A banner saying "Welcome to Harbin" that hangs on an overpass and colorful sculptures of Dongdong--mascot of the 24th Winter Universiade (WU)--that stand alongside the road welcome visitors as they enter Harbin via the airport expressway.
In February 2009, Harbin hosted the 24th WU, the biggest international event in the city's history, presenting a special gift for the upcoming 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC). In March, construction of the 17.73-km-long subway Line No.1 resumed, helping Harbin make the leap to becoming a modern metropolis.
"Harbin" in the Manchu language means "flat island." Located in the southern part of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Harbin today covers an area of 53,068 square km, with 9.89 million residents coming from more than 40 ethnic groups as of 2008. The Songhua River flows across the city from southwest to northeast. Harbin is better known worldwide as the "Ice City" because it is rich in snow and ice resources, spending five months (November to March) each year below zero degrees Celsius. Local people have taken full advantage of these natural resources by making snow and ice carvings and farming with snow water.
After it became the first liberated city of the PRC on April 28, 1946, Harbin served as the strategic rear base for the Communist Party of China (CPC) and supported the People's Liberation Army in the liberation war (1946-1949). Supplying the military materials became Harbin's primary target. After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Harbin's industry blossomed as 16 large- and medium-sized state-run factories moved in and 13 out of 156 Soviet-assisted projects kicked off, laying a solid foundation for the city's industrial development with machinery and power-generating equipment as its core.
The total output value of Harbin's industry in 1957 reached 1.32 billion yuan (about $536.5 million), which accounted for 77 percent of its GDP and ranked Harbin seventh among big cities nationwide. The figure jumped to 2.45 billion yuan (about $995.9 million) in 1965, accounting for 85.5 percent of local GDP. Moreover, the summer music festival and winter ice carving gala that started in the early 1960s enriched people's spiritual life at a time when living conditions were relatively poor.
Harbin entered a new development phase in 1978 thanks to the country's reform and opening up. The industrial structure underwent a sea change, as the percentage of light industry rose from 38.9 in 1978 to 44.5 in 1990, while heavy industry dropped from 61.1 percent to 55.5 percent in the same period.
The city's Taiping International Airport was put into service in 1979. After expansion projects, it is now the largest international airport in the northern part of northeast China, capable of handling up to 5 million passengers annually as of 2008.
In October 1984, the State Council made Harbin a pilot city for nationwide comprehensive reforms; in January 1985, Harbin was designated as city under separate state with economic management rights equal to the provincial level, easing the way for its future development.
Begun in 1990, the International China Harbin Fair for Trade and Economic Cooperation (Harbin Trade Fair for short) has since grown into a large international expo authorized by the Chinese Government. The fair, which is held from June 15 to 19 every year, is now considered an important forum for investment and technological cooperation in northeast Asia. Over the years, the aggregate number of guests attending the fair has surpassed 1.4 million, reaching a total estimated trade value of over $100 billion.
In the 21st century, Harbin has pushed forward the equipment manufacturing industry in accordance with the country's strategy of supporting old industrial bases in the northeast. Trade and technology cooperation with neighboring countries such as Russia and Japan has been thriving. Citywide projects to improve people's livelihood, including updating infrastructure and renovating the old town, have intensified along with the protection of historic sites.
Tourism has become the new engine behind economic development in recent years, as Harbin has made efforts to combine its natural resources with city culture. The city now holds more than 10 large tourism festivals throughout the year, ranging from snow and ice carving, music and beer to gardening, skiing and skating. In addition to being an "ice city," Harbin wants to forge a new identity as a summer destination, with more than 400 scheduled tourism projects.
Harbin's goal, as Mayor Zhang Xiaolian said in a speech during the opening ceremony of the 2009 International Forum on City Development and Planning on July 12, is to build a modern and civilized city that is "suitable for starting up a business, suitable for living, and suitable for people's full-scale development," as well as to maintain harmonious and sustainable development parallel with its social and economic growth.
(Source: Harbin Gazetteer)
Harbin "Mosts" in the PRC
- the highest latitude (northern latitude 44°04'-46°40') among capital cities
- the largest surface area (53,068 square km) among capital cities
- the most dense railway tracks
- the biggest antibiotic production base
- the biggest accurate measuring tools factory
- the first railway bureau
- the first thermoelectric plant
Harbin "Firsts" in the PRC
- the first mini automobile engine
- the first helicopter
- the first hydroelectric machine
- the first television broadcasting equipment
- the first 30-cubic-meter oxygen machine