diverse. Among the ancient biota — or plant and animal life — found so far: four turtle species, eight amphibian species, 15 fishes, 17 mammals, 24 of the winged reptiles called pterosaurs and no fewer than 53 ancient bird species. Taken together, these finds tell dramatic new stories about the dinosaur origin of birds and the evolution of feathers and flight. That’s in addition to some of the earliest flowering plants, plus assorted pine, cypress and gingko trees, algae, mosses and ferns, snails, clams, crustaceans, insects, spiders and almost endlessly onward. It’s a measure of this diversity that, in addition to its other displays, the museum in Sihetun will house 26 different specimens — from fish to a parrot-faced dinosaur called Psittacosaurus — all partly excavated but still embedded in the hillside where they were discovered. [Source: Richard Conniff, Smithsonian magazine, May 2018]

In the early Cretaceous era, northeastern China was mostly forest and lake country, with a temperate climate. But it was prone to ferocious volcanic eruptions. Lake-bed mud and volcanic ash quickly entombed victims without the oxygen necessary for decomposition, and these fine-grained sediments preserved not just bones, but also feathers, hair, skin tissue, organs and even stomach contents. The Microraptor, for instance, is a small, four-winged dinosaur, a tree-dweller built for short predatory plunges from branch to branch. Researchers examining one specimen recently found evidence in its abdomen that its last meal was a bird swallowed nearly whole. (They also identified the bird.) A mammal called Repenomamus, resembling a modern bulldog, turned out to have eaten a small dinosaur.

“For paleontologists, the value of Liaoning fossils lies not just in the extraordinarily preserved details but also in the timing: They’ve opened a window on the moment when birds broke away from other dinosaurs and evolved new forms of flight and ways of feeding. They reveal details about most of the digestive, respiratory, skeletal and plumage adaptations that transformed the creatures from big, scary meat-eating dinosaurs to something like a modern pigeon or hummingbird.

Sihetun and Liaoning Beipiao Sihetun Ancient Fossils Museum

Sihetun is a rural village situated in the western part of Liaoning province, in the lower part of the Yixian Formation, near Beipiao, a city in Chaoyang prefecture, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of Beijing. Richard Conniff wrote in Smithsonian magazine:“In the mid-1990s, on a hillside in Sihetun, a farmer stumbled onto the world’s first known feathered dinosaur, a creature now named Sinosauropteryx (“the China dragon bird”). Actually, the farmer found two halves of a slab, each preserving a mirror image of this dinosaur. In the freewheeling spirit that has characterized the fossil trade in the area ever since, he sold one half to one unwitting museum, and one half to another. It was the start of a fossil gold rush.The region has yielded more than 40 dinosaur species to date. [Source: Richard Conniff, Smithsonian magazine, May 2018]

Liaoning Beipiao Sihetun Ancient Fossils Museum was scheduled to open in 2019: In 2018 The museum was “under construction — steel beams riveted together to form layers, stacked one atop another, climbing a hillside in two parallel rows. The two wings connected by a central pavilion looked like a bird about to take off. The new museum — its name roughly translates as Liaoning Beipiao Sihetun Ancient Fossils Museum was unmistakably huge. It was also expensive (Fangfang estimated $28 million for construction alone). And it was in the middle of nowhere. In the exuberant fashion of a lot of modern development in China, the new structure is going up in anticipation of visitors arriving by speed train from the capital, except that the speed train network hasn’t been built yet.

Standing on a slope a few minutes’ walk from the museum site, my guide pointed out the hills of a nearby farm where Yutyrannus, a 3,100-pound feathered dinosaur, turned up a few years ago. (Think Tyrannosaurus rex, but plumed like a Mardi Gras Indian.) This was also the former home range of Anchiornis huxleyi, a chicken-size creature with enough preserved detail to become the first dinosaur ever described feather by feather in its authentic colors — an event one paleontologist likened to “the birth of color TV.”

