Factory City: The Lost Landscape of Tiexi

Factory City: The Lost Landscape of Tiexi

Original author and photographer: Yang Shu (Shenyang On My Mind) 2017-12-18
English edition by: Charles W. Gravelle (BWAXN) 2018-1-18

Translator's note: The following collection showcases the dying breath of Shenyang's industrial core. More than just ruin porn, the pictures here highlight the decisive end of a golden age in the city's industrial history. Though Shenyang retains an industrial focus to this day (notably in aerospace and vehicle production), it is no longer as critical a cog in China's industrial strength as it was once.


It is the year 2007. Virtually all the manufacturing giants of Shenyang’s once bustling Tiexi district now stand empty; their silence marking the end of Northeast China’s industrial golden age. Only two of Shenyang’s behemoths remain standing: the heavy duty vehicle plant and the electrical transformer facility. Both were responsible for producing the backbone of industrial centers across China for decades, but even their time is numbered.

As I explore what remains, workers are beginning the demolition process that will erase Tiexi’s familiar scenery. It is more than factories and industry being lost here; it is also a significant piece of what used to be a defining aspect of Shenyang’s identity.

January 7th 2007

I ride the 111 bus until it comes to the Snow Beer Brewery.

Following the street through the setting sun, the scent of malt is heavy in the air.

Suddenly, I come across an old building.

I climb over piles of debris and rubble to take a photo.

This should be the demolition site of the industrial blower plant.

April 8th 2007

I cross the LaoDaoKou Bridge to BeiEr Road.

It once belonged to Shenyang's “Third Machine Tool Factory”.

To the north, new real estate projects can be seen springing up.

This old factory will soon meet the same fate.


LaoDaoKou Bridge

Translator's Note: Residents and frequent visitors will no doubt recognize this bridge by sight if not name: it begins west of Shifu Square, passing over Xita and the rail line serving Shenyang Station, coming to an end northeast of Ikea.

April 8th 2007

Further south along the freight line, a century old water tower stands resolute amidst the rubble.

Tracks criss-cross along the sides of the tower.

The shantytowns which grew alongside the rails are the first to come down.

April 8th 2007

I look north from beneath the water tower.

The Machine Tool Factory’s white office looms over BeiEr Road.

Lonely and helpless.

April 8th 2007

The cable factory’s north side has been torn down to make space.

A single tree remains standing in the empty plot.

The land behind the tree stands wide open, revealing the First Machine Tool Factory.

I never thought I’d witness this sight.

April 8th 2007

Railway lines, red brick walls, telephone poles, and a saw-tooth shaped roof.

This corner of Tiexi’s landscape is quite distinct.

It is the quintessential image of Shenyang’s industrial golden age.  

April 8th 2007

The cable factory’s workshop stands fast like a mountain.

When I was growing up, this plant was a behemoth.
You could always tell whose parents worked at the factory.

Their food, clothing, and possessions were of a better quality than others.  

April 8th 2007

Outside the cable factory, BeiSan Road is desolate and dreary.

To the east, residential complexes are built one after the other.

They usurp land long held by the cable factory.

April 8th 2007

On the back wall of the industrial blower plant,

I encountered a big set of strange jar-like structures

I am unsure of their purpose, but they are quite spectacular.

Translator's Note: They are industrial cooling towers.

April 21st 2007

Biking down Kunshan Street, I turn onto BaoGong Street.

I spot a large locomotive inside a factory yard. I stop to take a photo.

A factory guard approaches me to ask why I am here.
I explain that I enjoy photographing trains, and ask which factory this is.

He says it is the transformer plant.

April 21st 2007

The transformer plant has a grand new workshop.

It has changed its name to Tebian Electric Apparatus (TBEA).

Its production lines are still busier than ever.

April 21st 2007

Heading east along BeiEr Road, I find an abandoned factory.

The interior is completely deserted.

It would be pitch black if not for the skylights.

April 21st 2007

The factory’s offices fill me with nostalgia.

My father worked in a similar factory when I was young.

Seeing such a place makes me feel quite sentimental.

I couldn’t discover this factory’s original function.

May 26th 2007

I soon arrive at ZhaoGong Street.

I find the Northeast Refractory Plant’s workshop.

I enter through a broken wall.

The entire place stands empty.

May 26th 2007

I stand on a freight train line.

I am between the DongYao Pharmaceutical plant and the automotive gear factory.

It feels as though I am passing through a ghost town.

May 26th 2007

On the chemical plant’s dedicated rail line sits a dazzling yellow tank car.

The markings on its rear warn of its deadly content:
“Corrosive Sodium Hydroxide”

May 26th 2007

There are many chemical drums lying around the yard.

Complex pipelines stretch out in all directions.

Industrial facilities such as these fill regular people like me with a strong sense of danger.

May 26th 2007

The First Machine Tool Factory's demolition is underway.

I am able to follow a garbage truck inside.

May 26th 2007

Half of the factory's break room is already demolished.

Vintage workplace safety posters hang on the remaining walls.

May 26th 2007

Light blue sky above.

Dark red workshop and ashen grey chimney below.

This is to be the First Machine Tool Factory’s funeral portrait.

May 26th 2007

North of the First Machine Tool Factory's rubble, the huge workshop of the Heavy Machine Factory remains standing.

I doubt it will exist for much longer.

July 21st 2007

I hoped to photograph the Snow Beer brewery but the guard will not let me enter.

Undeterred, I make my way to the Snow Beer warehouse nearby.

The guard here, Mister Chen, is far more amicable and shares his knowledge of the plant’s history.

He informs me that the factory was built by the Japanese in 1936.

At that time, it was a Kirin Brewery.

I take a photo of the guard at his post.

Translator's Note: Shenyang, formerly known in the West as Mukden, was a key city during Japan's imperialist expansion of the Manchukuo state. The industrial district of Tiexi was originally setup by Japan, as were a number of its biggest factories.

The old Snow Beer brewery was similar in style to the Tsingtao Beer factory. Unfortunately, it was not preserved or maintained in order to provide a potential tourist attraction like the plant in QIngdao.

July 21st 2007

Unable to enter the brewery, I take in the scenery outside.

The murals on the brewery’s walls are very well done.

I especially like the old man and his mug of Snow Beer.

July 21st 2007

This is the last photo of the brewery’s dedicated rail line before the rails were removed.

It has been converted into a small road: XiaoBeiSi Street.

August 18th 2007

The sheet metal plant alongside this industrial road is now completely demolished.

No structures remain; the entire lot is completely vacant.

August 18th 2007

The sheet metal plant was guarded by a massive iron gate.

It’s green paint is being consumed by rust.

The weeds growing around it provide a touch of fresh color.

August 18th 2007

The Shenyang Automobile Gear Factory went bust and turned to rust.

It remains abandoned and overgrown with weeds.

August 18th 2007

The front side of the vehicle gear plant.

It’s design has a certain rhythmic quality.

August 18th 2007

Passing through the industrial streets of the coal coking plant.

This is said to have been the area’s biggest polluter.

August 18th 2007

I discover a steam train resting on a siding off the heating and electrical plant’s dedicated line.

Gentle wisps of smoke are still coming from its stack.

Its engineer assures me it can still run.

He kindly allows me to watch his work.

August 18th 2007

Whenever I see such a train, I always think of Thomas the Tank Engine.

If he could travel the rails throughout Tiexi, it would surely be a sight to see.

Translator's Note: Thomas & Friends is quite popular in China.

Special thanks to Shenyang On My Mind.

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