The north China city of Manzhouli in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region functions as the biggest Eurasian land passageway that links up with the rest of the world.
With its special geographical position bordering on Russia and Mongolia, the port city began to serve as the first stop of the Russian-built Chinese-Eastern Railway after it entered China in the 20th century.
The changing landmarks tell the stories of the port city’s past and present, said 66-year-old Wang Tieqiao, head of a local society of culture and history.
“This Russian-style log cabin is still here today. It was Manzhouli’s earliest customs house, which was built in 1908,” said Wang, president of Manzhouli Association for the Study of History and Culture.
The northern port of entry became a gathering place for migrants and exotica.
But it wasn’t until the late 1940s that Manzhouli began to serve as a door open to the also newly liberated countries.
In 1949, the year when the People’s Republic of China was founded, a locomotive took then-chairman Mao Zedong through the border gate to the Soviet Union. Since then, Manzhouli was in a new stage of opening.
The old-day humble train station has gradually developed into the largest land port in China and a hub of people-to-people exchanges, especially since the 1980s when it was made one of the first border cities to open up to the rest of the world.
“As Manzhouli moved onto the track of border trade and border tourism from the national trade, the city witnessed a massive influx of people, money, and information ever since,” said Wang.
Now the city is the only one in the country that has a trinity of rail, aerial and road ports operating day and night.
It occupies a strategic place in China’s Belt & Road Initiative
Last year, some 1,800 freight trains ran between China and Europe through the Manzhouli gateway, operating 53 routes, nearly one-third of the national total.
“We are now working on a collection and distribution service centre in Manzhouli port as there will be increasing demand for such services in the near future. We will open China-Europe freight train routes starting from Manzhouli. The centre, if operational, will strengthen the city’s collection and distribution function,” said Li Xiguo, Deputy Director of the Manzhouli Port Management Committee.
Manzhouli shoulders nearly two-thirds of imports and exports with Russia by land and is home to more than 1,000 trading companies.
In the next step, the city will explore a new development pattern of the border area, shifting from a large-quantity trade to high value-added trade and making local industries better suiting the port development.
With the China-Russia ties developing the healthiest in history, many believe that the port city will have a free ride on the golden opportunities and move on as a bridgehead of opening up northward.