Northeast China (Chinese: 中国东北) or Dongbei is a geographical region of China. It also historically corresponds with the term Inner Manchuria[note 1] in the English language. The name Manchuria was first invented in the 17th century by Japanese people to refer to a large geographic region in Northeast Asia. However, no term for "Manchuria" exists in the Manchu language,[1] which originally referred to the area as the "Three Eastern Provinces"; mnc. ᡩᡝᡵᡤᡳ
, Dergi ilan golo; zh. 東三省 / 东三省, Dōng Sānshěng).[2]

Northeast China
Northeast China.svg
Northeast China (Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning)
Portions of Inner Mongolia included in light red
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese中国东北
Traditional Chinese中國東北
Literal meaningChina Northeast
Alternative Chinese name
Simplified Chinese东北三省
Traditional Chinese東北三省
Literal meaningThree Northeastern Provinces
Simplified Chinese满洲
Traditional Chinese滿洲
Simplified Chinese关东
Traditional Chinese關東
Literal meaningEast of (Shanhai) Pass
Manchu name
Manchu scriptᡩᡝᡵᡤᡳ ᡳᠯᠠᠨ ᡤᠣᠯᠣ
RomanizationDergi ilan golo

It consists specifically of the three provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang, collectively referred as the Three Northeastern Provinces (东北三省), but broadly also encompasses the eastern part of Inner Mongolia.[note 2] The region is separated from Far Eastern Russia to the north largely by the Amur, Argun, and Ussuri rivers, from North Korea to the south by the Yalu River and Tumen River, and from the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region to the west by the Greater Khingan Range. The heartland of the region is the Northeast China Plain.

Due to the shrinking of its once-powerful industrial sector and decline of its economic growth, the region is called the Rust Belt in China.[3] As the result, a campaign named Northeast Area Revitalization Plan has been launched by the State Council of the People's Republic of China, in which five prefecture-level cities of eastern Inner Mongolia, namely Xilin Gol, Chifeng, Tongliao, Hinggan, and Hulunbuir, are also formally defined as regions of the Northeast.[4] The region is nearly congruent with some definitions of "Manchuria" in historical foreign usage.[note 3]

Another term for the area is Guandong (关东), meaning "east of the Pass", referring to the famous Shanhai Pass between Liaoning Province and the neighboring Hebei Province (and also North China) to the west. This name was also used by the occupying Japanese colonists referring to their leased territory of Dalian after the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, as the Kwantung Chou (関東州), which gave name to the occupying Kwantung Army that was later mobilized to set up the puppet state of Manchukuo.


Administrative divisionsEdit

GB[5] ISO №[6] Province Chinese Name Capital Population Density Area (km2) Abbreviation/Symbol
LN 21 Liaoning Province 辽宁省
Liáoníng Shěng
Shenyang 43,746,323 299.83 145,900
JL 22 Jilin Province 吉林省
Jílín Shěng
Changchun 27,462,297 146.54 187,400
HL 23 Heilongjiang Province 黑龙江省
Hēilóngjiāng Shěng
Harbin 38,312,224 84.38 454,000

Cities with urban area over one million in populationEdit

Provincial capitals in bold.
# City Urban area[7] District area[7] City proper[7] Prov. Census date
1 Shenyang 5,718,232 6,255,921 8,106,171 LN 2010-11-01
2 Harbin 4,933,054 5,878,939 10,635,971 HL 2010-11-01
3 Dalian 3,902,467 4,087,733 6,690,432 LN 2010-11-01
4 Changchun 3,411,209 4,193,073 7,674,439 JL 2010-11-01
5 Anshan 1,504,996 1,544,084 3,645,884 LN 2010-11-01
6 Jilin 1,469,722 1,975,121 4,413,157 JL 2010-11-01
7 Daqing 1,433,698 1,649,825 2,904,532 HL 2010-11-01
8 Fushun 1,318,808 1,431,014 2,138,090 LN 2010-11-01
9 Qiqihar 1,314,720 1,553,788 5,367,003 HL 2010-11-01
10 Benxi 1,000,128 1,094,294 1,709,538 LN 2010-11-01


Northeast China was the homeland of several ethnic groups, including the Koreans, Manchus (or Jurchens), Ulchs, Hezhen (also known as the Goldi and Nanai). Various ethnic groups and their respective kingdoms, including the Sushen, Xianbei, and Mohe have risen to power in the Northeast. Various states and dynasties such as the State of Yan, Han Dynasty, Gongsun Yuan, Cao Wei, Western Jin, Former Yan, Former Qin, Later Yan, Tang Dynasty, Yuan dynasty, Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty ruled parts of the region.

