Liaoning is a coastal province in Northeast China that is the smallest, southernmost, and most populous province in the region. With its capital at Shenyang, it is located on the northern shore of the Yellow Sea, and is the northernmost coastal province of the People's Republic of China.
Historically a gateway between China proper and Manchuria, the modern Liaoning province was established in 1907 as Fengtian or Fengtien province and was renamed Liaoning in 1929. It was also known at that time as Mukden Province for the Manchu name of Shengjing, the former name of Shenyang. Under the Japanese-puppet Manchukuo regime, the province reverted to its 1907 name, but the name Liaoning was restored for a brief time in 1945 and then again in 1954.
Liaoning borders the Yellow Sea (Korea Bay) and Bohai Sea in the south, North Korea's North Pyongan and Chagang provinces in the southeast, Jilin to the northeast, Hebei to the southwest, and Inner Mongolia to the northwest. The Yalu River marks the province's border with North Korea, emptying into the Korea Bay between Dandong in Liaoning and Sinuiju in North Korea. Liaoning is also one of China's leading provinces in research and education. As of 2022, two major cities in Liaoning ranked in the world's top 200 cities (Dalian 49th and Shenyang 162nd) by scientific research output, as tracked by Nature Index.
Liaoning is named after the Liao River that runs through the province. Ning (宁, "peace") is used frequently in Chinese place names including Ningxia, Xining and Nanning. The current name was first adopted in 1929, and restored in 1954 upon the merging of the Liaoxi ("West Liao") and Liaodong ("East Liao") provinces.
Prior to 3rd century BC, Donghu, Gojoseon and Yemaek peoples inhabited Liaoning. The state of Yan conquered the area around 300 BC. Two commanderies, Liaodong ("east of the Liao River") and Liaoxi ("west of the Liao River"), were established within the Liaoning region. The Yan city of Xiangping, the center of Liaodong, was located on the site of the present Liaoyang city.
As the Han dynasty fell, warlord Gongsun Du and his family established and maintained a semi-independent state based in Liaodong, until it was defeated by Cao Wei in 238.
The state, also known as Yan, conducted numerous maritime diplomatic and trade expeditions, and had a lasting influence on Northeast Asian culture despite being short-lived.
After the end of Western Jin dynasty, Liaoning was ruled by Xianbei states of the Murong tribe – Former Yan, Later Yan, and Northern Yan. In 436, as Northern Wei seized the Yan capital, Liaodong Peninsula was taken over by Goguryeo. Tang dynasty annexed the region during the Goguryeo–Tang War. However, when the An Lushan Rebellion drained Tang's resources away from its frontiers, Bohai gradually expanded into Liaodong. Eventually, Liaoning was conquered by the Khitan Liao dynasty, followed by the Jurchen Jin dynasty and the Mongol Empire.
The late-Ming Liaodong (eastern Liaoning) separated by the wall from the "Kingdom of the Jurchen" (Regno di Niuche). The map was created during the early Qing, and mentions that "presently" the Jurchen (Tartari del Kin) have already conquered the rest of China.
The Ming Empire took control of Liaoning in 1371, just three years after the expulsion of the Mongols from Beijing. Around 1442, a defense wall was constructed to defend the agricultural heartland of the province from a potential threat from the Jurchen-Mongol Oriyanghan (who were Ming's tributaries) from the northwest.
Between 1467 and 1468, the wall was expanded to protect the region from the northeast as well, against attacks from Jianzhou Jurchens (who were later to become known as the Manchu people). Although similar in purpose to the Great Wall of China, this "Liaodong Wall" was of a lower-cost design. While stones and tiles were used in some parts, most of the wall was in fact simply an earth dike with moats on both sides.
Despite the Liaodong Wall, the Jurchens conquered Liaodong, or eastern Liaoning, in the early 17th century, decades before the rest of China fell to them. The Jurchen dynasty, styled "Later Jin" before being renamed to Qing, established its capital in 1616–1621 in Xingjing (兴京), which was located outside of the Liaodong Wall in the eastern part of the modern Liaoning Province.
