harbin city

Don’t Overlook the Magical City of Harbin When Visiting China

Every visitor to China should consider spending some time in Harbin. The largest city in Heilongjiang serves as the province’s capital and it is filled with history and intrigue.

Whether you are looking to bone-up on your Mandarin or drift away with the sweet sounds of China’s oldest orchestra, Harbin has what you are looking for.

The city is located in a place which allows for a truly unique cultural experience, with all of the trimmings, from delectable cuisine to enchanting traditions.

In this article, you will find out why Harbin was named the “Top Tourist City” in all of China by China National Tourism Agency.

Harbin’s Unique Culture

The city is a meeting point for several cultures. The result is an interesting amalgam that makes it a truly unique place.

The predominant culture is Han Chinese, but Han culture is artfully mixed with influence from several other cultures, namely Russian.

In fact, Harbin is sometimes referred to as “St. Petersburg of the East.”

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This influence can be found in nearly every aspect of life from the cuisine to architecture.

Perhaps the prime example of how cultures have mixed to create enduring architectural gems is Saint Sophia Cathedral. The cathedral is routinely selected as one of the most beautiful places in China.

Built in the early 20th century, it is the largest Orthodox Cathedral in all of East Asia and it has been transformed into a museum that features notable pieces of art and other historical artifacts from the capital city of Heilongjiang.

The Climate in Harbin

Being a city of many nicknames, and one of the best is, “Ice City.” Harbin earned this moniker because of its sub-zero winters. If a winter wonderland is your idea of paradise, then you would be pleased to see Harbin in January.

Since 1985 the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival has been held annually to showcase some of the most amazing snow sculptures in the world.

The festival usually kicks-off around January 5th but many sculptures can be seen before the first of the year.


This is a Tower at the 2013 Ice and Snow Festival. Source: Shanghai Killer Whale

If winter is not your cup of tea, then you can still visit Harbin in the summer and enjoy the city’s wonders. July has a mean temperature that is a shade under 74 Degrees Fahrenheit, which means that you can wear short sleeves without worrying about getting too hot.

The relatively cool summer temperatures make it an ideal destination for those travelers who may be deterred by the sweltering heat that can be found farther south in China during the summer months.

Harbin is “The Music City”

In 2010 Harbin was dubbed “The Music City” by UNESCO, for good reason. Not only was the first music school in China founded in Harbin, but the city is also home to the oldest orchestra in China.

As one Chinese conductor stated: “Every city in China is trying to find its niche, and it’s clear that Harbin discovered theirs early.”

The Harbin Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1908 and continues to please audiences today. For the classical music lover, Harbin is the obvious choice.

A Great Place to Explore Delicious and Interesting Culinary Delights

The unique cultural makeup of Harbin has produced some truly special food. Harbin is known for having exceptional sausages, which are usually fairly mild in flavor.

These sausages are more akin to sausages found in Eastern Europe than in the rest of China. One of the most popular is the smoked savory red sausage. This local delicacy is reminiscent of traditional Polish kielbasa.


Source: Wikipedia

Harbin is perhaps most famous for their version of Guo Bao Rou, which is a typical Northern Chinese dish featuring pork that is battered and deep-fried, then served with a sweet and sour sauce.

The version of the dish found in Harbin is distinct because of the predominant honey and ginger flavors. If you have the chance, seek out this special dish, you won’t be disappointed.

Remembering a Tragic Moment in Harbin’s History

Harbin has a rich and varied history. Those with a passion for history will have a lot to appreciate and learn from in Harbin. There are great triumphs as well as horrible atrocities to be found in the capital city’s complex history.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) an injustice of epic proportions occurred on the outskirts of Harbin.

People were experimented on and tortured like lab rats. The sadistic Lieutenant General Shiro Ishii oversaw the operation, he was a man who “could give lessons in evil” to the “Angel of Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele, the man who was the face of Nazi experimentations.

Ishii was given unlimited funds from the Japanese government to perform experiments on the local Chinese in hopes of creating chemical and biological weapons.

Innocent people from the surrounding area were routinely dissected alive, subjected to frostbite, and infected with terrible diseases. These awful events will be forever remembered as the infamous Unit 731.

People were treated worse than animals, they were dehumanized, referred to only as “logs.”  Like wood they were burned, branded, and chopped to pieces.

It was later discovered that the United States helped to cover-up the atrocities in exchange for all of the medical information gathered from the mass torture.  The fact that many people are unaware of these atrocities is sad and warrants further study.

To heighten awareness, part of Unit 731 has been turned into a museum and visiting it is an important way to get a better sense of Harbin’s unique history. This is an excellent place to explore the relationship of the between history and memory.

Harbin is a Place For Discovery

No matter what your passion is, you can find a way to feed it in Harbin. There are few cities in China that offer such a wide array of sites and activities. Harbin is a magical city to explore, no matter when you decide to go.

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Loren Mayshark

Loren Mayshark is an American published author and travel writer who has traveled extensively in S.E. Asia and studied Chinese art, religion, philosophy, and history while earning a BA in World History from Manhattanville College.

He has written for The Permaculture Research Institute and Uisio among other prominent outlets.

He is the author of Death: An Exploration (2016). For more visit his official website: www.lorenmayshark.com
Loren Mayshark
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