History of Harbin

Mother Earth Travel > China > Harbin > History

Archaeological records show that early humans lived in the Harbin region as early as 22,000 years ago. To date, more than ten prehistoric sites have been discovered in the area. In historical times, about a dozen aboriginal ethnic groups, including the Manchus who ruled China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), lived and built their kingdoms here. By the end of the 19th Century, about 30,000 people lived in what are now the urban districts of Harbin.

In 1896, the Russian government seized the power to extend its Siberian railway into Northeast China, and chose Harbin as the management center of the new section of the railway. With the gradual completion of the railway construction project, Harbin's population expanded quickly. By 1903, when the railway was completed, the modern city was starting to take shape. At that time, Harbin was divided into two sections. The first, the current Daowai District, was under the control the Qing government. The second, roughly equivalent to today's Daoli and Nangang districts, was governed by Russian colonists, who rented it on the pretext of managing the railway.

Following their defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), Russia's influence declined, and 160,000 nationals from 33 countries including the United States, Germany and France moved to Harbin. Sixteen countries established consulates and set up several thousand industrial, commercial and banking companies in Harbin. Chinese also established their own businesses in brewing, foodstuffs and the textile industry. Harbin established its status as the center of Northeast China and an international metropolis.

Zhongyang Dajie (Central Street), one of the prime business streets in Harbin, is a perfect witness to the bustling international business activities at that time. The 1.4km street is a veritable museum of European architectural styles, including Baroque and Byzantine facades, little shops of Russian bread, French fashion houses, American snack food outlets, Japanese restaurants and a Christian church. Believing this church had damaged the local fengshui, the Chinese community donated money and built a Chinese monastery, the Jile Temple.

Harbin also prides itself as one of the pioneering cities, along with Beijing and Shanghai, in spreading Marxism in China. In April 1919 Zhou Enlai, who later became Chinese premier, visited Harbin and carried out revolutionary propaganda and organization. In 1923, Harbin saw Northeast China's first branch of the Chinese Communist Party established. In 1927, the first Northeast China regional congress of communists was held here. In 1929, future Chinese president Liu Shaoqi came to Harbin to direct uprisings of railway workers. Harbin later grew into a center of revolutionary struggle and anti-Japanese efforts.

In the 1930s, when Northeast China was part of the Japanese puppet kingdom of Manchukuo, Harbin was directly under the control of that state's Central Government. Harbin residents were forced to learn Japanese and suffered political prejudice under the virtual Japanese rule. During the Second World War the notorious Japanese 731 Division, a germ warfare experimental base, was located here, horrifically killing many Chinese and other nationals.

After the founding of the New China in 1949, Harbin quickly recovered from the war and rose to be one of the few major economic cities in China. It also provided strong backup to the Chinese army fighting the Americans in North Korea in the early 1950s. Later, the former Soviet Union's aid projects helped build Harbin into one of China's heavy industrial bases.

After the opening up and reform of China in late 1970s, Harbin, along with the rest of China, enjoyed enormous progress in economy and urban construction. The city grew into a major river port and has sponsored eight international trade fairs and the third Asian Winter Games.

In 1996, the State Council incorporated the Songhua River Region into Harbin, increasing the city's population to 9.47 million. In terms of population, the city became the largest city in Northeast China.

Harbin has now set itself a grander goal - to become an important international economic and trade center city in Northeast Asia, which comprise Mongolia, the two Koreas and Japan.

Mother Earth Travel > China > Harbin > History