Arguably the most important role that Dalian has played over the years is as an important and strategic port. This feature of the city above all others, has helped to make this one of the wealthiest and most prosperous cities in the entire country.
Dalian boasts a unique geographical location at the southern tip of the Liaodong peninsular. Locals call the city the "Tiger", referring to the fact that a bird's eye view of the city gives the impression that the area resembles a Tiger's head. This is an ice-free port, rare for a coastal city at such latitude, and it is this factor that has made the port so attractive to invaders both in the past, and to investors in this cosmopolitan city today.
Both the Russians and the Japanese deemed this to be an ideal spot for
colonization. In the latter half of the 19th century, the city suffered unceasing years of attack. In 1895, after a large-scale invasion by several imperial nations, Dalian fell to the Japanese, infuriating the then Czar, Nicholas II. It was not until three years later that Russia regained control of the city with the support of its western allies. No sooner had construction and renovation got underway, than the belligerent Japanese waged war against the Russians, crushing the Czar's dream to turn Dalian into another Vladivostok and heralding the start of what is commonly known as the Russo-Japanese War. The result-the Russians lost the war and for the next 40 years or so, Japan resumed construction in the city, making Dalian into one of the most developed port cities in the far east. At the end of WWII, the Soviet Union again returned to the port and remained for almost ten years, until relations began to sour between Mao and the Soviet regime.
The new chapter of development in Dalian, as in most Chinese cities, began after the Cultural Revolution. Industries such as shipbuilding and petro-chemicals have also been boosted by Dalian's location and wealth. With the adoption of the open-door policy in 1978, Dalian was also designated a Special Economic Zone and now attracts huge amounts of overseas investment.
It is not all trade and industry however. The cultural legacy left by years of foreign invasion and colonialism is still evident today in the Russian and Japanese architecture dotted around the city. Most conspicuous of all however, especially to the modern visitor, is the wealth and cosmopolitan atmosphere here. This is a clean, modern, rich and sprawling city, that appears to be looking forward with optimism to the future.