Harbin MapHarbin (哈尔滨) (also seen as Ha’rbin or Haerbin) is the capital of Heilongjiang Province in Northeast China. Harbin hosts the Snow and Ice Festivals each winter. Historically, the city has had a lot of Russian influence, in particular after the Russian Civil War of 1918, when White (Monarchist) refugees escaped the newly formed Soviet Union. The influence remains clearly visible in the building styles and foods. The city was founded in 1897 as a camp for Russian engineers surveying the Trans-Siberian Railway. Labor demands brought in a collection of outcasts from across Russia, Poland and even from within Manchuria. The city eventually was captured by the Japanese during World War II and later captured by the Chinese in 1946. Once nothing more than a Russian-built outpost of the railway, Harbin has managed to become a major player in her own right as well as capital of Heilongjiang Province.

Northeastern China was originally built up as an industrial center using pre-existing Soviet and Japanese factories. By the 1980s these outdated and inefficient factories could not keep up. In November 2005 there was a major benzyne chemical pollution spill on the Songhua river stretching over 80 km and reached China–Russia border, leading to a shutdown of Harbin’s water supply for months, forcing donations of bottled water to be trucked into Harbin from all over China (we donated 800 large bottles of water).

Climate

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. high
°C (°F)
−12.5
(9.5)
−7.2
(19)
2.3
(36.1)
13.7
(56.7)
21.3
(70.3)
26.1
(79)
27.9
(82.2)
26.3
(79.3)
20.7
(69.3)
11.7
(53.1)
−0.1
(31.8)
−9.4
(15.1)
Avg. low
°C (°F)
−24.1
(−11.4)
−19.8
(−3.6)
−9.7
(14.5)
0.4
(32.7)
7.9
(46.2)
14.5
(58.1)
18.3
(64.9)
16.2
(61.2)
8.7
(47.7)
0.1
(32.2)
−10.1
(13.8)
−19.8
(−3.6)
Avg. rain
mm (inches)
3.4
(0.13)
5.3
(0.20)
9.7
(0.38)
18.4
(0.72)
40.4
(1.59)
84.4
(3.32)
142.7
(5.61)
121.2
(4.77)
57.6
(2.26)
25.9
(1.02)
9.6
(0.37)
5.8
(0.22)

Harbin is infamous for its very cold winters — it is at the same latitude as Montreal, and winter temperatures as low as -38°C (-36°F) with a few weeks reaching low 30s, while parts of winter averages a chilly -17°C (°1F) have been recorded. Bring more clothes than you will think you will need so that you can layer.  The winter can become dreary if you are a long-term resident, as the entire city uses coal for heat the air quality rapidly decreases during these months.

Harbin can be a great place to visit in the summer. The weather is cool and it seems to be perpetually breezy, and most of Harbin’s streets are lined with trees. Because the city is so cold all winter, life almost explodes and people crowd the streets until late at night eating kabobs, playing poker, and drinking Hapi (Harbin Beer). This is a great escape from the heat of Beijing. A trip up to the border regions this time of year would be nice as well.