Harbin (Manchu:  HarbinChinese哈尔滨 About this soundHā'ěrbīn) is the capital of Heilongjiang province, and largest city in the northeastern region of the People's Republic of China.[7] Holding sub-provincial administrative status,[8] Harbin has direct jurisdiction over nine metropolitan districts, two county-level cities and seven counties. Harbin is the eighth most populous Chinese city according to the 2010 census,[9] the built-up area (which consists of all districts except Shuangcheng and Acheng) had 5,282,093 inhabitants, while the total population of the sub-provincial city was up to 10,635,971.[5] 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.[10]
Harbin, whose name was originally a Manchu word meaning "a place for drying fishing nets",[10] 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.[11]
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.[12] Harbin is notable for its beautiful ice sculpture festival in the winter.[13] Besides being well known for its historical Russian legacy, the city serves as an important gateway in Sino-Russian trade today, containing a sizable population of Russian diaspora.[14] In the 1920s, the city was considered China's fashion capitalsince new designs from Paris and Moscow reached here first before arriving in Shanghai.[15] The city was voted "China Top Tourist City" by the China National Tourism Administration in 2004.[10] On 22 June 2010, Harbin was appointed a "City of Music" by the UN.[16]


Early history[edit]

Monument of Wanyan Aguda in Acheng District
The first generation of Harbin Russians were mostly the builders and employees of the Chinese Eastern Railway. They moved to Harbin in order to work on the railroad. At the time Harbin was not an established city. The city was almost built from scratch by the builders and early settlers. Houses were constructed, furniture and personal items were brought in from Russia
Human settlement in the Harbin area dates from at least 2200 BC during the late Stone AgeWanyan Aguda, the founder and first emperor (reigned 1115-1123) of the Jin dynasty (1115-1234), was born in the Jurchen Wanyan tribes who resided near the Ashi River in this region.[17] In AD 1115 Aguda established Jin's capital Shangjing (Upper Capital) Huining Prefecture in today's Acheng District of Harbin.[18] After Aguda's death, the new emperor Wanyan Sheng ordered the construction of a new city on a uniform plan. The planning and construction emulated major Chinese cities, in particular Bianjing (Kaifeng), although the Jin capital was smaller than its Northern Songprototype.[19] Huining Prefecture served as the first superior capital of the Jin empire until Wanyan Liang (the fourth emperor of Jin Dynasty) moved the capital to Yanjing (now Beijing) in 1153.[20] Liang even went so far as to destroy all palaces in his former capital in 1157.[20] Wanyan Liang's successor Wanyan Yong (Emperor Shizong) restored the city and established it as a secondary capital in 1173.[21] Ruins of the Shangjing Huining Prefecture were discovered and excavated about 2 km (1.2 mi)from present-day Acheng's central urban area.[18][22] The site of the old Jin capital ruins is a national historic reserve, and includes the Jin Dynasty History Museum. The museum, open to the public, was renovated in late 2005.[22] Mounted statues of Aguda and of his chief commander Wanyan Zonghan (also Nianhan) stand in the grounds of the museum.[23] Many of the artifacts found there are on display in nearby Harbin.
After the Mongol conquest of the Jin Empire (1211-1234), Huining Prefecture was abandoned. In the 17th century, the Manchus used building materials from Huining Prefecture to construct their new stronghold in Alchuka. The region of Harbin remained largely rural until the 1800s, with over ten villages and about 30,000 people in the city's present-day urban districts by the end of the 19th century.[24]

International city[edit]

A small village in 1898 grew into the modern city of Harbin.[25] Polish engineer Adam Szydłowski drew plans for the city following the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway, which the Russian Empire had financed.[11] 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). The settlement founded by the Russian-owned Chinese Eastern Railway quickly turned into a "boomtown" displaying the same characteristics shown by San Francisco during the California gold rush and Johannesburg during the Witwatersrand Gold Rush, growing into a city within five years.[26] The majority of the Russians who settled in Harbin came from southern Russia, and the dialect of Russian spoken in Harbin was derivative of the dialect of Russian spoken in Odessa.[26] The city was intended as a showcase for Russian imperialism in Asia and the American scholar Simon Karlinsky who was born into Harbin in 1924 into a Russian Jewish family wrote that in Harbin: "the buildings, boulevards, and parks were planned—well before the October Revolution—by distinguished Russian architects and also by Swiss and Italian town planners", giving the city a very European appearance.[26] Starting in the late 19th century, a mass influx of Han Chinese arrived in Manchuria, and taking advantage of the rich soils, founded farms which soon turned Manchuria into the "breadbasket of China" while others went to work in the mines and factories of Manchuria, which become one of the first regions of China to industrialize.[27] Harbin become one of the main points under which food and industrial products were shipped out of Manchuria.[27] A sign of Harbin's wealth was that a theater had established during its first decade and in 1907 the play K zvezdam by Leonid Andreyev had its premiere there.[28]  
St. Nicolas Orthodox, a Russian Orthodox church in Harbin, circa 1940, demolished during the Cultural Revolution
During the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05), Russia used Harbin as its base for military operations in Manchuria. 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 OrthodoxLutheran/German Protestant, and Polish CatholicChristians. Chinese capitalists also established businesses, especially in brewing, food and textiles. Harbin became the economic hub of northeastern China and an international metropolis.[24]
Rapid growth of the city challenged the public healthcare system. The worst-ever recorded outbreak of pneumonic plague was spread to Harbin through the Trans-Manchurian railway from the border trade port of Manzhouli.[29] The plague lasted from late autumn of 1910 to spring 1911 and killed 1,500 Harbin residents (mostly ethnic Chinese), or about five percent of its population at the time.[30] 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.[31]
The first generation of Harbin Russians were mostly the builders and employees of the Chinese Eastern Railway. They moved to Harbin in order to work on the railroad. At the time Harbin was not an established city. The city was almost built from scratch by the builders and early settlers. Houses were constructed, furniture and personal items were brought in from Russia.
After the plague epidemic Harbin's population continued to increase 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 HansManchus 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 KaraimsUkrainiansBashkirs, and some Western Europeans. In total, 68549 citizens of 53 nationalities, speaking 45 languages.[32] Research shows that only 11.5 percent of all residents were born in Harbin.[33] By 1917, Harbin's population exceeded 100,000, with over 40,000 of them were ethnic Russians.[34]

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