Friday, March 28, 2008

Harbin – near the Russian border

On March 18 I was in Harbin.

Even if you are not going to visit Harbin in the near future, it is always useful to know at least a little of its history. Heilongjiang Province, the most northwesterly part of China, when viewed on a map has the shape of a swan. Its capital city is Harbin, which is located south of Heilongjiang. Not only for its special position, but also as the center of Heilongjiang's political, economic, educational and cultural life, Harbin is described as the pearl beneath the swan's neck.

Harbin was the birthplace of Jin (1115-1234) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, the latter of which had a very considerable influence on modern Chinese history. At the end of the 19th century, Russia built the terminus of the Middle East Railway here. Later, more than 160,000 foreigners from 33 countries migrated to Harbin, promoting the development of a capitalist economy in the city. The economy and culture of Harbin achieved unprecedented prosperity at that time and the city gradually grew into a famous international commercial port. Assimilating external culture, Harbin created its unique and exotic cityscape.

Population: 9.27 million, of them 4.11 million in the urban districts of the city

Land Area: 53,796 km², 4,275 km² urban

Harbin today is still very much influenced by its Russian past. A city once under Russian rule, it is now a center of trade with that country.

The influence of Russia came with the construction of the China Far East Railway, an extension of the Trans-Siberian Railway, and Harbin, known formerly as a fishing village began to prosper as the largest commercial, economical center of North Eastern Asia.

Winter culture

Harbin is one of the sources of ice and snow culture in the world. Geographically, it is located in Northeast China under the direct influence of the cold winter wind from Siberia. The average temperature in summer is 21.2 degrees Celsius, −16.8 degrees Celsius in winter. It can be as cold as −38.1 degrees Celsius in winter.

I met Fr. Yue, the apostolic administrator of the Harbin Cathedral and a good friend of the Claretians.

In Harbin we have one of the 14 “Parish Library” and Fr. Yue has taken good care of it. They also have one copy of the Chinese edition of our Pastoral Bible for each parishioner.

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