BY BEN HABIB.
In February 2005 my wife and I travelled to the northern Chinese city of Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, in the region historically known as Manchuria. Braving temperatures reaching -250C, we visited the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival on the bank of the frozen Songhua River, which runs through the city, as well as two smaller snow and ice sculpture exhibitions in parks around the city. The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival has been held every year (baring a couple of interuptions during the Cultural Revolution) in January and February since 1963 and includes the artwork of ice and snow sculptors from around the world.
Harbin is the capital city of Heilongjiang Province and has a population of approximately 10 million people, making it the tenth largest city in China. It is also an important node in the trade corridor between China and the Russian far east.
The city was established in 1898 after the construction of the Russian-financed Chinese Eastern Railway, which linked the Trans-Siberian Railway with the Russian naval base at Port Arthur, near the modern-day port city of Dalian. The Russian influence on the city is clear in some of the architecture in the downtown precinct, most strikingly in the Russian Orthodox Saint Sofia cathedral (which is now an art museum).
During the 1920’s, Harbin became a receiving centre for White Russian emigres fleeing the victorious Bolsheviks at the conclusion of the Russian civil war. In fact, many immigrants fleeing the USSR in the 1940’s and 50’s (particularly people of minority ethnic descent) made their way to Australia via the city of Harbin.
Russian influence on the city declined during this period however as Japanese penetration into the region grew, culminating in the Japanese occupation of the city in February 1932. Harbin became the capital of Manchukuo, the Japanese puppet state which became the base of Japan’s imperial expansion south into the Chinese heartland.
Harbin was recaptured by the Soviet army in August 1945 and returned to Chinese control in April 1946, under the administration of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The following photo essay is a document of my experience in Harbin at the wonderous snow and ice festival. These pictures bring back memories of the bitter cold, of icicles forming on my eye lashes as my breath froze, but my most treasured memories are of the colosal ice sculptures filled with neon lights, brightening the dark Manchurian winter sky.
Dr. Benjamin Habib is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at La Trobe University, Albury-Wodonga. Ben’s research project projects include North Korea’s motivations for nuclear proliferation, East Asian security, international politics of climate change, and undergraduate teaching pedagogy. He also teaches in Australian politics and the international relations of the Middle East. Ben undertook his PhD candidature at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and has worked previously for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. He has spent time teaching English in Dandong, China, and has also studied at Keimyung University in Daegu, South Korea. Ben is involved with local community groups Wodonga and Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH) and Transition Albury-Wodonga.
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