Heilongjiang is China’s northernmost province. It is bounded by Russia to the north and east, by Jilin to the south, and by the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to the west. Its name comes from the Heilong Jiang – Black Dragon River- the Chinese name for the Amur. The Amur River runs along the border between China and Russia. Heilongjiang contains China’s northernmost and easternmost points.
Slightly larger than Sweden at an area of 463,600 square km, Heilongjiang covers 60% of what was formerly Manchuria, the historical name given to what are now the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning. This region was the traditional home to the Buyeo, Mohe, Khitan, Jurchen, Manchu and other nomadic people who for millennia followed a largely unchanging life as fishers, hunters and herders. As such, literate civilization was slow to arrive in the area and its early history was poorly recorded. It is known that, between the 7th century and 10th century, large parts of Heilongjiang were ruled by the kingdom of Balhae, a mixed ethnic Korean and Mohe kingdom ruling northern Korea and Manchuria. Many scholars consider the Mohe to be the ancestors of the Jurchens and modern-day Manchus.
In the early 12th century the Jurchen people formed the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234), which went on to control parts of Northern China and Mongolia after a series of successful military campaigns that first led to their domination of Manchuria. After periods of waxing and waning dominance, Jurchen power again began to rise in the 1580s, when it took control of most of Manchuria founding the Later Jin Dynasty. In the mid-1600s, after Beijing was sacked by peasant rebels, the Jurchens, now called the Manchus, took advantage of the unrest to conquer all of China, forming the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) which was China’s last period of imperial reign.
To counter growing Russian influence in the region, by the 1850s, Manchu Qing leaders began allowing the establishment of Han farms on what was traditionally Manchu pastoral ground. By the early twentieth century, this policy of Han settlement led to the Han becoming Heilongjiang’s dominant ethnic group.
Japan replaced Russian influence in southern Manchuria as a result of its victory in the 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War. Most of the southern branch of the Chinese Eastern Railway was transferred from Russia to Japan. Manchuria was rich in mineral and coal reserves, and its soil is well-suited to soy and barley production. For pre–World War II Japan, Manchuria was a vital source of raw materials. By 1931, Japan had invaded Manchuria outright, declaring the independent state of Manchukuo with the deposed Qing emperor Puyi as puppet. Japan then used Manchukuo a base to invade the rest of China.
After the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the Soviet Union invaded Manchukuo as part of its declaration of war against Japan, but later ceded the ground to the Chinese Communists that fought against the Nationalists for control of the area during the Chinese Civil War. The Communists won, and Heilongjiang became the first province to be completely controlled by the Communists. Heilongjiang then acted as a Communist staging ground for the fight to control the rest of the country.
After the Sino-Soviet rift in 1960, several armed clashes along the Sino-Russian border ensued as the result of land disputes. Although military conflict subsided, the land dispute remained unresolved until 2005 when it was settled through agreements signed by China and Russia.
Heilongjiang has a population of over 38 million people. 95% of Heilongjiang’s residents are Han . Other ethnicities include the Manchus, Koreans, Mongols, Hui, Daur, Xibe, Oroqin, Hezhen and Russians. The Manchu form the largest minority group, and live primarily in southern Heilongjiang. Most have been culturally integrated into the Han majority and there is much intermarriage between the two groups. Over 50% of its population live in its major cities including Harbin, Daqing, Qiqihar, Mudanjiang, Jiamusi, Jixi, Shuangyashan, Hegang, Qitaihe, Yichun , Heihe. Harbin, Heilongjiang’s capital has over 10 million residents.
Heilongjiang has a GDP of approximately $245 billion dollars, and has seen rapid economic growth in recent years. Privatization of state owned industries has helped drive this growth, and private investment is encouraged. Agriculture continues to remain an important part of Heilongjiang’s economy. Important crops include sugar beets, soybeans, corn, wheat, rice, millet, sorghum, flax and sunflowers. Unlike most of China, farming in Heilongjiang is highly mechanized and requires little irrigation.
Due to its abundant grazing areas, Heilongjiang also raises large herds of cows and horses as well as some sheep, pigs and other livestock. It is one of China’s biggest diary centers. Heilongjiang is also a major timber producer, especially pine and larch lumber harvested from the Daxingan and Xiaoxingan Mountains. The Sungari River is an important freshwater fishery that is home to salmon and sturgeon among other fish. Aquaculture centered on Jingpo Lake, Lake Khanka, and the Five Lotus Lakes is also an important source of fish production.
Heilongjiang is a major manufacturing center which strongly leverages off its abundant mineral resources. Heilongjiang produces everything from motor vehicles, electrical and telecommunication equipment, generators, agricultural machinery, locomotives, building materials, chemicals and fertilizers to flax fabrics, beet sugar, dairy products, paper and beverages.
Lay of the Land
Heilongjiang’s plain is surrounded on the north, east and south by mountains including the the Greater Khingan Range, Lesser Khingan Range, Zhangguangcai Mountains, Laoye Mountains and Wanda Mountains. This hilly and mountainous area covers the remaining 70% of Heilongjiang’s land. Elevations of these mountains are generally are low, exceeding 1,000 meters mainly in its southeast and northwest.. Heilongjiang’s highest peak is 1690 meter Mount Datudingzi located in the south. Heilongjiang’s Greater Khingan Mountains hold one of China’s largest remaining areas of untouched forest.
Heilongjiang’s longest river, Amur or Heilongjiang River, runs along the Sino-Russian border for a distance of 1,900 km. In the frigid cold of its northern environment, the river begins icing over in mid-October, is solid ice by mid-November, and is not completely thawed until May. The Amur’s most important tributary is the Songhua River which flows through the heart of the province. The Ussuri River follows the Sino-Russian boundary on the east, flowing along a north-south valley between mountains. Through a tributary, it eventually links with Lake Khanka or Xingkai Hu, East Asia’s biggest freshwater lake. The lake is located on the border with Russia. Only about 25% falls within the province.
Winters are long and bitter, with its northern areas being subarctic. Summers are short but very warm. Temperatures can dip as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 44 Fahrenheit) and reach as high as 39 degrees Celsius (103 Fahrenheit).
Interesting Aspects for a Traveler
For skiers, Heilongjiang’s Yabuli Ski Resort – the training base for the Chinese ski team – offers a wide variety of terrain and a good four star lodge.
The city of Mudanjiang, in Heilongjiang’s northeast, is close to the 5000 year old Jingpo Hu Lake which is known for its highly picturesque reflections of the surrounding forest in its clear waters. In summer it is good for kayaking and hiking. Close by are the Diaoshuilou Waterfall-most spectacular during the spring runoff, and the Underground Forest – forest growing in the middle of volcanic craters.
The Wudalian Chi Nature Reserve, located in Heilongjiang’s northwest, is another opportunity to enjoy the provinces stunning landscapes. Formed by volcanic eruptions, the last of which occurred in 1720, the Reserve is filled with lava fields, rivers of basalt and pristine lakes.
Northeastern Heilongjiang is also home to several nature reserves established as sanctuaries to protect China’s endangered cranes including the Zhalong, Xinghai, Horqin and Momoge National Reserves. Within their protected areas, hundreds of birds can be spotted in addition to the (sometimes elusive) red-crowned crane, the white-naped crane, the Siberian Crane and the hooded crane.
At Heilongjiang’s northern tip is the town of Mohe; its Russian influence is very much present in its architecture. In June, the sun is visible 22 hours a day and the Northern lights can be seen. This is celebrated in Mohe’s Festival of Aurora Borelais. Further north still is the recreation village of Beijicun – translated as North Pole Village – situated on the bank of the Amur River separating China from Russia.