According to historical records, the region around Dalian was first inhabited as early as 221 BC. The city that is now Dalian has had many different names, including foreign ones during periods of occupation.

It was first established as an official town in the 1880s. But the nascent city was throttled by one invasion after the other, because of its valuable geographical location. During the Opium Wars, the British occupied the city, and in 1895 the city fell for the first time into the hands of the Japanese. In 1898, the area was leased to the Russian Empire, and linked to the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Control of the city passed from one side to the other during numerous wars among China, Japan and Russia. In 1937, while occupied by the Japanese, the city split into two parts: Dairen in the north, and Ryojun (Lüshun) in the south. At the end of World War II, Dalian was returned to China, but strong Russian influence continued until 1955.

Both China and Russia poured great efforts into the development of Dalian as a maritime port. When the Russians left the city, it became a major shipbuilding center. In 1984, the State Council approved the city for Reform and Opening up, and an economic plan was established in 1985 endowing the city with provincial level decision-making powers.

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