“Another measure of diversity: Liaoning already has at least ten other fossil museums, some with important collections, others mainly products of local boosterism or bureaucratic career-building. There’s typically lots of money for constructing new buildings, less for acquiring collections, and none at all, at least in the provinces, for scientific staff to make sense of them. Many of the best specimens also turn up in Beijing, or at the Shandong Tianyu Nature Museum seven hours south of the capital, which one paleontologist described as “the best place to see Liaoning fossils.”

Xingcheng and Its Ming-Era Walls

Xingcheng (400 kilometers east of Beijing in Liaoning Province) is famous for its Ming and Qing Dynasty city walls, which along with other such walls in Shaanxi, Jiangsu and Hubei Provinces were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Xingcheng City Wall is located at the west bank of Liaodong Bay of China, the middle part of Liaoxi Corridor and the central part of Xingcheng city.... The architectural planning design and usage purposes of the City Wall in Xingcheng have retained the planning theory and military culture of a Chinese ancient city, the base of the external wall coatings are all very hard compound composed of white ashes, yellow soils, glutinous rice slurries, where huge longitudinal stones were laid on and followed by large black bricks. The internal wall coatings were stuffed with irregular rocks and rammed with yellow soils. The city walls were solidly firmed and strongly fortified. Cannons emplacements were set at each corner of the walls, and large red foreign cannons were mounted on them, these cannons had effectively resisted the powerful besieges from the Jin army. Xingcheng City Wall provides the unique evidence of the past military culture of Ming Dynasty, and Xingcheng City Walls is the best conserved and the only Ming guarding city wall left in China. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China ]

“The perimeter length of the Xingcheng City Walls is 3274 meters, its height are between 8.5-9.6 meters, base width 5.7-7.0 meters, top width 4.3-4.6 meters, the entire compound consists of the wall body, 4 gates, 4 crescent-shaped external earthen walls, 4 towers, 4 cannon emplacements, and stalwart court. The entire ancient walls is conserved according to the complete original appearance when it was first restored, apart from those 4 crescent-shaped external earthen walls where a 13-meter passage is required to be opened from the front side for the purpose of transportation and fire-safety, other parts of the architecture are 100 percent intact.

“When compared with ancient city walls located in other regions of China in terms of location, Xingcheng City Walls has very strong obvious personality, which could be featured in the following three aspects: 1) The building form of the city walls: Xingcheng City Walls is a square-shaped city wall. Ancient Chinese architecture has distinctive ancient Chinese "philosophical thought". Traditional Chinese's universe concept deems that "the sky is round and the earth is square". Square-shaped substance symbolizes the great earth, which should be steady and lasting in a long run. Xingcheng City Wall was built into a square-shaped meant to adopt the firmness and steadiness of the great earth, in the hope that nothing would destroy it. Pingyao Ancient City Walls is in the shape of a turtle, which symbolizes longevity; building a city in a shape of turtle meant to adopt its meaning in long governing and lasting peace, as well as an increasingly extended longevity.

“2) The construction structural layout: The 4 gates, towers, external earthen walls of Xingcheng City Walls are all set at the middle of every side of the walls, the drum tower is located right at the middle of the city, which forms into a very good symmetrical pattern that possesses military defensive function and it gives peoples an aesthetic feeling of wholesomeness. The 6 gates, towers and external earthen walls of Pingyao Ancient are randomly laid, and the tower is located at the northeastern part of the city wall, its layout is largely different from the Xingcheng City Walls' layout.

“3) Construction technique and construction materials: There is a 1-meter glutinous rice slurries under the foundation of Xingcheng City Wall, which was further rammed with a proportion of 30 percent ashes and 70 percent soils mixture, and on top of it 3 layers of longitudinal stones were laid. The external earthen walls were laid with large blocks of black bricks, which slots were filled with lime slurries. The inner walls were laid with tiger skin and stones, using lime slurries to fill the slots. The middle part of the walls were rammed with yellow soils, and glutinous rice slurries were used at the top level when ramming it with 30 percent of ashes and 70 percent of soils mixture. Whereas in Pingyao Ancient City Walls' case, the external brick walls stand embracing the internal earth wall rammed by using lime and glutinous slurries, there is no brick or stone laid for the internal wall. These two ancient city walls at the northern part of China show certain differences, Xingcheng City Walls was built firmly and stoutly to withstand war tribulations.

