Minneapolis Sister Cities Day celebration includes Harbin, China

By Greg Hugh, staff writer

The City of Minneapolis celebrated Sister Cities Day  on July 14 with an event that was  free and open to the public at the Nicollet Pavilion.

Sister Cities is an international program started by President Dwight Eisenhower to foster people-to-people citizen diplomacy. Sister Cities promotes peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation — one individual, one community at a time. 

The international organization focuses on creating and strengthening partnerships between communities around four key themes:

·         Sustainability and economic development

·         Arts and culture

·         Youth and education

·         Humanitarian assistance

Sister Cities International is a leader for local community development and volunteer action. The Minneapolis Sister Cities program was established in 1961 with the signing of the first Sister City agreement between Minneapolis and Santiago, Chile. Since then Minneapolis has forged valuable relationships with 10 cities across the globe, adding Harbin, China in 1992.

A sub-provincial city and the capital of the Heilongjiang Province in northeast China, Harbin is the 10th largest city in China. Nicknamed “The Pearl on the Swan’s Neck (because the province's swan shape) or “Ice City” (for its long and cold winters). Harbin's long history has led it to be known as the versatile center of northeastern China. Originally settled as Pokai in the late Stone Age (2200 B.C.), Harbin became closely tied with Russia in 1898 as construction began on the Chinese Eastern Railway (KVZhD), an extension of the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vladivostock. Following the defeat of the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), 16 countries formed close ties with the city.  These countries established consulates and set up hundreds of industrial, commercial, and banking companies in Harbin.  In the early 1900s, Harbin also established its own businesses in brewing, food and textile industries.  After the Revolution, as the Russian civil war broke out (1917-1923), Harbin became the largest Russian enclave outside of Russia.  As a result of this wave of immigration, Harbin also is known as the “Gateway” to Russian trade.  In February of 1932, Japanese troops began an occupation of Harbin and in 1935, the Soviet Union sold the railway (KVZhD) to the Japanese.  However, in 1945 the Soviet Army retook the city.  Finally, in April 1946, Harbin’s administration was transferred by the Soviets to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Harbin was officially designated a sub-provincial city on Aug. 11, 1999. 



Within the region, cities like Dalian and Shanyang are considered the region’s shipping and financial centers respectively; but Harbin is striving to become the trade and shopping center of the region. Design houses such as Missoni, Etro, Salvatore Ferragamo, Versace, Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton, Armani Collezioni, Emperio Armani, and Christian Dior have already set up shops there. This is because Harbin has an abundance of natural resources, a good transport system, and a large labor force.  In 2008, Harbin’s GDP reached 286.82 billion RMB, which was an increase of 13.2 percent over the previous year.  The total value for imports and exports by the end of 2008 was $3.64 billion USD.  Not only is Harbin known for its commercial goods, the soil within the city (called “black earth”) is said to be the most nutrient-rich in all of China.  This is why Harbin is China’s base for grain production and the ideal location for agricultural businesses. Industries currently established in Harbin include: light industry, textile, medicine, foodstuff, automobile, metallurgy, electronics, building materials and chemicals.  Two key enterprises are the Harbin Power Equipment Group Company and Northeast Light Alloy Processing Factory.  Also, hydro and thermal power equipment manufactured within Harbin make up for one-third of the total installed capacity in China.  Harbin holds the Harbin Trade and Economic Fair, which attracts more than 1.3 million exhibitors and visitors annually, resulting in contracts in excess of US$90 billion. 


Harbin Trivia

* In 1920 the Harbin Institute of Technology was founded. The Institute later developed into an important research university and contributed to the invention China’s first analog computer, the first chess computer, and the first arc-welding robot.

* Also in 1920, Harbin was considered the fashion capital of China as new designs from Paris and Moscow reached there first before continuing onto Shanghai.

* Since 1961 the biennial Harbin Summer Music Concert has hosted international artists and choirs for 10 days in the first weeks of August. 

* The city has maintained a strong Russian presence from 1898 to the present, beginning with the construction of the extension of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

* Harbin also had a very large Jewish settlement around the 1920s. The parents of former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, were born there.  In 2004 Olmert went to Harbin to visit the grave of his grandfather.

* As an outpost on the Trans-Siberian Railway, Harbin cuisine is a combination of Chinese and Russian style dishes, in addition to an eclectic array of American style and Japanese restaurants.

* Because of its Russian and European influenced architecture, Harbin is sometimes referred to as the "Oriental St. Petersburg."  It is now a center for trade between China and the Russian Federation.

* Since 1985 the city has annually hosted the elaborate Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. It is one of the world’s four largest ice and snow festivals, featuring winter swimming, alpine skiing, construction of illuminated full-sized buildings made from ice blocks, and snow-carving and ice lanterns.


Editor’s Note:  Resources for this article included the City of Minneapolis website and the US-China Peoples Friendship Association – Minnesota Chapter.

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