The 1920’s grand railway hotel at the heart of old Mukden.
I love it all the same. This enchanting old ruin. — Mr. Moustafa on the Grand Budapest Hotel.
The Liaoning Hotel (辽宁宾馆） is a historic hotel located in central Shenyang, China. Opened in 1927 as the Yamato Hotel (大和旅館), this ever classy establishment has served as a home away from home for former emperors, movie stars, generals, cadres, activists, prime ministers, and supreme leaders.
The Grand Mukden Hotel
Enter the Liaoning Hotel’s bronze-clad revolving door, and you are transported back into another era, or, more specifically, a range of eras that span almost a century of war, conflict, high-socialism, and reform.
The Japanese South Manchuria Railway Company (南滿洲鐵道株式會社), or SMR, opened the Yamato Hotel in 1927 as one of a series of Renaissance-style railroad hotels. To this day there are still sister hotels in the Chinese cities of Dalian, Harbin, and Changchun, albeit no longer under single management. (The SMR also ran a Yamato Hotel in Rajin, Korea, which still exists today).
Back in those days, Shenyang was known as Mukden, the old Manchu name, or Fengtian as it was called in Chinese. The region was a new frontier for Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans alike. It was a semi-lawless place, ripe for both opportunity and ruin, where the nations competed for regional power and dominance.
Throughout the turbulent twenties and thirties, anybody who was anybody in Mukden and northeast China, known to the world as ‘Manchuria’, frequented the Yamato Hotel. Here the likes Zhang Xueliang, a playboy opium addict dubbed the ‘Young Marshall’ and de facto ruler of Manchuria until 1931, accompanied by Chinese movie stars would have rubbed shoulders with Japanese dignitaries from Tokyo and officers of the Kwangtung Army — Japan’s semi-rogue forward-stationed imperial army on the Asian continent.
In the hotel’s exquisite suites, back halls, and private dining rooms, one can imagine the quiet conversations and intrigue shaping the future of the region. In 1928, Kwangtung Army officers, intent on establishing Japan’s political and economic dominance over the region, assassinated Zhang’s father by bombing his train. Pu Yi, the ‘Last Emperor of China’ and future ruler of the Japanese puppet state of Manchuria, also overnighted at this infamous establishment.
Not everyone who stayed at the Yamato Hotel was intent on ruling this corner of northeast Asia. In 1937, American author and activist Helen Keller gave a press conference at the hotel on her two-month lecture series in Japan, Korea, and Manchuria, on which she visited both Seoul, Pyongyang, and Dandong (then Andong).
Perhaps the next American visitors of interest literally dropped by on 16 August 1945, one day after the surrender of Japan in World War II. A number of American officers, including a Japanese-American interpreter, parachuted into Shenyang to facilitate the release of Allied prisoners of war held in the city. Japanese patrols found and arrested officers, who were held in the hotel without injury until further clarification about the surrender could come from Tokyo. The next day the unit was allowed to go on their way to liberate the prisoner of war camp located to the northeast of the city.
Post-World War II Liaoning Hotel
In the years following World War II, the hotel found itself in the midst of the soon-to-be very hot Cold War.
Amid the chaos of the Chinese Civil War, in which northeast China was a major battlefield, Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek stayed in the hotel on nine separate occasions from 1946 to 1948. From the hotel, Chiang oversaw what would become a disastrous campaign for the Nationalist.
Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the hotel hosted Chairman Mao in March of 1950 on his return from signing a Treaty of Friendship with the Soviet Union in February of the same year.
North Korean leader Kim Il Sung stayed at the hotel in September 1953, in what was his first trip abroad following the Korean War. At the hotel, Kim Il Sung had dinner with Zhou Enlai in one of the famous banquet halls. Choe Yong Gon, one of Kim Il Sung’s guerilla comrades, also made use of the hotel on visits to China as the DPRK’s defence minister.
Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh also stayed at the hotel during a tour of northeast China.
The Liaoning Hotel Today
Today the Liaoning Hotel is a 3.5 star accommodation which shows it age but remains charming. Gone may be the days of puppet emperors, flamboyant warlords, and Cold Warriors, but the hotel’s classy lobby and banquet halls remain. The rooms may be a little musty, but that’s the scent of history you’re smelling.
We recommend giving the hotel at least two nights to take in the whole experience and have the time to explore without missing Shenyang. From the old world decadence of the hotel lobby, climb the spiral staircases and explore each floor, which contains historical images of the hotel and the hotel's most famous guests. For those who can read Chinese, there are small plaques outside the rooms by famous personages.
The Chairman (Mao) Room, Premier (Zhou Enlai) Room, and the Zhang Xueliang rooms are perhaps the most famous of the plaque-rooms.
Location and Access
The Liaoning Hotel is located in downtown Shenyang on Zhongshan Square. The square has a large monument of Mao Zedong and Chinese revolutionary heros.
It is within walking distance of the Shenyang Metro, the city’s historic district, and Xita Koreatown. It is possible to book the hotel online.
Koryo Tours’ has a trip in September 2019 will stop by the Liaoning Hotel and take a look inside while in Shenyang.