Harbin, situated in the heart of China’s northeast is the capital of Heilongjiang province. Once part of the Manchu homeland and later a Russian outpost, the city today is one of the major industrial and commercial centers of northeast China.
The name of the city is actually a Manchu word, which means “place for drying fish nets.” The name of the city in Chinese is ha er bin (哈尔滨), a transliteration of Harbin.
The area around Harbin was largely rural until the late 1890s when the Russians arrived to build a rail line across the province to Vladivostok. Workers and immigrants from Russia, and later refugees fleeing the Bolsheviks flooded in, giving the city a decidedly Russian flavor. They built churches and schools, and developed the industry of the city. The Russian influence on architecture is still visible in the city today.
During the “Russian era” Russian Orthodoxy featured large in the life of the city. There were numerous churches built, only three of which remain standing today. One is St. Sophia’s, an imposing multi-dome building which today functions as a historical museum. The second is a smaller one that serves the small remnant of Orthodox believers in the city. The third one is now used by a Catholic congregation.
Today the city’s biggest claim to fame is its annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival held in January each year.
This short video will give you a feel for what the city looks like today.
If you are travelling to Harbin and would like to attend a church service, check out the Harbin Nangang Christian Church, originally built by Lutheran missionaries in 1916.
Image credit: Lighted Ice Sculpture, by Don Felix, via Flickr
Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio