I’m off on the night train to Manchuria tonight. Well, it’s not really called Manchuria anymore, but Dongbei (the Northeast). I’m going to Changchun for the weekend. Changchun was the capital of the Japanese occupation in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and thus was the home to China’s last emperor, whom the Japanese installed as a puppet of a newly-reconstituted Manzu Guo (Land of the Manzu), from whence we get the name Manchuria. The Manzu are an ethnic group whose ancestral homeland is China’s northeast, and who swept down into China in the mid-1600’s, conquered the land, and set up the Qing Dynasty, which lasted until the Republican Revolution in 1911. In the 1930’s, after invading the northeast, Japan said to Puyi (the deposed emperor of China), "look, we’ll set up a new country in your ancestral homeland and you can be king! That was an offer he couldn’t refuse, so they whisked him up to the new city they were building to rule their Asian empire. That city was called Xinjing (new capital) at the time, and is today Changchun. But I digress….
This trip for me is going to be a bit of a stroll down memory lane since I lived in Changchun from 1990 to 1998, first studying Chinese, then working at Northeast Normal Univeristy. I have lots of friends in the city. But I will also be attending the 60th anniversary celebrations of the university, which means I’m also in for a weekend of banquets, speeches, and who knows what other fun ceremonies!
I’m taking the overnight express train, which takes about 8 and a half hours. Board. Sleep. Wake up. You’re there! This boggles my mind, because when I first moved to Changchun in 1990 the express train from Beijing to Changchun took 15 hours!
Everything is on fast-forward in this country….even the trains!