Harbin (help·info) is the capital and largest city of Heilongjiang province, People’s Republic of China. Holding sub-provincial administrative status, Harbin has direct jurisdiction over 9 metropolitan districts, 2 county-level cities and 7 counties. Harbin is the eighth most populous Chinese city and the most populous city in Northeast China. According to the 2010 census, the built-up area made of 7 out of 9 urban districts (all but Shuangcheng and Acheng not urbanized yet) had 5,282,093 inhabitants, while the total population of the sub-provincial city was up to 10,635,971. Harbin serves as a key political, economic, scientific, cultural and communications hub in Northeast China, as well as an important industrial base of the nation.
Harbin, which was originally a Manchu word meaning “a place for drying fishing nets”, grew from a small rural settlement on the Songhua River to become one of the largest cities in Northeast China. Founded in 1898 with the coming of the Chinese Eastern Railway, the city first prospered as a region inhabited by an overwhelming majority of the immigrants from the Russian Empire.
Having the most bitterly cold winters among major Chinese cities, Harbin is heralded as the Ice City for its well-known winter tourism and recreations. Harbin is notable for its beautiful ice sculpture festival in the winter, the largest in the world. Besides being well known for its historical Russian legacy, it serves as an important gateway in Sino-Russian trade today. In the 1920s, the city was considered China’s fashion capital since new designs from Paris and Moscow reached here first before arriving in Shanghai. The city has been voted “China Top Tourist City” by China National Tourism Administration in 2004. On 22 June 2010, Harbin was appointed a UNESCO “City of Music” as part of the Creative Cities Network.
- 1 History
- 2 Geography
- 3 Administrative divisions
- 4 Economy
- 5 Demographics
- 6 Culture
- 7 Architecture
- 8 Sports
- 9 Transport
- 10 Education
- 11 International relations
- 12 See also
- 13 Notes
- 14 References
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
Human settlement in Harbin area dates from at least 2200 BC during the late Stone Age. Wanyan Aguda, the founder and first emperor of Jin dynasty from 1115 to 1123, was born in the Jurchen Wanyan tribes who resided near the Ashi River in this region. In 1115 CE, Aguda established Jin’s capital Shangjing (Upper Capital) Huining Fu in today’s Acheng District of Harbin. After Aguda’s death, the new emperor Wanyan Sheng ordered to build a new city on uniform plan. The planning and construction emulated major Chinese cities, in particular Bianjing (Kaifeng), although the Jin capital was smaller than its Northern Song prototype. Huining Fu served as the first superior capital of the empire until the capital was moved to Yanjing (now Beijing) in 1153 by Wanyan Liang (the fourth emperor of Jin Dynasty). Liang even went so far as to destroy all palaces in his former capital in 1157. Wanyan Liang’s successor Wanyan Yong (Emperor Shizong) restored the city and established it as a secondary capital in 1173. Ruins of the Shangjing Huining Fu were discovered and excavated at about 2 km from present-day Acheng’s central urban area. The site of the old Jin capital ruins is a national historic reserve, and includes the Jin Dynasty History Museum. The museum is open to public and renovated in the late 2005. Mounted statues of Aguda and his chief commander Wanyan Zonghan (also Nianhan) have been erected on the grounds of the museum. Many of the artifacts found there are on display in nearby Harbin.
After the Mongol conquest of the Jin Empire, Huining Fu was abandoned. Building materials of Huining Fu’s ruin was later exploited by the Manchus in the 1600s to build their new stronghold in Alchuka. The region of Harbin remained largely rural until the 1800s, with only over ten villages and about 30,000 people in today’s urban districts of the city by the end of the 19th century.
A small village in 1898 grew into the modern city of Harbin. Polish engineer Adam Szydłowski drew plans for the city following the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway, which the Russian Empire had financed. The Russians selected Harbin as the base of their administration over this railway and the Chinese Eastern Railway Zone. The Chinese Eastern Railway extended the Trans-Siberian Railway: substantially reducing the distance from Chita to Vladivostok and also linking the new port city of Dalny (Dalian) and the Russian Naval Base Port Arthur (Lüshun).
During the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), Russia used Harbin as its base for military operations in Northeastern China. Following Russia’s defeat, its influence declined. Several thousand nationals from 33 countries, including the United States, Germany, and France moved to Harbin. Sixteen countries established consulates to serve their nationals, who established several hundred industrial, commercial and banking companies. Churches were rebuilt for Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Lutheran/German Protestant, and Polish Catholic Christians. Chinese capitalists also established businesses, especially in brewing, food and textiles. Harbin became the economic hub of northeastern China and an international metropolis.
