In early modern times the Jilin region was inhabited by groups of steppe and forest dwellers and was at times loosely united politically by leaders who presented tribute of furs, ginseng, and pearls at the court of the Ming emperors of China. In the late 16th century the Hurka tribe dominated the region before being defeated by the Manchu leader Nurhachi. After the establishment of the Qing, or Manchu, dynasty in 1644, the region was at first directly administered by a military governor posted in the town of Jilin, and the region was thereafter referred to as Jilin.
Jilin borders Russia to the east, North Korea to the southeast, the Chinese provinces of Liaoning to the south and Heilongjiang to the north, and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to the west. The capital is Changchun, in the west-central part of the province.
Jilin Province is situated in the central section of China’s northeast region. It is bordered by Heilongjiang on the north, Liaoniang to the south, Inner Mongolia on the west and North Korea on the east. This location gives the province favorable temperate climate, which includes a lengthy winter with snow that can start as early as October and last until April. Despite the winter cold, people flock to this area for the Ice Lantern Festival and the winter sports. Jilin is known as an area for winter sports and has produced some of the best ski resorts in China. However, it has many other natural and historical attractions to entertain its residents and visitors.
Changbaishan (Tall White Mountain) includes several highlights that will delight any visitor. There is the mountain itself, which is a nature preserve that has tigers, deer, black bears, leopards, and sable among the more than 200 varieties of wildlife that live in its original, undisturbed forests. Within the forests are innumerable hot springs and a more than 1,500 species of plants. Rare birds, such as the flying Dragon Bird, also make their home in this mountain forest. On the very top of the mountain is Tianchi (Heavenly Lake). The view is nothing short of miraculous and perhaps, as a reward for climbing up this volcanic cone, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the lake’s very own resident ‘monster.’ The mountain also includes a spectacular waterfall which is the source of the Song Hua River. The western side of the mountain range has three lakes: Songhua, Tai Lake, and Dongting Lake, as well as China’s largest ice-skating training facility.
Another nature preserve in this province is Xianghai in Tongyu County. This preserve contains more than 100 swamps of varying sizes, 170 species of birds including many that are rarely seen elsewhere, a wide variety of fish, more than 250 different herbal plants, and a wide variety trees.
Interesting historical landmarks are also available in the Province. One of the most famous is the General’s Tomb. This granite pyramid was built in the 4th Century for the king of the Gaogouli nation. Its seven stories sit on a base that covers almost 1,000 square meters (about 10,746 square feet). The stones of this pyramid each weigh several tons. The construction of this pyramid was an ominous undertaking for its time. Hiding within the massive stone structure, are a secret passage and the coffin of the king.
Land and Rivers
The province may be divided into three parts: the eastern mountains, the western plains, and a transitional zone of rolling hills between them. Elevation decreases from the highlands in the southeast toward the Northeast Plain in the northwestern part of the province. The mountains of eastern Jilin take the form of parallel ranges that are separated by broad valleys. The most famous of the ranges is the Changbai Mountains close to the Korean border. The eastern portion of the range is volcanic and includes the snow-covered Mount Baitou (or Jiangjun; Mount Paektu [or Paek] in Korean) massif on the border, which includes the highest peaks in both northeastern China and North Korea. The summit region encompasses a volcanic crater occupied by a lake; the highest point on the Chinese side is Baiyun Peak, at 8,829 feet (2,691 metres), while the Paektu high point on the Korean side reaches 9,022 feet (2,750 metres) above sea level.
The Yalu and Tumen rivers flow in opposite directions along the Sino-Korean border. The Yalu runs southwest to Korea Bay, the Tumen down the Changbai range northeastward to the Sea of Japan (East Sea). The two rivers are of great strategic importance, guarding the land approaches to northeastern China from the Korean peninsula. The Sungari River is the major stream of Jilin. It flows for almost 500 miles (800 km) within the province, draining an area of more than 30,000 square miles (78,000 square km). Its upper course runs northwest in a series of rapids through heavily forested mountains before it enters the Sungari Reservoir, a man-made lake.
Plant and animal life
The natural vegetation is prairie grass in the western plains and mixed conifer and broad-leaved deciduous forest in the eastern mountainous area. The vegetation in the eastern mountains includes tree species such as the Japanese red pine, Manchurian ash, fish-scale pine, larch, birch, oak, willow, elm, and the Manchurian walnut. In the deep mountain interior, virgin forest has been preserved. Tree types are distributed in distinct belts depending mainly on elevation: between 800 feet and 1,600 feet (245 and 490 metres) is the deciduous broad-leaved belt, mainly mountain willows and oaks; a mixed coniferous and broad-leaved forest is found between 1,600 feet and 3,000 feet (490 and 915) metres; between 3,000 feet and 5,900 feet (915 and 1,800 metres) there is coniferous forest; and mountain birch is found from 5,900 feet to 6,900 feet (1,800 to 2,100 metres).
Many valuable wild animals and medicinal plants are found in the forested mountain areas. The Manchurian hare, valued for its fur, and some species of rodent such as the rat hamster and the eastern field vole are believed to be peculiar to the Northeast forest. Among birds, finches, buteo hawks, needle-footed owls, black and white barriers, and certain species of flycatcher are typical. Among semiaquatic animals, the lungless newts are notable. Certain species of snakes, such as the Schrenk racer, found in the inhabited areas of the Northeast and Korea, live in a partially domesticated state and are used to eliminate harmful rodents in orchards and gardens. European wild boars, common hedgehogs, Asian red deer, harvest mice, and field mice are among the more common Eurasian species. Sikas (a type of deer) are prized for their antlers. Valuable pelts include fox, chipmunk, the light-coloured polecat, the Manchurian hare, and the sable. The sable population, however, has diminished considerably; sables are now protected, as are Siberian tigers.
Jilin province forms a transitional climatic zone between the northern and southern portions of China’s Northeast. The winter is cold and long, and rivers are frozen for about five months; the ice on the Sungari is thick enough to support mule carts. Changchun, near the centre of China’s Northeast, has mean temperatures of 2 °F (−17 °C) for January and 74 °F (23 °C) for July. It has a mean annual precipitation of about 25 inches (630 mm), more than 80 percent of it during the five warm months from May to September. Precipitation increases southeastward to more than 40 inches (1,000 mm) in the Changbai Mountains area but decreases westward; the Northeast Plain receives only about 16 inches (400 mm).
Jilin’s educational facilities are well developed, with more than 30 universities and other post-secondary institutions. Notable among these are Jilin University (founded 1946) and Northeast Normal University (1946), both in Changchun, and Yanbian University (1949) in Yanji. Overall literacy rates are significantly higher than the national average, as is the proportion of the population with at least a primary level education. Medical services are provided by hospitals and clinics staffed by medical workers, including doctors and practitioners of Chinese medicine.
Most of the municipalities and counties in the province have direct access to a rail line. The Sungari is the main artery of the inland navigation network. Its tributary the Huifa River and the Tumen River are both navigable by wooden vessels. The Yalu is navigable by steamers up to Yulin and by wooden vessels above that point. The highway network has regional centres at Changchun, Jilin, Yanji, and Tonghua; an express highway runs southwestward from Changchun to Shenyang in Liaoning and extends eastward to Jilin city. Changchun is the focus of the province’s air travel, with connections to the major cities in China and some international routes.
Edited by staff