In 1898 Tsarist Russia wrested from China a long-term lease for Port Arthur (Lushun), its new-found warm-water port on the east coast restricted to use by the Russian navy. Under pressure from Great Britain and Germany, two other European powers with concessions in China, Russia agreed to establish an open port on the southern tip of the Liaodung Peninsula for their benefit. Officials selected the nearby fishing village of Ching-ni-wa, which they called Dalny or Dalian.
Anticipating the arrival of vast numbers of foreign vessels, Russia dreamed of developing Dalian into a major port city and harbor, which was to be connected to the Chinese Eastern Railway via the same line that linked Port Arthur with the newly established Russian town of Harbin. Dalian was envisioned as Russia’s own Hong Kong to rival Great Britain’s colony recently leased from China.
This large-scale plan of Dalian was prepared and is signed by Chief Engineer V. Sakharov, who earlier had been involved in the planning and design of Vladivostok. Drawn and lithographed in 1899, it suggests that Dalian was to have a pronounced European style, albeit with Russian influences, and was inspired by the “Garden City” movement in urban planning then in vogue in Europe and North America.
The major boulevards and prospects – those named are Kiev Prospect, Moscow Prospect, and Samson Boulevard – intersect, often at roundabouts, to form a grid pattern familiar on maps of Washington, D.C. The city is divided into five major districts, interspersed with greenbelts. Real estate squares are numbered, ostensibly in anticipation of sale. And, a segregated “Chinese Town” – in China, no less! — with its separate market place lies to the west behind a large town park.
Commerce informed the mapmaker’s conception of the city. At its very heart lies a circle – initially named Nikolayevskaya Square but today Zhongshan Square – with a series of concentric zones that serve as a focal point for five intersecting avenues.
One zone consists of civic and commercial buildings, while at the very center lies the city’s mercantile and stock exchange. Since this was to be an international port, we see also, in the segment below, wharves, warehouses, a harbor, a master shipbuilding yard, and a workers’ settlement.
Underwriting these enterprises were the Russo-Chinese Bank, which was responsible for the construction of the Chinese-Eastern Railway, and various private banks. Tending to the city’s functioning were a city hall and mayor’s office, a law court, police headquarters and a fire department, and a post office and telegraph office. A hotel was intended to accommodate travelers on business.
Finally, local residents could enjoy their holidays in a city park and gardens (one an English garden, another a “Recreation ground”), a European bazaar, a theater, and a museum, while days of worship could be spent in either an Orthodox cathedral, as well as in Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican churches.
The main legend, to the right, also identifies the amount of lands available for commercial, private, and public development; the proposed length of streets in the European neighborhood; and acreage set aside for fruit orchards and nurseries. Completing the map are bathymetric lines indicating depths in Dalian Harbor and contour lines showing the uneven terrain surrounding the site.
Per the smaller legend, existing structures appear in orange while planned structures are in red. Since most of the buildings on the map are red, we can presume that Dalian in its first year of existence was a city of magnificent intentions, with little to attract the actual visitor.
In spite of considerable public investment and state planning, Dalian defied Russian expectations by failing to become a major commercial center in the Far East. Not enough ships visited its harbor, little trade passed between hands, and no financing improved its appearance. To paraphrase a British journalist writing in 1904, Dalian was boomtown without a reason for a boom.
In May 1904 Russia’s dreams for Dalian were dashed when the city fell into the hands of an invading Japanese Army. Having much better luck with Dalian’s development, Japan turned it into a railway headquarters, a major shipbuilding yard, and a center of industry following the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-05.
Russia, nonetheless, never relinquished its hope of reclaiming Dalian until 1950, when it became an issue in the negotiations over the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship. Along with the return of the unified Manchurian railway lines to the Peoples’ Republic of China, Russia finally renounced its claims to port privileges on the Chinese coast, and thus to Dalian for the foreseeable future.