Harbin is capital of Heilongjiang province. Originally a quiet village on the Songhua River, Harbin derives its name from "Alejin", the Manchu word for "honor" and "fame". During this century, the farm villages, having a population of only twenty three thousand turned into a metropolis area holding about three million people. It is due largely to great number of Russian refugees in the early 20th century. With that, Harbin has flourished in culture and industry despite its harsh environment. And as a result of living in these conditions, the people here are hewn from rough material and have a reputation for being hardy and bellicose.
In 1896, the Russians negotiated a contract to build a railway line thorough Harbin to Vladivostok (and Dailian). The Russian imprint on the town remained in one way or another until the end of the World War ll. By 1904 the "rail concession" was in place and with it came other Russian demands on Manchuria. These were stalled by the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), and with the Russian defeat the Japanese gained control of the railway.
In 1917, large numbers of Russian refugees flocked to Harbin, fleeing the Bolsheviks. In 1932 the Japanese occupied the city; and in 1945 the Soviet army won it back for a year and held it until 1946, when the Kuomintang troops were finally installed, as agreed upon by Chiang Kaishek and Stalin. During the civil war, Harbin was used as military base by CCP. And Harbin was used as base again as it's Korean War. Since early in 20th, many Russians have lived in Harbin. But as the relation between China and the Soviet Union got worse in the late 1950s, more and more Russian went back to their homeland. It was during the 1980s that Russians returned to Harbin gradually. Today, improving their relations with Russia, Harbin flourishes in trade, and is becoming more and more of an industrial city.
Harbin is a grateful Chinese city possessing a number of architectural gems handed down from the Russian era, which hopefully will survive the mass construction/demolition mentality in vogue. Some &of the old areas of Russian origin are coming down while other sections are being restored. Wandering around the market areas and the streets, there is a very different kind of architectural presence in Harbin. Russian spires, cupolas, scalloped turrets, and cobblestone line the streets.
Harbin has many Orthodox churches, but most were ransacked during the Cultural Revolution. Harbin has also long been famous for expensive culinary exotica, such as grilled bear paws, deer nostrils and Siberian tiger testicles.
In the northeast region of Harbin, the number of Russian technicians who worked during a massive five-year plan was proceeded in early 1950s to have reached about twelve hundred men. But soon after that, with the conflicts between China and Soviet, almost all Russians went back to the Soviet. In the 1980s, when economic reform once again became progressive and the relations with Russia improved, Russian technicians gradually came back to Harbin.
Harbin today is largely an industrial city, but improving relations with Russia has resulted in flourishing trade and a mini- boom in cross-border tourism. Heavy industry has also flourished the since Korean War, when heavy industry was in high demand from the military.
Inquisitive Hong Kongers and Taiwanese fly up to fulfill their childhood ambition of seeing snow, and are reportedly so blown away by the cold that they never set foot north of the Tropic of Cancer again. But if you can survive temperature of -40C, the city of Harbin offers sparkling spectacles of ice-encrusted Russian buildings, winter sports and its famous Ice Lantern Festival. May to September opens up the rest of the province to exploration. Keep in mind that during this festival hotel prices are at least 20% higher than those listed here and rooms of any sort can be difficult to find. In warmer times, there's the Harbin Music Festival, a 12-day event that takes place in July. Not surprisingly, this event was suspended during the Cultural Revolution.