The city of Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang Province, China's most northerly province. Heilongjiang wraps around the northeastern extremity of Inner Mongolia (Inner Mongolia Autonomous Republic) to the west, while to the east, the province stretches to the border with North Korea and Russia. Indeed, the Northwestern-Pacific, Russian seaport city of Vladivostok lies just beyond the "rear left foot" of Heilongjiang Province (Heilongjiangers like to compare the shape of their snowy province to a swan, while, to me – and perhaps to you as well – it looks more like the left-side silhouette of a cross between a Scott Terrier and a T-Rex, the latter with a bad case of mumps, hence the reference to the "rear left foot").
Harbin is situated near the northern extremity of the Northeast China Plain, the large plain that lies above the Bay of Bohai, stretching, in a northeasterly direction, roughly from the Inner Mongolian city of Ulanhad to roughly the city of Suihua in Heilongjiang Province, or to about 100 kilometers northeast of Harbin, where the Xiaoxing'an Mountains begin.
The Northeast China Plain belongs to the vast geographical entity formerly referred to as Manchuria (Dongbei sansheng, in Mandarin Chinese*, or dong bei san sheng = "east north three provinces", which suggests that in ancient Chinese culture, east-west was the primary orientation rather than the usual north-south orientation of Western culture – and indeed, to this day, in international circles, we speak of the east-west cultural divide, whereas the north-south "divide" is a recent economic-developmental semantic construction that signifies the developed world (the north) versus the developing world (the south).
Most people would tend to think of Harbin as a snowy, permafrost landscape that would most likely be barren during summer; in fact, the area around Harbin surprisingly has some of the best, most nutrient-rich soil in all of China – "black earth", as it is called. The province is a major supplier of wheat, rice, soybeans, maize, flax and tobacco, as well as fresh vegetables. To give an idea of the agricultural impact of the province on China as a whole, Heilongjiang Province accounts for roughly 40% of the total Chinese production of soybeans.
Harbin is also one of China's main producers of light industrial equipment to be employed primarily in the field of power generation, including the production of turbines, boilers, generators, etc., and even the special alloys used in electrical wire manufacturing.
Besides its light industrial equipment pillar, Harbin's industrial output rests on two additional primary pillars: aerospace equipment and a pharmaceutical industry. The city of Harbin is also a major production center for automobile components, building materials, metallurgical products, chemicals, electronic equipment and textiles. Last but not least, Harbin has a winter tourism industry par excellence in the form of two major ski resorts: Yabuli Ski Resort, roughly 200 kilometers due east of Harbin; and Erlongshan Ski Resort, aka Longzhu ("Dragon Pearl") Ski Resort, located only about 65 kilometers west of Harbin.
Harbin isn't called the "City of Ice" for nothing. Each year the city stages the Harbin Snow and Ice Festival, which runs from January to March and draws enormous crowds that come to see the handiwork of the snow and ice scultors who flock to Harbin every winter from around the globe. In addition, there is the annual Ice and Snow World exhibition that features life-sized castles of ice and snow – a veritable Disney-Park-like exhibition that attracts the most preeminent ice and snow artists from around the world. It's exact beginning date varies each year depending on the weather pattern, but generally falls at the end of the year in December or the beginning of the next year. It is a fairyland of colored ice and colored lights. Lastly (carrying on with the ice-and-snow theme), Harbin is home to a yearly Ice Lantern Festival where, as the name suggests, large lanterns are created by means of mist sprayed in layers until the desired result is achieved. The lanterns are lit with special cool, colored lamps. Also the Ice Lantern Festival is an end-of-year/ beginning-of-year event that is weather-dependent.
Other major tourist attractions in the Harbin area include: the aforementioned Russian Orthodox church, the Saint Sophia Cathedral; the aforementioned Central Street; and the Siberian Tiger Park, northern China's equivalent to southern China's Panda parks, since the Siberian Tiger is no less endangered. Lesser, but no less interesting tourist attractions in the Harbin area include: Yueliang Wan (Moon Bay) Ski Resort, located on the outskirts of the city of Harbin; Wujimi Ski Resort, located about 150 kilometers southeast of Harbin; Yuquan Ski Resort, located about 65 kilometers northwest of Harbin; Harbin Zhaolin Park, a lush green park during summer, it is the venue for some of Harbin's wintertime ice and snow festivals, such as the Ice Lantern Festival; and the Heilongjiang Provincial Museum, a very large museum complex located within the city limits of Harbin itself and consisting of various historical exhibits – including Red Army exhibits – as well as a prehistoric fossil exhibit.
The Harbin area's many ski resorts and its ice and snow festivals are the big attractions during the winter months, while Central Street, with its multifaceted, international architectural styles and its many and diverse shops and bazaars, as well as Saint Sophia Cathedral, the Siberian Tiger Park and the Heilongjiang Provincial Museum can be enjoyed year round, though a visit to these is naturally more appealing during the summer months.
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