Chinese Eastern Railway

The routing of the main line of the Chinese Eastern Railway (Manzhouli to Harbin to Suifenhe), and its southern branch (Harbin to Dalian). After 1905, most of the southern branch (from Changchun to Dalian) became the Japan-run South Manchuria Railway

The Chinese Eastern Railway or CER (Chinese: trad. 東清鐵路, simp. 东清铁路, Dōngqīng Tiělù; Russian: Китайско-Восточная железная дорога or КВЖД, Kitaysko-Vostochnaya Zheleznaya Doroga or KVZhD), also known as the Chinese Far East Railway and Manchurian Railway, is the historical name for a railway across Manchuria (northeastern China).

The line was built by Imperial Russia using a concession from Qing China, and linked Chita with Vladivostok in the Russian Far East. The T-shaped line consisted of three branches: the western branch, now the Harbin–Manzhouli Railway, the eastern branch, now the Harbin–Suifenhe Railway, and the southern branch, now part of the Beijing–Harbin Railway, which intersected in Harbin. The railway and the concession, known as the Chinese Eastern Railway Zone, were administered from the city, which grew into a major rail hub.

The southern branch of the CER, known in the West as the South Manchuria Railway, became the locus and partial casus belli for the Russo-Japanese War, the 1929 Sino-Soviet Conflict, and the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Soviet Union handed the CER to the People's Republic of China in 1952.

History of the line

Map of Chinese Eastern Railway from Manchuria to Pogranichnaya, ca. 1903-1919
The Trans-Siberian Railway line around Manchuria in red; the Chinese Far East Railway, which runs across Manchuria, not shown. (The Soviet Baikal Amur Mainline in green.)
Trans-Manchurian Route
96 Karymskaya
Onon River
343 Borzya
460 Zabaikalsk

472 Manzhouli
1007 Ang'angxi
1407 Harbin
1654 Changchun
1954 Shenyang
2145 Shanhaiguan
2395 Tianjin
2795 Beijing
Chinese Eastern Railway Workmen at Meal, ca. 1903-1919
Cossacks guard the CER bridge over the Sungari River in Harbin during the Russo-Japanese War (1905)

The Chinese Eastern Railway, a single-track line, provided a shortcut for the world's longest railroad, the Trans-Siberian Railway, from near the Siberian city of Chita, across northern inner Manchuria via Harbin to the Russian port of Vladivostok. This route drastically reduced the travel distance required along the originally proposed main northern route to Vladivostok, which lay completely on Russian soil but was not completed until a decade after the Manchurian "shortcut".

In 1896 China granted a construction concession through northern Inner Manchuria under the supervision of Vice Minister of Public Works Xu Jingcheng. Work on the CER began in July 1897 along the line Tarskaya (east of Chita) – HailarHarbinNikolsk-Ussuriski, and accelerated drastically after Russia concluded a 25-year lease of Liaodong from China in 1898. Officially, traffic on the line started in November 1901, but regular passenger traffic from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok across the Trans-Siberian railway did not commence until July 1903.

In 1898, construction of a 550-mile (880 km) spur line, most of which later formed the South Manchuria Railway, began at Harbin, leading southwards through Eastern Manchuria, along the Liaodong Peninsula, to the ice-free deep-water port at Lüshun, which Russia was fortifying and developing into a first-class strategic naval base and marine coaling station for its Far East Fleet and Merchant Marine. This town was known in the west as Port Arthur, and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) was fought largely over who would possess this region and its excellent harbor, as well as whether it would remain open to traders of all nations (Open Door Policy).

The Chinese Eastern Railway was essentially completed in 1902, a few years earlier than the stretch around Lake Baikal. Until the Circumbaikal portion was completed (1904–1905; double-tracked, 1914), goods carried on the Trans-Siberian Railway had to be trans-shipped by ferry almost a hundred kilometers across the lake (from Port Baikal to Mysovaya).

The Chinese Eastern Railway became important in international relations. After the first Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, Russia gained the right to build the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria. They had a large army and occupied Northern Manchuria, which was of some concern to the Japanese. Russia pressed China for a "monopoly of rights" in Manchuria, but China reacted to this by an alliance with Japan and the United States against Russia.[1]

During the Russo-Japanese War, Russia lost both the Liaodong Peninsula and much of the South Manchurian branch to Japan. The rail line from Changchun to Lüshun - transferred to Japanese control - became the South Manchuria Railway.

During the 1917-1924 (Russian Civil War) the Russian part of the CER came under the administration of the White Army.

After 1924, the USSR and China administered the Northern CER jointly, while Japan maintained control of the southern spur line.

The Sino-Soviet conflict of 1929 was fought over the administration of the Northern CER.

In 1935 the USSR had to sell all its rights in the CER to the Manchukuo government.

From August 1945, the CER again came under the joint control of the USSR and China. Somewhat reversing Russia's stinging losses in 1904-1905, after World War II the Soviet government insisted on occupying the Liaodong Peninsula but allowed joint control over the Southern branch with China; all this together received the name of the "Chinese Changchun Railway" (Russian: Кита́йская Чанчу́ньская желе́зная доро́га).

In 1952, the Soviet Union transferred (free of charge) all of its rights to the Chinese Changchun Railway to the People's Republic of China.

The Lüshun train station, built during the period of Russian control
A CER executive car


1915-1925 CER flag at Harbin railway station

The flag of the Chinese Eastern Railway is a combination of Chinese and Russian flags. It has changed several times with the political changes of both owners. The first CER flag (1897-1915) was a combination of the triangular version of the flag of the Qing dynasty and the flag of Russia, with Great Qing East Provinces Railway (大清東省鐵路) in Chinese. The 1915-1925 flag replaced the flag of the Qing dynasty with a triangular version of the five-colored flag. The flag was changed again in 1925 and 1932, with the flag of the Soviet Union and the flag of Manchukuo added.[2]

Flag of 1897-1915
Flag of 1915-1925
Flag of 1925-1932
Flag of 1932-1935


The only train that covers the entire route is train #19/20 ‘Vostok’ (translated as the East) Moscow - Beijing.[3] Trip from Moscow to Beijing takes 146 hours. Journey in the opposite direction lasts 143 hours. There is also train #653/654 Zabaikalsk – Manzhouli which one can use to cross Russian-Chinese border. The trip takes 25 min.

See also

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