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Heilongjiang (黑龙江省 Hēilóngjiāng Shěng) is a province in northeastern China. The name Heilongjiang, which literally means Black Dragon River, is the Chinese name of Amur river that forms the border with Far Eastern Russia. This area of China has traditionally been considered the far north and one of the border regions of China. For most of history the area was populated by different nomadic groups like Mongolians and Manchurians. During the Qing dynasty, the Manchu government tried to control the relocation of Han Chinese to the area in order to maintain there homeland but after the fall of the Qing government restrictions on immigration to Heilongjiang were lifted and the Han Chinese flooded the area eventually becoming the dominant group. Also after the Russian Revolution many White Russians fleeing Russia set up their new homes in Heilongjiang.
The Japanese invaded Heilongjiang and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo, which Heilongjiang made of up the majority of the territory. During the war the Japanese government set up the headquarters for the brutal Unit 731 in the suburbs of Harbin. This group committed human testing on over 10,000 victims and released diseases and toxins into towns in order to see how it would spread. No one knows the complete death toll but these actions are considered a crime against humanity and is one of the darker chapters in world history.
After the war the Soviets handed control over to the Communist and Heilongjiang was one of the first provinces to be completely controlled by the Communists. In recent years the economy of the area has grown. Tourism to most of the province is still very underdeveloped and even in Harbin finding an English speaker might be hard. Other than during the Harbin Ice Festival foreign tourists are rarely seen. That being said Heilongjiang has large wilderness areas and untouched beauty that anyone can enjoy.
China has three "Golden Week" holidays per year. People get a mandatory two or three days off work for each holiday, and workers' companies can grant them the rest of the week off, making each holiday a total of 7 days. As you can imagine, having almost 1.4 billion people with the same days off can make travelling at these times arduous to say the least.
Travelling during the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is incredibly difficult. Chinese New Year is China's Christmas, so the millions of migrant workers and students flood back to their home towns. Everybody else takes the opportunity to spend their hong bao (gifts of money traditionally given at CNY) and go travelling. Most of the time, since you are only allowed to purchase train tickets 6 days in advance and must be present in the city of origin, sometimes only standing room tickets are available. Be aware! The Spring Festival is undoubtedly the busiest time for the Chinese transportation system. Flying will avoid the crowded trains, but book early and expect to pay higher prices. All the main tourist attractions will be crawling with tourists (worse than usual), so unless you like crowds, it's best to avoid it altogether.
Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes each year. The Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday is 7 days long and usually starts on New Year's Eve.
The two other national holidays are October 1st, National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China and May 1st, which is International Labor Day. Almost all Chinese get the two holidays off and many take the opportunity to travel. If you want to avoid the crowds, fly, but it should get a lot less busy towards the end of the week.
Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is the main event, held in Harbin. Usually starting in the first week of January, it lasts for one month (or until it all melts). Displays an impressive array of ice sculptures, some as big as 4 storey buildings! Ice is taken from the frozen over Songhua river. The main event takes place in Zhaolin park next to the river. The best way to get there is by taxi, which should take 20 minutes from the city center. Well worth a visit just to marvel at the industriousness and skill of the ice sculptors. Be prepared for the cold as the only shelter from the cold are cafes, which charge RMB20 for a small cup of chinese tea.
Winter here can be bitterly cold, averaging -10 °C to -15 °C during the day from December to February with nights averaging between -20 and -25 °C, dropping below -30 °C during some nights. In summer, temperatures rise to around 24 to 27 °C on average from June to August but can hit well over 30 °C as well. Late spring and early autumn are great times for a visit. Most of the rain falls in the warmer summer, winters are relatively dry.
The main gateway by air is Harbin Taiping International Airport (HRB) which serves many destinations in China. China Southern Airlines has many flights, including to Hangzhou, Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Xi'an, Qingdao and Beijing. Flights by China Southern also service Vladivostok, Seoul, Osaka and Taipei.
Other domestic and international cities with connections to Harbin, with a range of other airlines, include Guangzhou, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Nanjing, Khabarovsk and Yakutsk.
Harbin is a railway hub of Heilongjiang, with five major railways converging here. There are regular trains to Beijing and Vladivostok in Russia. Many other mainly Chinese destinations are served as well, with connection onward to Mongolia and Moscow.
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