The Making of a Chinese City: History and Historiography in Harbin

The Making of a Chinese City: History and Historiography in Harbin

The Making of a Chinese City: History and Historiography in Harbin

The Making of a Chinese City: History and Historiography in Harbin

Synopsis

The history of Harbin, ruled by the Russians, by an international coalition of allied powers, by Chinese warlords, by the Soviet Union and finally by the Chinese Communists - all in the course of 100 years - is presented here as an example of Chinese local-history writing.

Excerpt

Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province, is the northernmost metropolis of China.It is situated on the banks of the Songhuajiang (Sungari River), which cuts across the northern part of Manchuria, and its climate is affected by the proximity to Siberia: winters are long, dry, and extremely cold, and summers short and hot.The strangely non-Chinese name gives the first hint of an atypical Chinese city.To the visitor, this feeling is reinforced by the Western-style buildings along the cobble-stoned Central Avenue and the silhouettes of onion-shaped Russian church cupolas in the central urban areas.Yet Harbin also strikes the contemporary visitor as a fairly "traditional" Chinese city in the sense that it appears less influenced by the internationalization and "opening up" of the 1980s than the metropolitan centers on the coast.

These contradictory features are rooted in the extraordinary history of the city. In the short course of a hundred years, Harbin has been ruled by Russia, by an international coalition of Allied powers, by Chinese warlords, by Japan, by the Soviet Union, and finally by the Chinese Communists, who established their control of the city in 1946. Probably no other Chinese city has experienced such dramatic shifts and such a rapid succession of widely different regimes.Harbin is a product of the century-old rivalry between China, Russia, and Japan for control of Manchuria, as well as a major point of contention in this struggle.In a larger perspective, Harbin has experienced all the stresses and strains associated with China's modern transformation, but to an exceptional degree.The early twentieth-century Western penetration of China was more pervasive in the case of Harbin than in most other cities, the Japanese occupation lasted twice as long as in intramural China, and the effects of "socialist transformation" were more striking.In this way the modern history of China is written all over Harbin, but with such brutal strokes that the city also stands out as a very special case.

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