Jilin, part of Dongbei (the Northeast), is on the border with North Korea and Russia. Its name does not derive from Mandarin, like the other provinces, but from Manchu language instead. Jilin, in Manchu, means “along the river“. Just like other provinces in Dongbei, Jilin is vast but has a relatively small population. There are around 27 million people, and around 4% of the population is Korean. There are also Mongol and Hui ethnics.
The most important minority, though, is probably the Manchu (also around 4%), as they have been living in Dongbei for many centuries before taking over China during Qing dynasty.
Prior to World War II, Manchukuo controlled the Dongbei. Manchukuo was a Japanese puppet state which Aisin Gioro Puyi (the last emperor of Qing dynasty) formally ruled. By the end of World War II Manchukuo disappeared and Dongbei went back to China.
Just like the nearby Korea, Jilin has huge mineral potential, with oil, gas, coal, molybdenum, nickel, gold, silver and iron.
The capital is Changchun. Among its most important cities are Jilin city, Siping, Tonghua, Songyuan and Baicheng.
The Geography of Jilin
Jilin’s climate is cold, although not as its neighbor Heilongjiang. Temperatures can reach around -20°C and the weather varies with the territory, as in the direction of Korea the mountains are taller, while in the north-west they get flatter. The rest of China can easily move to Dongbei thanks to the railways. Jilin also has one of the two railways that access to North Korea, the other being in Russia.
Bullet Trains and Ginseng
Jilin’s economy is based on its natural resources, but not only that. The entire region of Dongbei has been the location of the early industrialization of China thanks to the wide availability of coal and wood. Farming focuses on rice, maize, wheat, and sorghum. Ginseng, deer antlers and sheep are also very common there.
Industries specialize in vehicle and train manufacturing and ironworks.
Jilin and Changchun have special economic and industrial development zones, focusing on chemistry, medicine, food, textile and bullet trains. The city of Hunchun, on the border with Russia and North Korea, hosts a economic cooperation zone as well as an export processing zone.
Korean and Manchu influenced, but still a Dongbei province first and foremost
Jilin’s vast territory is home to many rare species of animals and plants. The culture of Jilin matches very well that of its sibling provinces in Dongbei: Heilongjiang and Liaoning. Often people coming from any of these three provinces will present themselves as “from Dongbei” first of all.
On the border with Korea there are Changbaishan (Paektu Mountain), considered holy by ancient Koreans, and the beautiful Heaven Lake. These two, combined with the Goguryeo tombs (which are scattered in Korea as well) are both important tourist spots.
Jilin’s early history was influenced by the three ancient Korean kingdoms, while later on it became more and more connected with the Manchu tribes and subsequently the Chinese Empire. As such, it is a rather particular province with lots of non-Han influences.
The importance of manufacturing, contrary to Heilongjiang, remained even after privatization. Jilin is still an important industrial site for China, although perhaps not as important as Liaoning.