What You Need To Know
Harbin is the capital and largest city of Heilongjiang province in the northeastern region of the People’s Republic of China. Holding sub-provincial administrative status, Harbin has direct jurisdiction over nine metropolitan districts, two county-level cities and seven 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 seven out of nine 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. 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. 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 “City of Music” by the UN.
Area: 53,068 km²
Population: Estimate 11 Million
Shenyang Currency Exchange. Chinese Yuan (also known as Renminbi, rmb for short) is the official and legal currency in circulation. Use of foreign currencies is generally not allowed.
Harbin is famous for its standard Mandarin pronunciation. It’s a very good place to study Mandarin. As the saying goes, ‘If you want to study Chinese language, come to China. If you want to study Mandarin, come to Beijing. If you want to study standard Mandarin, come to Harbin.’ The Harbin local culture is based on Han culture, combined with Manchu culture and Russian culture. This combination of cultures influences the local architecture style, food, music, and customs. The city of Harbin was appointed a UNESCO City of Music on 22 June 2010 as part of the Creative Cities Network.
Harbin has the largest economy in Heilongjiang province. In 2013, Harbin’s GDP totaled RMB501.08 billion, an increase of 8.9 percent over the previous year. The proportion of the three industries to the aggregate of GDP was 11.1:36.1:52.8 in 2012. The total value for imports and exports by the end of 2012 was USD 5,330 million. In 2012, the working population reached 3.147 million. In 2015 Harbin had a GDP of RMB 575.12 billion. The chernozem soil in Harbin, called “black earth” is one of the most nutrient rich in all of China, making it valuable for cultivating food and textile-related crops. As a result, Harbin is China’s base for the production of commodity grain and an ideal location for setting up agricultural businesses. Harbin also has industries such as light industry, textile, medicine, food, aircraft, automobile, metallurgy, electronics, building materials, and chemicals which help to form a fairly comprehensive industrial system. Harbin Electric Company Limited, Harbin Aircraft Industry Group and Northeast Light Alloy Processing Factory are some of key enterprises. Power manufacturing is also a main industry in Harbin; hydro and thermal power equipment manufactured here makes up one-third of the total installed capacity in China. Harbin Pharmaceutical Group, which mainly focus on research, development, manufacture and sale of pharmaceutical products, is China’s second-biggest drug maker by market value. Foreign investors seem upbeat about the city. A large-scale national level international fair, Harbin International Trade and Economic Fair, has been held annually since its first session in 1990. This investment and trade fair cumulatively attracting more than 1.9 million exhibitors and visitors from more than 80 countries and regions to attend in, resulting over US＄100 billion contract volume concluded according to the statistics of 2013. Harbin is among major destinations of FDI in Northeast China, with utilized FDI totaling US$980 million in 2013. After the 18th regular meeting between Sino-Russian Prime Ministers between Li Keqiang and Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev in October 2013, two sides come to make an agreement that the Harbin International Trade and Economic Fair will be renamed “China-Russia EXPO” and be co-sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, Heilongjiang Provincial government, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development and Russia’s Ministry of Trade and Industry In the financial sector, Longjiang Bank and Harbin Bank are some of the largest banks in Northeast China, with headquarters in Harbin. The latter ranks 4th by competitiveness among Chinese city commercial banks in 2011.
Most of Harbin’s residents belong to the Han Chinese majority (93.45 percent). Ethnic minorities include the Manchu, Hui, and Mongol. In 2000, 616,749 residents belonged to minority nationalities, among which the vast majority (433,340) were Manchu, contributing 70.26 percent to the minority population. The second and third largest minority groups were Koreans (119,883) and Hui nationalities (39,995).
Harbin has town twinning and similar arrangements with approximately 30 places around the world, as well as some other cities within China. For a list, see List of twin towns and sister cities in China → H. In 2009 Harbin opened an International Sister Cities museum. It has 1,048 exhibits in 28 rooms, with a total area of 1,800 square metres (19,375 square feet). On 3 September 2015, China and Russia signed an agreement to re-open the Russian consulate in Harbin, as the former Soviet consulate was closed in 1962 after the Sino-Soviet split. China will also establish a corresponding consulate in Vladivostok.
The Catholic minority is pastorally served by its own Latin Apostolic Administration of Harbin, a missionary pre-diocesan jurisdiction. It also has the Eastern Catholic former cathedral of the Russian Catholic Apostolic Exarchate of Harbin (pre-diocesan, Byzantine Rite in Russian language).
The Music City
Taxis are inexpensive and convenient. However, always ask them to run the meter (请打表 qĭng dă biăo) instead of attempting to negotiate a price in order avoid possible conflicts. Taxi drivers in Harbin are known to be reckless—running red lights, driving into oncoming traffic, etc.—so buckle up! Most taxi drivers do not speak any English or read Pinyin, so unless you speak fluent Mandarin Chinese showing them the Chinese characters for your destination is often the only option that will work. Do not be surprised if the taxi stops to pick up other passengers during rush hour, and if you are picked up by a taxi with passengers, even if the meter reads Y13 when you get in, the taxi driver will still expect you to pay the full amount on the meter when you depart the taxi! As noted earlier, avoid the Fake Black taxis (scam) as these are not really taxi’s, but rather are cars rented out by a Shanghainese company. They are distinguished by a generic roof sign “泰克斯” (Tàikè sī = Taxi) and non-working telephone numbers on the doors of the taxi. If you plan to live in Harbin for a while, it’s recommended that you figure out the basic bus routes around your home. Note that during the winter months the buses stop running earlier. Hawkers on the street will sell a map of greater Harbin including bus routes for about ¥5.
Under the Köppen climate classification, Harbin features a monsoon-influenced, humid continental climate (Dwa). Due to the Siberian high and its location above 45 degrees north latitude, the city is known for its coldest weather and longest winter among major Chinese cities. Its nickname Ice City is well-earned, as winters here are dry and freezing cold, with a 24-hour average in January of only −18.4 °C (−1.1 °F), although the city sees little precipitation during the winter and is often sunny. Spring and autumn constitute brief transition periods with variable wind directions. Summers can be hot, with a July mean temperature of 23.0 °C (73.4 °F). Summer is also when most of the year’s rainfall occurs, and more than half of the annual precipitation, at 524 millimetres (20.6 in), occurs in July and August alone. With monthly percent possible sunshine ranging from 52 percent in December to 63 percent in March, the city receives 2,571 hours of bright sunshine annually; on average precipitation falls 104 days out of the year. The annual mean temperature is +4.25 °C (39.6 °F), and extreme temperatures have ranged from −42.6 °C (−45 °F) to 39.2 °C (103 °F).