Rapid growth of the city challenged the public healthcare system. The worst-ever recorded outbreak of pneumonic plague was spread to Harbin through Trans-Manchurian railway from the border trade port of Manzhouli. The plague lasted from late autumn of 1910 to the spring of 1911 and killed 1,500 Harbin residents (mostly ethnic Chinese), or about five percent of its population at the time. This turned out to be the beginning of the large pneumonic plague pandemic of Manchuria and Mongolia which ultimately claimed 60,000 victims. In the winter of 1910, Dr. Wu Lien-teh (later the founder of Harbin Medical University) was given instructions from the Foreign Office, Peking, to travel to Harbin to investigate the plague. Dr. Wu asked for imperial sanction to cremate plague victims, as cremation of these infected victims turned out to be the turning point of the epidemic. The suppression of this plague pandemic changed medical progress in China. Bronze statues of Dr. Wu Lien-teh are built in Harbin Medical University to remember his contributions in promoting public health, preventive medicine and medical education.
After the plague epidemic Harbin’s population continued to increased sharply, especially inside the Chinese Eastern Railway Zone. In 1913 the Chinese Eastern Railway census showed its ethnic composition as: Russians – 34313, Chinese (that is, including Hans, Manchus etc.) – 23537, Jews – 5032, Poles – 2556, Japanese – 696, Germans – 564, Tatars – 234, Latvians – 218, Georgians – 183, Estonians – 172, Lithuanians – 142, Armenians – 124; there were also Karaims, Ukrainians, Bashkirs, and some Western Europeans. In total, 68549 citizens of 53 nationalities, speaking 45 languages. Research shows that only 11.5 percent of all residents were born in Harbin. By 1917, Harbin’s population exceeded 100,000, with over 40,000 of them were ethnic Russians.
After Russia’s Great October Socialist Revolution in November 1917, more than 100,000 defeated Russian White Guards and refugees retreated to Harbin, which became a major center of White Russian émigrés and the largest Russian enclave outside the Soviet Union. The city had a Russian school system, as well as publishers of Russian language newspapers and journals. Russian ‘Harbintsy’ community numbered around 120,000 at its peak in the early 1920s. In the early 1920s, according to Chinese scholars’ recent studies, over 20,000 Jews lived in Harbin. After 1919, Dr. Abraham Kaufman played a leading role in Harbin’s large Russian Jewish community. The Republic of China discontinued diplomatic relations with Imperial Russia in 1920, so many Russians found themselves stateless. When the Chinese Eastern Railway and government in Beijing announced in 1924 that they agreed the railroad would only employ Russian or Chinese nationals, the emigrees were forced to announce their ethnic and political allegiance. Most accepted Soviet citizenship. The Chinese warlord Zhang Xueliang seized the Chinese Eastern Railway in 1929. Soviet military force quickly put an end to the crisis and forced the Nationalist Chinese to accept restoration of joint Soviet-Chinese administration of the railway.
Japanese invasion period
Japan invaded Manchuria outright after the Mukden Incident in September 1931. After the Japanese captured Qiqihar in the Jiangqiao Campaign, the Japanese 4th Mixed Brigade moved toward Harbin, closing in from the west and south. Bombing and strafing by Japanese aircraft forced the Chinese army to retreat from Harbin. Within a few hours the Japanese occupation of Harbin was complete.
With the establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo, the pacification of Manchukuo began, as volunteer armies continued to fight the Japanese. Harbin became a major operations base for the infamous medical experimenters of Unit 731, who killed people of all ages and ethnicities. All these units were known collectively as the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army. The main facility of the Unit 731 was built in 1935 at Pingfang District, approximately 24 km (15 mi) south of Harbin urban area at that time. Between 3,000 and 12,000 citizens including men, women, and children—from which around 600 every year were provided by the Kempeitai—died during the human experimentation conducted by Unit 731 at the camp based in Pingfang alone, which does not include victims from other medical experimentation sites. Almost 70 percent of the victims who died in the Pingfang camp were Chinese, including both civilian and military. Close to 30 percent of the victims were Russian. Some others were South East Asians and Pacific Islanders, at the time colonies of the Empire of Japan, and a small number of the prisoners of war from the Allies of World War II (although many more Allied POWs were victims of Unit 731 at other sites). Prisoners of war were subjected to vivisection without anesthesia, after infected with various diseases. Prisoners were injected with inoculations of disease, disguised as vaccinations, to study their effects. Unit 731 and its affiliated units (Unit 1644 and Unit 100 among others) were involved in research, development, and experimental deployment of epidemic-creating biowarfare weapons in assaults against the Chinese populace (both civilian and military) throughout World War II. Human targets were also used to test grenades positioned at various distances and in different positions. Flame throwers were tested on humans. Humans were tied to stakes and used as targets to test germ-releasing bombs, chemical weapons, and explosive bombs. Twelve Unit 731 members were found guilty in the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials but later repatriated; others received secret immunity by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers Douglas MacArthur before the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal in exchange for biological warfare work in the Cold War for the American Force.
Chinese revolutionaries including Zhao Shangzhi, Yang Jingyu, Li Zhaolin, Zhao Yiman continued to struggle against the Japanese in Harbin and its administrative area, commanding the main anti-Japanese guerrilla army-Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army which was originally organized by the Manchurian branch of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The army was supported by the Comintern after the The CPC Manchurian Provincial Committee was dissolved in 1936.