Many Korean kingdoms have also incorporated parts of modern-day Northeast China, including Gojoseon, Buyeo, Goguryeo, and Balhae. During the Song dynasty, the Khitan set up the Liao Dynasty in Northeast China. Later, the Jurchen overthrew the Liao and formed the Jin dynasty, which went on to conquer northern China. In AD 1234, the Jin dynasty fell to the Mongols, whose Yuan Dynasty was later replaced by the Ming Dynasty in 1368. In 1644, the Han Bannermen established the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) and unified the entirety of China.

Northeast China came under influence of the Russian Empire with the building of the Chinese Eastern Railway through Harbin to Vladivostok. The Empire of Japan replaced Russian influence in the region as a result of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904–1905, and Japan laid the South Manchurian Railway in 1906 to Port Arthur. During the Warlord Era in China, Zhang Zuolin established himself in Northeast China, but was murdered by the Japanese for being too independent. The last Qing dynasty emperor, Puyi, was then placed on the throne to lead a Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. After the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945, the Soviet Union invaded the region as part of its declaration of war against Japan. From 1945 to 1948, Northeast China was a base area for the Communist People's Liberation Army in the Chinese Civil War. With the encouragement of the Soviet Union, the area was used as a staging ground during the Civil War for the Chinese Communists, who were victorious in 1949 and have been controlling this region since.


Northeast China has a total population of about 107,400,000 people, accounting for 8% of China’s total population. The overwhelming majority of the population in the Northeast is Han Chinese, many of whose ancestors came in the 19th and 20th centuries during a migration movement called "Chuang Guandong" (Chinese: 闖關東; literally: 'venture into the east of the Pass'). Northeast China historically had a significant Han Chinese population, reaching over 3 million by the end of Ming Dynasty, but they were subjected to eviction and assimilation by the conquest of the Qing Dynasty, who then set up Willow Palisades during the reign of Shunzhi Emperor and prohibited any settlement of Han Chinese into the region. Despite officially prohibiting Han Chinese settlement, by the 18th century the Qing decided to settle Han into the Northeast so that Han Chinese farmed 500,000 hectares in the region by the 1780s.[8][9][10][11][12] Besides moving into the Liao area in southern Manchuria, the path linking Jinzhou, Fengtian, Tieling, Changchun, Hulun, and Ningguta was settled by Han Chinese during the Qianlong Emperor's reign, and Han Chinese were the majority in urban areas of Manchuria by 1800.[13][14] This resulted in the local Han Chinese population growing to over 20 million before the Second Sino-Japanese War. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China at the end of the Chinese Civil War, further immigrations were organized by the Central Government to "develop the Great Northern Wilderness" (开发北大荒), eventually peaking the population over 100 million people.

Because most people in Northeast China trace their ancestries back to the migrants from the Chuang Guandong era, Northeastern Chinese were more culturally uniform compared to other geographical regions of China. People from the Northeast would first identify themselves as "Northeasterners" (东北人) before affiliating to individual provinces and cities/towns.

Ethnic Manchus form the second significant ethnic group in Northeast China, followed by the Mongols, Koreans, and the Huis, as well as 49 other ethnic minorities such as Daurs, Sibos, Hezhens, Oroqens, Evenks, Kyrgyz, etc.


Taoism and Chinese Buddhism were never well established in this region - instead Chinese folk religions led by local shamans predominate. The region has also a strong presence of folk religions and Confucian churches.


The Northeast was one of the earliest regions to industrialize in China during the era of Manchukuo. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, Northeast China continued to be a major industrial base of the country, and has been hailed as "the Republic's eldest son" (共和国长子). Recent years, however, have seen the stagnation of Northeast China's heavy-industry-based economy, as China's economy continues to liberalize and privatize; the government has initialized the Revitalize the Northeast campaign to counter this problem, and established the Northeast Summit to improve policy coordination and integration. The region has experienced difficulty distancing itself from a planned economy, a legacy that began in 1905 with the establishment of the Japanese sphere of influence there. The region's once-abundant raw materials have also depleted and the economy has suffered from bureaucratic inefficiency and protectionist politics.[15]

The region is, on the whole, more heavily urbanised than most parts of China, largely because it was the first part of the country to develop heavy industry owing to its abundant coal reserves. Major cities include Shenyang, Dalian, Harbin, Changchun and Anshan, all with several million inhabitants. Other cities include the steel making centres of Fushun and Anshan in Liaoning, Jilin City in Jilin, and Qiqihar and Mudanjiang in Heilongjiang. Harbin, more than any other city in China, possesses significant Russian influences: there are many Orthodox churches that have fallen out of use since the Cultural Revolution. Shenyang and Dalian, meanwhile, have sizable populations of Japanese and South Koreans due to their traditional linkages.

The rural population of the Northeast is heavily concentrated in the warmer southern part of the area, where very warm to hot summer weather permits crops such as maize and millet to be grown with high yields. Soybeans and flax are also very important, as are wheat and barley. The region possesses large flocks of sheep, and pigs are abundant in the more densely settled southern part. The northern half of Heilongjiang is so cold and poorly drained that agriculture is almost impossible; however, the Amur River provides very rich fishing prospects, and sheep are even more abundant than in southern Heilongjiang.

