CHINA - China has many border crossings on land and sea, but none has the romance and history of this little city tucked away in the northeast of the country on the vast Hulunbuir grasslands. On the map, it is settled like a tiny birthmark at the base of the Chinese rooster's comb. It's located many kilometers from its nearest urban neighbours in Heilongjiang province and about two hours from Beijing by air. The Russian town of Zabaykalsk is situated immediately north of Manzhouli.
Manzhouli is China's largest port of entry on land, and it carries the baggage of a lot of history, stamped by the influences of the past in both architecture and lifestyle.
This is an old land at the edge of vast, primitive grasslands that are wet, wild and windy.
Remains of prehistoric peoples have been found here, as was an almost whole mammoth skeleton. It's the traditional pasture grounds of nomadic tribes, ancestors of modern Mongolians and Manchurians, including famous invaders of the past, such as the Xiongnu and Khitan.
The town itself and its name actually originate from a rather humbling part of Chinese history when, in the declining years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Russians forced Beijing to sign the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 and effectively created the present boundaries between China and Russia.
Another treaty signed in 1896 created the China Far East Railway, which opened up train tracks between China and Russia and made Manzhouli the first point of entry into China from the Russian bloc.
Manzhouli finally became part of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region in 1949 with the founding of the People's Republic of China.
In the early days of revolution before New China, Chinese Communist leaders were smuggled across the border here to attend meetings with their Soviet counterparts. Even further along the timeline, the last Qing emperor, Puyi, was captured at its railway station, in a failed attempt to escape across the border.