• Transform magazine
  • October 22, 2020


Dalian: China's cleanest city


The Chinese city of Dalian is commonly nicknamed ‘Hong Kong of the North.’ It is also frequently called the ‘romantic city.’

I lived in Dalian for two years, from 2007 to 2009. I was always met with comments such as: “What a beautiful city” or “So romantic” or “The air in Dalian is so clean!” whenever I told Chinese people where I lived.

Dalian has always been strategically important as China’s northernmost warm-water port, a fact that has helped shape its colourful and cosmopolitan history. In fact, in 1981 it was China’s largest foreign trade port. The city still carries traces of influences that various occupiers left behind, including the Japanese (during the Manchurian era) and Soviet Russia after 1945. All these cultural components have helped to create Dalian’s unique story.

Dalian’s heyday began in earnest at the end of the 20th century, during the rule of mayor Bo Xilai. Under Bo’s leadership, from 1993 to 2000, Dalian made great leaps forward. His policies transformed it from a regular medium sized Chinese city into a powerhouse for trade, tech, and tourism. Dalian became a showcase for Chinese economic accomplishment. Importantly in a country known for heavy pollution, Dalian also became famous as ‘China’s cleanest city,’ after winning an environmental award from the UN in 1999.

Today’s Dalian is famous all over China for its climate, seafood and golden beaches. It has become a popular holiday destination for domestic tourists, as well as numerous Russians, Japanese and Koreans.

Despite the strong and positive reputation that Dalian has built, it also attracted its share of criticism. Christian Hess, a professor of Chinese history, pointed out in a 2011 blog post that much of Dalian’s success has come at a cost of significant relocation of residents, while also destroying certain areas of the city to make way for flashy new developments.