The name Changchun (lit. “eternal spring”) represents a pleasant notion, however the modern history of Changchun city tell a painful story. In 1931, Japan invaded and occupied the entire northeast part of China, including Changchun.
On a more positive note, Changchun is the birthplace of China’s first film and first motor car and was the residence of Puyi, China’s last emperor. Although Changchun does not receive the attention as travel destination as other locales such as Beijing or Xian, it offers a different travel experience, especially during the winter.
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When traveling in Changchun, you should not miss out on the following experiences to learn more about local customs and the natural beauty of Changchun.
1. Errenzhuan (couple dance opera)
With a history of more than 300 years, Errenzhuan is very popular in northeast China. Errenzhun, a kind of folk song-dance duet, deeply rooted in folk cultural art. Watching Errenzhuan can help you learn quite a bit about local culture and customs. You can choose any opera house in Changchun to watch it.
2. The story of the last emperor at Puppet Emperor Palace
In 1908, the two-year-old Puyi became the 10th emperor of the Qing Dynasty but his reign was only to last three years. He was also allowed to live in Forbidden City until 1924. Then he relocated to Tianjin until 1932. In 1932, he was installed as emperor of the Japanese client-state of Manchukuo by the Japanese at Puppet Emperor Palace.
3. World-famous sculptures in Changchun World Sculpture Park
In Changchun’s World Sculpture Park, visitors can appreciate many famous sculptures created by world-famous artists. In 2008, the park spent more than one million dollars buying Rodin’s Thinker. Besides Rodin’s Thinker, you can find other sculptures from various people-groups such as the Eskimo, Maya, Maori, Indian, etc.
Changchun has four distinctive seasons: spring is short and regarded as a transitional season. It is chilly and windy. Summer is not as hot as in some other southern cities. In July (the hottest month), the average temperature is 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degree centigrade), so summer in Changchun is quite comfortable. Autumn is sunny and cool but has big temperature swings between daytime and night. Winter is very cold and long. Winter is not the best time to travel to Changchun, but some young tourists come here for rime, ice sculptures and skiing.
As for the optimal time to visit Changchun, summer and autumn are the best choice. Summer has beautiful landscape and the weather is comfortable. Autumn is also the best season for sightseeing in Changchun, but you should take sweaters and a warm coat to account for sharp changes in the weather.
Changchun offers many beautiful natural spots and historical and cultural sites. For instance, Puppet Emperor Palace is one of the three great imperial palaces in China, and Songhuahu and Beidahu Ski Resorts are great places for skiers; in addition, Changchun Film City is known as the “Oriental Hollywood.”
Changchun was inhabited early in Paleolithic times. During the Qin and Han dynasties, the Yilou ethnic group settled here; in the East, the Jin, Sui and Tang dynasties thrived. During the North Song Dynasty, the Liao Kingdom was established in this area; at the end of Song Dynasty, the Jin Kingdom was founded.
The Changchun dialect belongs to Northeastern Mandarin, which is very similar to the Beijing dialect and spoken by the people in northeast China (Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning provinces). The Changchun dialect is a combination of the dialects of local people and immigrants from Shandong.
Local Opera (Errenzhuan)
Errenzhuan, also called Bengbeng, is a genre of local folk dance and song form prevailing in northeast China. Errenzhuan is performed by two persons, a boy and a girl who dance and sing. It features “telling, singing, imitating, dancing and unique techniques”. Its aria absorbed some elements of Northeast Big Drum, Lian Hua Luo (a folk song art) and Pangtzu of Hopei (a Chinese opera). Its dancing was evolved from Yangga in northeast and borrowed some postures from Kongfu. The main tools during performance is folded fans and red square handkerchiefs.
Because of its humorous dialogue and interesting dancing, Errenzhuan became well-known around China.
As the second major city in northeast China after Harbin, Changchun cuisine includes almost all famous dishes of Northeast China’s cuisine. Northeast China’s cuisine also absorbs some features of the cuisine of other parts of China. Changchun has a large Korean population so that visitors can have a taste of pickled vegetables and various kinds of Korean cuisine.
The delicacies in Changchun have absorbed elements from the best of China’s cuisines such as Sichuan cuisine, Beijing cuisine, Shangdong cuisine, and so on. In particular, local dishes of wild animals are favored by tourists at home and abroad.
Some valuable ingredients such as ginseng, snow frogs and tricholoma matsutake mushrooms are added to dishes. Some others local snacks are characterized by the flavors of northeast Chinese and Korean ethnic group.
What to Eat
Da Gao (glutinous Rice Cake)
This dish is made of glutinous rice. Da (Chinese pinyin) means beat. When making Da Gao, the boiled glutinous are beaten again and again. When eating, it is cut into pieces and bean powder, sugar and honey are added. Koreans have been regarding Da Gao as a first-grade delicacy so it definitely well worth trying.