History of the City Wall in Xingcheng

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Xingcheng City Wall was built during the 3rd year of Xuande Reign of Ming Dynasty (428), completed in the 5th year of Xuande Reign (430), meant to protect and safeguard the city from the intrusion of Wulianghabu from the north, a remaining noble from the Yuan Dynasty. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China ]

“During the 3rd and 4th year of Tianqi Reign, Ming Dynasty (623-624), Yuan Chonghuan, the national hero, restored the Ning Yuan City (then name of Xingcheng)in aim to strengthen the protection from the Jin Army. It was a very important military town. Yuan Chonghuan fought off Nuerhachi, the leading army general of Jin, achieving the "Great Victory of Ning Yuan" during the 6th year of Tianqi Reign (626) with the powerful cannons set behind the strong walls. The following year, he again drove off Huang Taiji, the army general of Jin and achieved the "Great Cictory of Ning Jin".

“Ming Dynasty won its first victory via the Xingcheng City Walls 8 years after non-stop battles between them and Qing; the latter was seriously hurt at that moment. It was also the only city walls except for the Great Walls unoccupied by the Qing army forcedly during the 26 years' hot battles between the Ming and Qing.

“According to historical literature records like the Shengjing Archives, the Xingcheng City Walls was completed in 1430 and restored in 1624, when its size, structure and layout were restored back to the same as the original walls. Thereafter, although Xingcheng City Walls had incurred many ammunition fights, disasters of wars, natural disasters and political upheavals, it did not suffer any substantial damage. The Qing Dynasty did three maintenance renovates in the year 1779, 1817 and 1848; and apart from some partial damages, most of it was as originally intact as when it was first rebuilt.”

Hongshan Culture Sites

The Hongshan Culture of northeastern China was one China's major Neolithic cultures. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei, “Five to six thousand years ago, the Hongshan Culture reached new heights. In addition to constructing temples to a giant, painted goddess, they also built round sacrificial altars and square tombs. They carved animals from pieces of jade. Some of these were animals in the fetal position, others were birds with hooked beaks and beasts with fangs, and some had mesmerizing vortex eyes. This unusual blend of human, bird, and beast features in a single carving may imply that ancient shamans used the essence of jade and spirits of animals to pray to divine ancestors for protection.” [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei]

Sites of Hongshan Culture (Chaoyang City, Liaoning Province; Chifeng City, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Niuheliang, Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, which could date back to 6,000-5,000 years ago, are important representative sites of the Hongshan culture. The Niuheliang Archaeological Site dating back to 5,500-5,000 years ago was a burial and sacrificial center in the late Hongshan period. Compared with other late Hongshan sites so far known, it boasts the greatest scale, the best preservation, the richest varieties of remains, and the largest number of unearthed cultural relics. In addition, the Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, dating back to 6,000-5,500 years ago, were both residential settlements. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“The Niuheliang, Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites represent the settlements of Hongshan culture with different functions and scales. They jointly reveal prehistoric production, lifestyle, burying, and sacrifices in the West Liao River Basin 6000-5000 years back. The Hongshan people, capable of establishing harmonious relationship with nature, organizing and managing the society, and dealing with social relations inside and outside the community, made splendid material and cultural accomplishments. Moreover, compared with previous societies, the Hongshan culture witnessed remarkable social transformations. For example, its population significantly increased; a social class in charge of sacrificial activities appeared; the techniques of architecture and jade-making developed then reached the heyday in China 6,000-5,000 years ago.

“Furthermore, the Hongshan inhabitants created an integral and unique sacrificial system, involving ancestor worship, dragon-prioritized animal worship, and Heaven and Earth worship, all of which were practiced with jade artifacts that served as media between human and divine worlds. The material and cultural accomplishments made by Hongshan people were significantly contributory to the formation of the Chinese civilization, which is demonstrated by the dragon-centered worship still popular today. Simply put, the Niuheliang, Hongshanhou, and Weijiawopu sites have provided important messages for our understanding of a prehistory 5,000 years ago. They are essential for the exploration of the origin of the Chinese civilization, and are constitutive of an irreplaceable part of ancient East Asian civilization.

