Shenyang not only lies on the train ride from Beijing to Pyongyang, but is also the only Chinese city other than Beijing to have direct scheduled flights to Pyongyang. Its location and importance in North-East China (Dong-Bei) also means it has a big North Korean population, as well as some great DPRK food. Therefore it is a great place to either start, or finish, your trip to North Korea. To be fair, it is also a decent city to merely check out its own right. One of the most amazing if not surprising, things that you can see in Shenyang is the Christ The Savior Military Church in the Xita district of Shenyang.
Whilst traditionally and historically an integral part of China, Shenyang has seen its fair share on foreign influence. In 1911, following various wars between Russia and Japan, Shenyang ended up in the Russian Imperial sphere of influence.
This is when the Christ the Savior Russian Military Church (沙俄东正教堂) was built in 1911-12 under the orders of Tsar Nicholas II, the last ruler of the Russian Empire.
The Tsar ordered the building of the Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in honour the Russian war casualities in the Battle of Mukden (1905) during the Russo-Japanese War.
For the next 50 years, Shenyang’s history was to be somewhat on the crazy side. It went through a warlord era, occupation by the Japanese Imperialists as well as being part of the puppet state of Manchukuo, This last regime was ”ruled” by the last Emperor of China, Puyi. Following the end of the war, the area was occupied by the Soviet Union. For various reasons Shenyang was handed back to the Kuomintang/Nationalist army. It remained a Nationalist stronghold until it fell to the communists on October 30th 1948.
Of course ,Chinese history after this was also somewhat checkered.It is a wonder that with the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and throughout all of this carnage, Christ The Savor Orthodox Military Church survived the lot…..
In 1945, it was briefly changed into a Soviet War cemetery, which was later moved the Korean War cemetery located in the north of Shenyang City.
To visit the Church, you will need to go to Xita, also known as Shenyang’s Korea Town, an interesting place in itself for its melting pot of North, South and Chinese Koreans.
The Church itself is made of granite with a steel roof and a spire awesomely shaped like a Slavic helmet. The cruciform windows have been filled in with brick and rebar.
Just to make sure we are managing expectations, the church has definitely seen better days. It has a damaged roof is weathered and does not have all of the original things it should have. The point though is, that against the backdrop of the bustling metropolis that is Shenyang, it is one of the more surreal sites you will see in modern developing China.
Shenyang is only 90 minutes from Dandong, where many of our tours leave from and marks the closest major airport to Dandong (Dandong Airport has limited flights). It is thus a great place to start any tour to North Korea.