Harbin on the Sungari

Harbin and its province Heilongjiang (Heilungkiang) are often likened to “a lustrous pearl on the neck of a swan. Sitting on the banks of the Songhua (Sungari) River, this capital of China’s northernmost province is an important industrial center and a place of natural and man-made beauty.

Harbin is a fairly young city by Chinese standards. Eighty years ago it was a fishing village. Historical records indicate that the area was inhabited in the 11th century by the Nvzhen, ancestors of the Manchu. The name “Harbin” is derived from the Manchurian “alejin” meaning ground for sunning fishing the Manchu government to build a railroad from the Chinese city of Manzhouli on the Sino-Russian border, through Harbin, to the Russian city of Vladivostok. With the funds of an indemnity extorted from the Chinese government and inexpensive Chinese labor, the Chinese Eastern Railway was built and Harbin made its administrative headquarters. The city quite naturally developed into a transportation center. Russian merchants, missionaries and adventurers flocked to the city establishing their stores, factories and churches. Their influence or Harbin’s architecture is in evidence today; Russian-styled buildings, cupolas and spires atop thirty former Eastern Orthodox churches. Other foreigners came to this growing metropolis. Consulates were opened by 15 countries including Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States. Banks prosper ed and hotels;, bars, gambling houses, expensive villas and the Chinese population served the ever growing international community. At one time there were one hundred thousand foreign residents from 36 countries living in the city. In 1946 Harbin was restored to the Chinese people following the defeat of the Japanese and the end of World War II.

“The City of Parks”, Harbin has 13 along with ‘154 flower nurseries and large wooded areas. Beautifully pruned elms, poplars and pines line the streets. Most of the parks are to be found along the Songhua River. Riverside Park along the southern hank, ten hectares in size, is a favorite. Taiyang (Sun) Island, 1,300 hectares large, sits in the middle of the Songhua. It is covered with lush trees, beautiful law:as, flowered terraces and waterside pavilions. A dyke encircling the island and protecting it against flood is also a stroller’s delight. The is land was once divided in two. The western half was reserved for the mansions of the rich, the eastern half for the thatched the western side of Taiyang Island is a popular spot.

The children’s park of Harbin is unique, containing China’s only “Children’s Railroad”. Built in 1956, it is two kilometers long. Beijing Station is on one end, Harbin Station on the other. The small train, drawn by diesel locomotive, has seven Gaily-colored coaches and can carry two hundred passengers. The staff of the railroad: the station managers, engineers, conductors, ticket sellers, train guards and head of the train crew are all school children under the age of 13. They work and play in turn.

Harbin’s winters are undeniably cold. The average temperature from December to February is -30 degree C.(-22degree F) and there are heavy snowfall. But adapting to the cold, the people have discovered certain delights which only Harbin can offer. Milk is sold in bricks. Harbin are marketed frozen. After thrawing in cold water the pears are especially fuul of flavor and a popular Spring Festival delicacy.