“While the Weijiawopu is a site with the largest number of discovered residential structures, the Hongshanhou Site is the place after which the Hongshan culture was named. In spite of different functions and types of the three sites, they have internal and reciprocal relationships, with which people’s production, lifestyle, burial and sacrificial activities of the Hongshan culture period are explicitly represented. These characteristics of the Hongshan culture also provide the basis for the exploration of the Chinese civilization.”

Importance of the Hongshan Sites

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The overall plan and the layout features of Niuheliang Site, the construction of various sacrificial structures including the Goddness Temple, the stone mound and the altar, the carving and adoption of dragon, phoenix and human-shaped jade artifacts fully represent the creative genius of primitive ancestors 5,500-5000 years ago, and provide an important evidence of the civilized society. Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Sites, where the Hongshan inhabitants settled and lived 6,000-5,000 years ago, also represent people’s spirits and wisdom through the building and design of villages and houses. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“Dating back to 5,500-5,000 years ago, the Niuheliang Archaeological Site bears a unique testimony to the burial and sacrificial traditions in West Liao River Basin. It is an outstanding representative of the cultural remains related to the early Chinese civilization; it bears witness to the unique spiritual life of Hongshan people and to the formation of the primitive state. In addition, the Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Archaeological Sites, as places where the Hongshan inhabitants settled and lived, bear an evident testimony to the cultural traditions in lifestyle, types of production, familial and social patterns, aesthetic conventions, as well as external relations. The two settlement sites, complementary to the Niuheliang Site, bear an exceptional testimony to a disappeared prehistoric civilization in West Liao River

“The Niuheliang Archaeological Site was a grand-scale sacrificial center during late Hongshan culture period. Various types of funerary and sacrificial structures, such as the Goddess Temple, stone mounds, and altars, were built on the top of mountain ridges or hills, whereby the cultural and natural landscapes were brilliantly integrated. With the Goddess Temple and its platform as the center, the sacrificial structures in various types distributed at 16 spots formed a cluster of sacrificial sites of the highest rank and became an outstanding example of sacrificial and burial sites in the early stage of human civilization in East Asian cultural zone. In addition, the holistic plan and layout of the Niuheliang site, the architectural and decorative patterns of the Goddess Temple, and the mason technique of altars and graves are all outstanding examples that illustrate the advancement of a prehistoric technology in this region. The Hongshanhou and Weijiawopu Sites are outstanding examples of village architecture in prehistoric East Asia with the orderly arranged semi-subterranean houses, the well preserved remains of trenches and cellars.”

Niuheliang Archaeological Site

The Niuheliang Archaeological site (seven kilometers northeast of Lingyuan City, Jianping County, and Harqin Left Wing Mongol Autonomous County, 400 kilometers northeast of Beijing) is one of the Hongshan Culture sites nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Centered at the Goddess Temple, surrounded by altars and stone mounds, the Niuheliang Archaeological Site is a magnificent prehistoric burial and ceremonial area, separated from residential settlements. Dating back to 5,500-5,000 years ago, it was a sanctuary where ancestors of the Hongshan people were buried and sacrifices were offered to ancestors, Heaven and Earth. As a reflection of a primitive state combined both theocratic and royal powers, the Niuheliang Site bears a witness to the origin of the civilization of Northeast China and even Northeast Asia. The abundant physical remains and cultural information contained in the site are of outstanding value for the study of prehistory, archaeology, anthropology, philosophy, and aesthetics. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China for UNESCO]

“As an area with foothills located between the Mongolian Plateau and the offshore zone of the North China Plain, the site is naturally composed of a number of mountain valleys with a northeast-southwest direction, ridges between the valleys, and a natural setting formed by the Nuluerhu Mountains, an extension of the Great Khingan Range. The altitude of Niuheliang ranges between 550 meters and 680 meters, and the archaeological spots are mainly distributed on the hilltop of the mountain ridges. In 1981, Liaoning Province started the second cultural relics survey, and 16 Archaeological spots were discovered and numbered.