Under the Manchukuo régime and Japanese occupation, Harbin Russians had a difficult time. In 1935, the Soviet Union sold the Chinese Eastern Railway (KVZhD) to the Japanese, and many Russian emigres left Harbin (48133 of them were arrested during the Soviet Great Purge between 1936 and 1938 as “Japanese spies”). Most departing Russians returned to the Soviet Union, but a substantial number moved south to Shanghai or emigrated to the United States and Australia. By the end of the 1930s, the Russian population of Harbin had dropped to around 30,000.
Many of Harbin’s Jews (13,000 in 1929) fled after the Japanese occupation as the Japanese associated closely with militant anti-Soviet Russian Fascists, whose ideology of anti-Bolshevism and nationalism was laced with virulent anti-Semitism. Most left for Shanghai, Tianjin, and the British Mandate of Palestine. In the late 1930s, some German Jews fleeing the Nazis moved to Harbin. Japanese officials later facilitated Jewish emigration to several cities in western Japan, notably Kobe, which came to have Japan’s largest synagogue.
Post World War II
The Soviet Army took the city on 20 August 1945 and Harbin never came under the control of the Kuomintang, whose troops stopped 60 km (37 mi) short of the city. The city’s administration was transferred by the departing Soviet Army to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in April 1946. On April 28, 1946, the Communist Government of Harbin was established, making the 700,000-citizen-city the first large city under Chinese Communist force rule. During the short occupation of Harbin by the Soviet Army (August 1945 to April 1946), thousands of Russian emigres who have been identified as members of the Russian Fascist Party and fled communism after the Russian October Revolution, were forcibly moved to the Soviet Union. After 1952 the Soviet Union launched a second wave of immigration back to Russia. By 1964, the Russian population in Harbin had been reduced to 450. The rest of the European community (Russians, Germans, Poles, Greeks, etc.) emigrated during the years 1950–54 to Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel and the USA, or were repatriated to their home countries. By 1988 the original Russian community numbered just thirty, all of them elderly. Modern Russian living in Harbin mostly moved there in the 1990s and 2000s, and have no relation to the first wave of emigration.
Harbin was among one of the key construction cities of China during the First Five-Year Plan period from 1951 to 1956. 13 of the 156 key construction projects were aid-constructed by the Soviet Union in Harbin. This project made Harbin an important industrial base of China. During the Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1961, Harbin experienced a very tortuous development course as several Sino-Soviet contracts were cancelled by the Soviet Union. During the Cultural Revolution many foreign and Christian things were uprooted, such as the St. Nicholas church which was destroyed by Red Guards in 1966. As the normal economic and social order was seriously disrupted, Harbin’s economy also suffered from serious setbacks. One of the main reasons of this setback is with its Soviet ties deteriorating and the Vietnam War escalating, China became concerned of a possible nuclear attack. Mao Zedong ordered an evacuation of military and other key state enterprises away from the northeastern frontier, with Harbin being the core zone of this region, bordering the Soviet Union. During this Third Front Development Era of China, several major factories of Harbin were relocated to Southwestern Provinces including Gansu, Sichuan, Hunan and Guizhou, where they would be strategically secure in the event of a possible war. Some major universities of China were also moved out of Harbin, including Harbin Military Academy of Engineering (predecessor of Changsha’s National University of Defense Technology) and Harbin Institute of Technology (Moved to Chongqing in 1969 and relocated to Harbin in 1973).
National economy and social service have obtained significant achievements since the Chinese economic reform first introduced in 1979. Harbin holds the China Harbin International economic and Trade Fair each year since 1990. Harbin once housed one of the largest Jewish communities in the Far East before World War II. It reached its peak in the mid-1920s when 25,000 European Jews lived in the city. Among them were the parents of Ehud Olmert, the former Prime Minister of Israel. In 2004, Olmert came to Harbin with an Israeli trade delegation to visit the grave of his grandfather in Huang Shan Jewish Cemetery, which had over 500 Jewish graves identified.
On 5 October 1984, Harbin was designated a sub-provincial city by the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee. The eight counties of Harbin originally formed part of Songhuajiang Prefecture whose seat was practically located inside the urban area of Harbin since 1972. The prefecture was officially merged into Harbin city on 11 August 1996, increasing Harbin’s total population to 9.47 million.
A memorial hall honoring Korean nationalist and independence activist Ahn Jung-geun was unveiled at Harbin Railway Station on 19 January 2014. Ahn assassinated four-time Prime Minister of Japan and former Resident-General of Korea Itō Hirobumi at No.1 platform of Harbin Railway Station on October 26, 1909, as Korea on the verge of annexation by Japan after the signing of the Eulsa Treaty. South Korean President Park Geun-Hye raised an idea of erecting a monument for Ahn while meetting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to China in June 2013. After that China began to build a memorial hall honoring Ahn at Harbin Railway Station. As the hall was unveiled on 19 January 2014, the Japanese side soon lodged protest with China over the construction of Ahn’s memorial hall.