It was moved to Dongjing (east of today's Liaoyang, Liaoning),and finally in 1625 to Shengjing (now, Shenyang, Liaoning). Although the main Qing capital was moved from Shengjing to Beijing after it fell to the Qing in 1644, Shengjing retained its importance as a regional capital throughout most of the Qing era.
The Qing conquest of Liaoning resulted in a significant population loss in the area, as many local Chinese residents were either killed during fighting, or fled south of the Great Wall, many cities being destroyed by the retreating Ming forces themselves. As late as 1661, the Civil Governor (Fuyin) of Fengtian Province, Zhang Shangxian reported that, outside of Fengtian City (Shenyang), Liaoyang, and Haicheng, all other cities east of the Liao River were either abandoned, or hardly had a few hundred residents left. In the Governor's words, "Tieling and Fushun only have a few vagrants". West of the Liao, only Ningyuan, Jinzhou, and Guangning had any significant populations remaining.
In the latter half of the seventeenth century (starting with laws issued in 1651 and 1653), the imperial Qing government recruited migrants from south of the Great Wall (notably, from Shandong) to settle the relatively sparsely populated area of Fengtian Province (roughly corresponding to today's Liaoning).
Many of the current residents of Liaoning trace their ancestry to these seventeenth century settlers.
The rest of China's Northeast, however, remained officially off-limits to Han Chinese for most of the Manchu era. To prevent the migration of Chinese to those regions (today's Jilin and Heilongjiang, as well as the adjacent parts of Inner Mongolia), the so-called Willow Palisade was constructed (c. 1638 – c. 1672).
The Palisade encircled the agricultural heartlands of Fengtian, running in most areas either somewhat outside the old Ming Liaodong Wall, or reusing it, and separating it from the Manchu forests to the northeast and the Mongol grazing lands to the northwest.
Later on, the Qing government tried to stop the migrants flow to Fengtian or even to make some settlers return to their original places of residence – or, failing that, to legalize them. For example, an edict issued in 1704 commented on the recent Han Chinese settlers in Fengtian having failed to comply with earlier orders requiring them to leave, and asked them either to properly register and join a local defense group (保; bao), or to leave the province for their original places within the next ten years.
Ten years later, naturally, another edict appeared, reminding of the necessity to do something with illegal migrants ... In any event, the restrictive policy was not as effective as desired by the officials in Beijing, and Fengtian's population doubled between 1683 and 1734.
During the Qing Dynasty, Manchuria was ruled by three generals, one of whom, the General of Shengjing (Mukden i Jiyanggiyūn) ruled much of modern Liaoning. In 1860, the Manchu government began to reopen the region to migration, which quickly resulted in Han Chinese becoming the dominant ethnic group in the region.
In the 20th century, the province of Fengtian was set up in what is Liaoning today. When Japan and Russia fought the Russo-Japanese War in 1904–1905, many key battles took place in Liaoning, including the Battle of Port Arthur and the Battle of Mukden, which was, to that point, the largest land battle ever fought. During the Warlord Era in the early twentieth century, Liaoning was under the Fengtian Clique, including Zhang Zuolin and his son Zhang Xueliang. The province first received its present name on January 29, 1929; the Zhongdong Railway Incident took place later that year. In 1931, Japan invaded and the area came under the rule of the Japanese-controlled puppet state of Manchukuo. The Chinese Civil War that took place following Japanese defeat in 1945 had its first major battles (the Liaoshen Campaign) in and around Liaoning.
At the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Liaoning did not exist; instead there were two provinces, Liaodong and Liaoxi, as well as five municipalities, Shenyang, Lüda (present-day Dalian), Anshan, Fushun, and Benxi. These were all merged into "Liaoning" in 1954, and parts of former Rehe province were merged into Liaoning in 1955. During the Cultural Revolution Liaoning also took in a part of Inner Mongolia, though this was reversed later.
Liaoning was one of the first provinces in China to industrialize, first under Japanese occupation, and then even more in the 1950s and 1960s. The city of Anshan, for example, is home to one of the largest iron and steel complexes in China. In recent years, this early focus on heavy industry has become a liability, as many of the large state-run enterprises have experienced economic difficulties. Recognizing the special difficulties faced by Liaoning and other provinces in Northeast China because of their heritage of heavy industry, the Chinese central government recently launched a "Revitalize the Northeast" Campaign.