“Between 1983 and 2003, the Liaoning Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology undertook a series of large excavations at Spots No. 2, 3, 5, and 16, and the sites of Hongshan culture within Niuheliang Archaeological Site were divided into the following six categories: the Goddess Temple, the platform, the stone mound, the sacrificial altar, the building foundation, and the cellar. Within an area of 50 square kilometers at Niuheliang Site, no residential settlements have been discovered so far, which indicates that the sacrificial center had been separated from the residential zones then, and the site served as a separate place particularly reserved for constructions of temples, graves and cemeteries. In this sense, the Niuheliang Archaeological Site is an outstanding example of “holy sacrificial land” of the early period of human civilization so far discovered in Northeast Asia, and boasts the largest scale, the highest rank, and the most prominent expression of beliefs.

The Goddess Temple comprises the temple ruins and its northern platform, surrounded by several sacrificial pits. The temple ruins are semi-subterranean earth-wood structures, composed of a set of interconnected chambers and a single chamber in the south. It measures 25 meters long from north to south, 2 to 9 meters wide from east to west, and covers an area of 75 square meters. Parts of six individual clay figures were unearthed during preliminary excavations, including one life-size statue of human head. All the statues are exquisitely made with female features, being regarded as statues of female ancestors who were worshiped. In addition, animal-shaped sculptures and sacrificial potteries were unearthed at the Goddess Temple. In general, the Goddess Temple reflects an embryonic form of the ancestral temple, and it is hitherto one of the earliest sacrificial temples discovered in the whole region of Northeast Asia.

There are 14 stone mounds ever discovered on the hilltops within Niuheliang Site. Each hill may have a single grave, double graves, or multiple graves. Given the scale, structural form, type and quantity of burial objects, the graves fall into four categories. First, a large grave is located at the center, dominating the other graves. This central grave, spaciously constructed, is deeply anchored into its rock foundation. A stone coffin, whose inner wall is neatly constructed, contains a variety of jade articles without other burial objects such as potteries and stone objects. The second-level graves are large-scale stone coffins, deeply anchored in rock foundation. Some coffins have steps at one side of the grave wall. The coffin is spacious and neatly constructed, with jade articles buried inside only. The third-level graves are constituted by regular stone coffins, constructed with slates or stone blocks, along with a few jade articles buried inside. Lastly, the small-scale stone graves have no burial artifacts inside. In this way, the Niuheliang Archeological Site is a large cluster of prehistoric burial sites, featuring a clear internal hierarchical order and system. Jade artifacts were made in shapes of dragon, phoenix, tortoise, and human beings, and most graves had only jade artifacts inside, which indicates a distinctive prehistoric convention-“buried exclusively with jade articles” and marks the first heyday in development of jade culture during the prehistoric period of China. The emergence of the central grave manifests social differentiation featuring “the supreme power of one person” in the late period of Hongshan culture, and fully reflects the privileged status of the owner of the central grave. In both scale and magnificence, the central grave is equivalent of emperors’ mausoleums of the following periods.

Altars are located next to the stone mounds. Until now, two altars have been discovered, namely, a round altar at Spot No. 2 and a square altar at Spot No. 5. The former is symbolically significant in terms of its plan arrangement, composition, and construction materials. To be specific, it has a nearly circular plan, comprising a three-layered Altar Border and a set of piled stones at its center. The Altar Border is constructed with standing stones arranged in order, which form three concentric circles. Gradually higher from outside to inside, they establish the foundation and make the outline of the altar. Besides, rows of canister-shaped potteries are placed right next to the standing stones. In the center of the inner circle of the altar, there are piled stones. In addition to this unique formation, the piled stones are distinctive for they are smaller than those of other stone mounds and they are of complex varieties of rocks. Resembling the sacrificial altars in later times that are used to worship Heaven and Earth, the architectural form of altars at Niuheliang is widely believed to be a significant exemplar of embryonic altars in China and even Northeast Asia. [Niuheliang Archaeological Site Coordinates: N 41°16 15", E 119°27 9"]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization),, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2022

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