Northeast China is the country’s traditional industrial base, focusing mainly on equipment manufacturing. Major industries include the steel, automobile, shipbuilding, aircraft manufacturing, and petroleum refining industries. The gross regional product of the three northeast provinces totaled ¥1.63 trillion in 2002. In recent years, the Chinese government has initialized the "Revitalize the Northeast campaign" to turn this region into one of China's economic growth engines. As of 2015 the region was losing population and the economy, dominated by state-owned enterprises, was stagnant.[16]


Dalian Hotel at Zhongshan Square in Dalian

In general, the culture of Northeast China takes its elements from the cultures of North China and Shandong, where most of the Han Chinese migration into Northeast China, known as Chuang Guandong, originated, the native Korean and Tungusic peoples, and its own innovations.


There are two main dialects of Mandarin Chinese spoken in Northeast China. The dialect spoken in the majority of the Northeast is the Northeastern Mandarin, which is a very slight variant of the Standard Chinese but retains sporadic elements from native Tungusic languages, Korean and Russian, where there are enough differences to give the dialect its own distinctive characteristics. However many residents in the southern fringe of the Liaodong region (mostly in Dalian and Dandong) speak the Jiaoliao Mandarin, which is actually a Shandong dialect.

Ethnic Manchus speak mostly Mandarin, and the Manchu language is almost extinct due to widespread assimilation to Han culture over the last four centuries. Mongols tend to be bilingual in their own Mongolian tongues as well as Mandarin.


Northeastern Chinese cuisine reflects the region's ethnic diversity. Northern Chinese, Manchu and Korean cooking styles all find their traces in Manchurian cooking. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the cuisine is the use of uncooked fresh vegetables. During the long winter season, pickled Chinese cabbage, which is called "Suan Cai", is preserved and used for cooking. In almost every other region of China, vegetables are cooked thoroughly before being eaten. Most of the meat dishes are based around Pork due to how cold it can get. Often braised pork or dumplings are the main attraction of a meal. This region's often cold climate makes it hard to grow or produce much of anything and growing seasons are correspondingly very short.

Folk dance and sportsEdit

Errenzhuan, yangge, Jilin opera and stilts are popular forms of traditional entertainment in Northeast China. "Northeastern Cradle Song" is an example of the folk songs of this region.

Because of its climatic conditions, Northeast China is the base for China's winter sports. Ice hockey and ice skating athletes often come from or were educated in Northeast China.

Major universitiesEdit


  1. ^ Depending on the context, Manchuria can also refer to a larger region that also includes Outer Manchuria.
  2. ^ According to the Republic of China (1912–49)'s administrative divisions, the Northeast (including parts of Inner Mongolia) is divided into nine provinces and the region was historically called the Nine Northeastern Provinces (traditional Chinese: 東北九省; simplified Chinese: 东北九省; pinyin: Dōngběi Jiǔshěng).
  3. ^ It is also sometimes referred to as Inner Manchuria in contrast with Outer Manchuria, provinces lost to the Russian Empire during the Qing dynasty.


  1. ^ [1]Giles 1912, p. 8.
  2. ^ Clausen 1995, p. 7.
  3. ^ The nine nations of China: Rust Belt, Atlantic
  4. ^ "Northeast Revitalization Plan (2007)". State Council of the People's Republic of China. Retrieved 31 August 2010.
  5. ^ GB/T 2260 codes for the provinces of China
  6. ^ ISO 3166-2:CN (ISO 3166-2 codes for the provinces of China)
  7. ^ a b c 国务院人口普查办公室; 国家统计局人口和社会科技统计司, eds. (2012). 中国2010年人口普查分县资料. Beijing: China Statistics Press. ISBN 978-7-5037-6659-6.
  8. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 504.
  9. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 505.
  10. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 506.
  11. ^ Scharping 1998, p. 18.
  12. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 507.
  13. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 508.
  14. ^ Reardon-Anderson 2000, p. 509.
  15. ^ Chan, Elaine (6/5/2019). "China's Northeastern rust belt was once 'eldest son', now struggling as runt of the litter". China Economy. South China Morning Post. Retrieved 6/5/2019. Check date values in: |accessdate=, |date= (help)
  16. ^ Li Yongfeng (24 September 2015). "Central Planning Got the Northeast in Trouble – and Won't Save It". Caixin. Retrieved 24 September 2015.


  • Thomas R. Gottschang and Diana Lary: Swallows and Settlers - The Great Migration from North China to Manchuria, Centre for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 2000. ISBN 0-89264-134-7.
  • Michael Meyer: In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, Bloomsbury Press, 2015, ISBN 978-1620402863
  • Lenore Lamont Zissermann: Mitya's Harbin; Majesty and Menace, Book Publishers Network, 2016. ISBN 978-1-940598-75-8.

External linksEdit