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Harbin is a thriving industrial city in Heilongjiang Province. It is not only the capital of Heilongjiang but it is also the political, economic, scientific, cultural and communications mecca of Northeast China. Referred to as the "pearl under the swan's neck", it is an artistic and symbolic reference to Harbin's geographical position as a powerhouse city under the neck of the wing-stretched, swan-shaped Heilongjiang Province.

Called the Oriental Moscow, Harbin is one of China's more beautiful cities. Blessed with grace and character, the city is renowned for its unique, Russian-influenced architecture. Remnants from the days when Harbin was a crucial stop on the Russian Manchurian Railroad, the dome-shaped structures are nostalgic throwbacks to pre-revolutionary Russia. The strong Russian flavor continues to permeate the city today due to burgeoning trade and tourism between Harbin and Russia. On the streets of Harbin, a fair amount of the foreigners are Russian. The city's mixture of grandiose historical buildings with the growing number of sleek and slick modern commercial and office buildings reflect the intriguing juxtaposition of Harbin's history and future.

Harbin city proper occupies a total area of 53,000 square kilometers and its urban areas take up 1,637 square kilometers. The city is clearly divided into seven districts.

This is the largest and most populated district in Harbin. Centrally located, it is home to major offices of the provincial government and is the political heart of Heilongjiang province. Other areas of interest within the district are the Harbin Railway Station, Guomao underground shopping street,
Confucius Temple and Jili Temple.

Situated in the northern part of the city, this major district is the site of the city's municipal government offices. As Harbin's economic and cultural district, Daoli is a must-see on most visitor's lists. It draws people due to its colorful Russian-style buildings,
Annual Ice Lantern Festival, and major community centers. Worth seeing here are the St. Sophia Cathedral, Zhongyang Department Store, Harbin First Department Store,
Anti-Flood Memorial Tower, and
Central Street.

Located south of Daoli, Daowai District is another important commercial district of Harbin. Containing many government bureaus and departments, this area is essential for many people intending to do business with the local government. The Songhua River flows through the district, dividing it into two distinct areas, the north and the south.

The north part is known for its scenic natural landscapes, of which
Sun Island is a prime example. The district is home to various minority ethnic groups who reside here such as Koreans, Mongolians and Russians. In comparison, the south part is far more developed. It is actually the birthplace of Harbin's bustling commerce and trade. This is reflected in the number of shops lining the streets such as Tongji Department Store, Lao Dingfeng Bakery, Heng De Li Clocks and Spectacles Shop, and Shi Yi Tang Drugstore. Recommended places to visit are the South Pole Food Wholesale Market, North Ring Metal and Building Materials Wholesale Market, and Jiang Pan Shoes Wholesale Market.

In English, "dongli" means motivating power. This district is of little sightseeing interest but it is the industrial heart of Harbin. First established in late 1958, this district was built on factories. Today, this area consists of the Harbin Economic and Technological Development Zone, various state-owned enterprises, 14 universities and colleges, and 27 research institutes.

The Taiping District is found on the eastern side of Harbin. Of all the districts, this one is the least developed. Rural in landscape, this area is still significant due to the Harbin Port, which is one of China's eight river ports. From this port is a gateway to Russia. The district also has the city's largest highway transportation center and the Harbin East Railway Station.

Found in the southeast, this district's claim to importance is that it is one of the oldest parts of Harbin city. The district's name, xiangfang, means "a workshop for incense". The name was derived from the city's first incense workshop, which was established here in 1893.

This is the smallest district in Harbin. Located at the southeastern tip of Harbin, it is the exit into nearby Jilin Province and Liaoning Province. This area is considered China's major aircraft, automobile and aluminium alloy manufacturing base. The historical remains of the Japanese Germ Warfare Experimental Base ┬ĘC 731 Division are found here. The site is open to the public today as a somber reminder of the horrors of war.

History of Harbin

Archaeological records show that early humans lived in the Harbin region as early as 22,000 years ago. To date, more than ten prehistoric sites have been discovered in the area. In historical times, about a dozen aboriginal ethnic groups, including the Manchus who ruled China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), lived and built their kingdoms here. By the end of the 19th Century, about 30,000 people lived in what are now the urban districts of Harbin.

In 1896, the Russian government seized the power to extend its Siberian railway into Northeast China, and chose Harbin as the management center of the new section of the railway. With the gradual completion of the railway construction project, Harbin's population expanded quickly. By 1903, when the railway was completed, the modern city was starting to take shape. At that time, Harbin was divided into two sections. The first, the current Daowai District, was under the control the Qing government. The second, roughly equivalent to today's Daoli and Nangang districts, was governed by Russian colonists, who rented it on the pretext of managing the railway.

Following their defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), Russia's influence declined, and 160,000 nationals from 33 countries including the United States, Germany and France moved to Harbin. Sixteen countries established consulates and set up several thousand industrial, commercial and banking companies in Harbin. Chinese also established their own businesses in brewing, foodstuffs and the textile industry. Harbin established its status as the center of Northeast China and an international metropolis.

Zhongyang Dajie (Central Street), one of the prime business streets in Harbin, is a perfect witness to the bustling international business activities at that time. The 1.4km street is a veritable museum of European architectural styles, including Baroque and Byzantine facades, little shops of Russian bread, French fashion houses, American snack food outlets, Japanese restaurants and a Christian church. Believing this church had damaged the local fengshui, the Chinese community donated money and built a Chinese monastery, the Jile Temple.

Harbin also prides itself as one of the pioneering cities, along with Beijing and Shanghai, in spreading Marxism in China. In April 1919 Zhou Enlai, who later became Chinese premier, visited Harbin and carried out revolutionary propaganda and organization. In 1923, Harbin saw Northeast China's first branch of the Chinese Communist Party established. In 1927, the first Northeast China regional congress of communists was held here. In 1929, future Chinese president Liu Shaoqi came to Harbin to direct uprisings of railway workers. Harbin later grew into a center of revolutionary struggle and anti-Japanese efforts.

In the 1930s, when Northeast China was part of the Japanese puppet kingdom of Manchukuo, Harbin was directly under the control of that state's Central Government. Harbin residents were forced to learn Japanese and suffered political prejudice under the virtual Japanese rule. During the Second World War the notorious Japanese 731 Division, a germ warfare experimental base, was located here, horrifically killing many Chinese and other nationals.

After the founding of the New China in 1949, Harbin quickly recovered from the war and rose to be one of the few major economic cities in China. It also provided strong backup to the Chinese army fighting the Americans in North Korea in the early 1950s. Later, the former Soviet Union's aid projects helped build Harbin into one of China's heavy industrial bases.

After the opening up and reform of China in late 1970s, Harbin, along with the rest of China, enjoyed enormous progress in economy and urban construction. The city grew into a major river port and has sponsored eight international trade fairs and the third Asian Winter Games.

In 1996, the State Council incorporated the Songhua River Region into Harbin, increasing the city's population to 9.47 million. In terms of population, the city became the largest city in Northeast China.

Harbin has now set itself a grander goal - to become an important international economic and trade center city in Northeast Asia, which comprise Mongolia, the two Koreas and Japan.


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