Tuesday, February 3, 2009


During the weekend I watched a biography of the last Chinese emperor Puyi. It was a good show and satisfied my never ending fascination with North China. Puyi was the Japanese sponsored puppet emperor for Manchuko - the name given by the Japanese to Manchuria during the 2nd world war. I have been travelling to North china for past years and only recently last December. Next to Beijing, I find it a fascinating place as compared to the other provinces of China. In fact it is the birth place of the emperors of the last Chinese ruling dynasty before the communist takeover. The province is filled with grand palaces and tombs.

In my last two visits, I was able to go to the ancestral homes of the young marshal. The warlord general who imprisoned Chang Kai Chek to force him to work with the communist to fight the Japanese invaders. His home is actually a series of mansions where his father, the old marshal who was assassinated by the Japanese, also lived. I walked it's elegant halls, dark wood panelled rooms where plots and assassinations have been conducted. The marshal's family have distinguished themselves as capable leaders and administrators but whom history have awarded with death (the old marshal) or opium induced anonymity (the young Marshall).

The young marshal was eventually imprisoned in Taiwan when the Kuomintang retreated to the island, in a stupor of drugs and women I believed supplied by the generalissimo. I understand he was eventually allowed to move to the USA when the generalissimo died. There are poignant pictures of the old general during his twilight years awaiting death and unable to regain his family's former glory after the communist takeover. But despite his fate, the museum treats him like the hero that he is for his decision to work with the communist against the Imperial army.
North china has also entranced the Japanese where the mighty Kwantung army had it's headquarters, plotting the subjugation of all China which led to atrocities like the massacre at Nanjing.The army have set up Puyi as the emperor of all China starting with the North once the whole land has been subjugated by the Imperial Army. The cold winters, the desolate and gloomy cities, the wide plains and mountains of North China provide a romantic background for these events. It's a land of heroes and emperors. It was also a staging ground for the Korean war as well as the early invasion of the Soviet Army in the last days of the war. In fact, it was the Soviets who delivered North China to Mao to secure communist control.
South China was held by the Nationalists and fell one by one as the communist moved forward first to Beijing and the other provinces after securing it's control of the North.The land is also closest to Mongolia - the land of steppes and Genghis Khan. It is a natural battle field with Russian, Japanese, Korean and Mongolian intrusions from one time to another. Manchuria also borders Siberia and Russia so there is a lot of mixed culture.The difficult environment breeds a more coarse and hardy populace who are often more melancholy and forward in their dealings with others. But it is also a rich land full of natural resources like coal and iron. So it's a land the stimulates peoples dreams like the Japanese in their desire to conquer the middle kingdom.

Other areas in China seem like resorts or close to the false hyperactivity and the identity of a Tokyo or a Taipei when compared to the ruggedness of North China.The cities of the North seem to be coming from the pages of the 1950's in some areas, with old tenements, and a lot of Korean influences. But it's actually a hybrid mix of Korean-Chinese-Russian-Japanese influences and not particularly Chinese. In fact the last dynasty, Qing, was considered a foreign dynasty and not truly Chinese. I guess this region has a more aggressive personality than most other lands in China due perhaps to the harsh weather. It has a hardy industrial heart with a lot of large factories built during the imperial occupation.

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