Most Americans don't realize that several places other than Beijing have served as the capital of China at various times during China's history. From 1625-1644, the Qing Dynasty ruled from Shenyang, which is a few hours north of Dalian by train.
The Qing were Manchurians, but their intention to rule all of China is evident in the fact that their palace compound in Shenyang is modeled after the Forbidden City in Beijing, from which the Ming dynasty had ruled since 1406. Still, the architecture in Shenyang shows interesting influences from the nomadic northern culture of Manchuria.
The palace is right in the middle of Shenyang, which is one of China's largest, busiest, most industrial cities. The streets are crazy withtraffic, the air grey with heavy soot. Here is the street outside the palace walls.
The palace gate is approached down a long, touristy alleyway filled with buildings made to look antique. It's fake, but it works to shake the impression of the modern city.