Fried Pork in Scoop
The pickled pork tenderloin is wrapped in flour and then deep fried until golden in color. The dish tastes crisp, tender, sweet and sour. You can have a taste of fried pork in scoop in any of the restaurants in Changchun.
Ginseng and Chicken Cooked with Maotai Wine
This is one of the distinctive dishes in Changchun. The main ingredients include chicken, ginseng and Maotai (a famous Chinese liquor). The dish features an intriguing color, beautiful shape and tempting aroma.
The Manchu Eight Dishes
As its name suggested, the Manchu Eight Dishes is very typical in Manchuria. It is composed of stir-fried tofu with potherb mustard, brine shrimp egg tofu, grilled pig feet, burning frogs, stewed chicken with mushroom, braised pork with pickled vegetables, toon fish, and A Ma Zun Rou (the meat from the pig such as the heart, tails, ears, etc.). But now few restaurants in Changchun provide this dish, so if you are lucky enough to find a restaurant offering the dish, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to try Manchu Eight Dishes.
Braised Deer Tails
The main ingredient is deer’s tails and some other flavorings like scallion, ginger, mustard, etc. It features flamboyant color and intoxicating aftertaste.
Where to Eat
The food and snacks around China can be available here, like kebabs from Xinjiang and cross-bridge rice noodles from Yunnan. Mung bean cakes are the most flavorful and famous local snacks. If you want to taste mung bean cake, you have to wait in line though.
Being close to Wanda Plaza, Hongqi Street features many restaurants offering different kinds of food. The authentic northeastern Chinese cuisine and other cuisines can be tasted on this street.
Changchun is not only the economic and political center of Jilin Province, but is also a major shopping hub. The streets in Changchun are lined with various kinds of shops, markets and shopping malls, etc. The famous three treasures in Northeast China include ginseng, antlers and marten fur.
Besides these expensive specialties, other less expensive but well-known ones like black fungus are your best choice.
What to Buy
As one of three treasures in Northeast China, ginseng, a herbaceous plant, is regarded as “the king of all plants”. Because of the high quality and large production quantity, ginseng in Jilin is considered to be the most authentic and best. There are two types of ginseng – wild ginseng and cultivated ginseng. Wild ginseng from Changbai Mountain is very expensive and rare. Cultivate ginseng from different areas are separated into two kinds: Ji’an Road and Fu Song Road, and Ji’an road is considered better.
Antlers are from young sika deer from Changbai Mountain area. Because of its rich nutrition and pharmacological effects, antlers are listed as one of three treasures of Northeast China. In olden times, antlers were used as tribute offered to the royal family.
The Marten has been counted among the three treasures in Northeast China for a long time and Changchun shopping malls are full of marten fur clothes. You may observe two kinds of marten: mink and the rarer sable. Both of them are light in weight and will easy keep you warm during chillier winter days in Changchun.
Changchun Wood Carvings
With a history going back over 2,000 years, wood carving is an extremely old art form. The materials of Changchun wood carving are from the trees of Changbai mountain. The subjects of the Changchun wood carvings include mythical figures ,mascots, and more.
Dehui Grass Weaving (De Hui Cao Bian)
Dehui Grass Weaving are made of grass, corn wrappers,and wrappers of sorghum stalks. These materials are weaved into hats, baskets, slippers, carpets and so on. These weaving products feature flexible, light and heat and moisture resistant. Some of them are dyed to make these products beautiful souvenirs.
Where to Shop
Hongqi Road is a extremely prosperous shopping district in Changchun and is lined with large-scale shopping malls and various kinds of small shops among which Ouya, the largest commercial retail enterprise in Jilin, is located at the entrance of Hongqi Road.
Address: Hongqi Road, Chaoyang District, Changchun
Transportation: taking Bus No.25, 62, 20, 147, 152, 155, 188, 229, 230
Chongqing Road is regarded as “Golden Street” by locals. Located in the north of the city, the road, intersected by Renmin Street, played a significant role in city’s development, culture, and lifestyles. There is a Wal-Mart and some other famous supermarkets on this road as well.
Address: Chongqing Road, Nanguan District, Changchun
Transportation: taking Bus No.5. 6. 66, 80, 124, 160, 226, 260, 268, 274, 306
Guilin Road is lined with shops, restaurants, coffee houses, and snacks shops and stalls. The shops in Guilin Road target younger customers and feature fashion and technology. It is also called “Korean street” because it is the best place to look for Korean items. Commodities in this area are a little more expensive and many places do not allow haggling over price. It is easy to find a Korean restaurant on this road but you should be careful that many Korean food restaurants offer “Dog pot”.
Transportation: taking Bus No. 62, 362, 281, 277, 25