China’s largest nature reserve is the main attraction for visitors to Jílín province. At Chángbái Shān, the ‘Ever-White Mountains, ’ you can hike along pine-lined paths up to tundra-like moonscapes; the highlight is Heaven Lake, a volcanic crater lake high among the peaks.
In the province’s southeast, Unesco have designated the area around the small city of Jí’ān as a World Heritage Site for its relics from the ancient Koguryo kingdom (37 BC to AD 668). This still little-explored region houses pyramids, tombs and other remains from this early civilization, just across the river from present-day North Korea.
Jílín province is home to roughly one million ethnic Koreans, more than 80 percent of whom live in the Korean Autonomous Prefecture in the east of the province. Yánjí, the bilingual capital, makes a convenient base for exploring this region’s blend of Korean and Chinese cultures.
Jílín is part of the historic territory of the Manchus, who founded the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). When the Japanese seized Manchuria and shaped it into the puppet state of Manchukuo (1931–45), they established Chángchūn, today’s provincial capital, as its headquarters. In Chángchūn, you can visit the elaborately re-created palace that was home to Puyi, the Qing’s so-called Last Emperor.
Summer is the best time to tour Jílín, particularly if you’re heading for Chángbái Shān; in winter, heavy snows make the reserve virtually inaccessible. For those who do brave the frigid wintry months, Jílín city stages an Ice Lantern Festival, as well as the spectacle of frost-laden trees along its winding riverbank that sparkle in the winter sun.