China’s version of Canada or Scandinavia, Heilongjiang sits in the icy north of the country, where the allure of such a chilling climate includes not only unbeatable ice festivals and some of the nation’s best skiing, but also a chilled out vibe that will further remind you of those nice folks up in Canada (so long as you’ve been there before, eh?).
Heilongjiang literally means the Black Dragon River, the Chinese name for the Amur River that snakes along the border between China and Russia. It’s from within this province that it’s possible to see Eastern European Slavic design mingling with Chinese architecture. Heilongjiang is also the jumping off point for trips into Russia and offers up the opportunity to stand right on the tip top of the country in Mohe, the Middle Kingdom’s northernmost village.
Beyond city and village walls, Heilongjiang offers up some extremely rugged and unique scenery, from Jurassic worlds of dormant volcanoes and cooled lava fields to tundra, frozen forests, immaculate lakes and fantastic views of the Northern Lights. The popularity of Heilongjiang is on the rise, and this arctic wonderland is one place that’s more than worth piling on the layers for a most unforgettable visit.
As part of China’s northern frontier, Heilongjiang was long the country’s link with Russia. This region was originally Manchuria, and when the Manchurian Qing Dynasty took power in 1644 it was incorporated into the empire. Later, in 1858 and 1860, the Qing were forced to concede all territory beyond the Black Dragon River. Despite this and other border disputes, China and Russia enjoyed strong relations for many years through this northern area of contact. When Russian workers helped build a railroad between Harbin and Vladivostok in 1897, it not only improved trade but also encouraged the migration of a Russian population to the capital that reached more than 100,000 by the 1920s.
During the Sino-Japanese War, Manchuria and Heilongjiang fell under Japanese occupation from 1931 to 1945, part of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. Later, when the Chinese Communists took control, Russian and Chinese relations began a stage of decline called the Sino-Soviet Split, hitting their iciest in March of 1969 when the seven month Sino-Soviet Border Conflict began on Zhenbao Island along the Heilongjiang-Russia border. Border discussions between the two nations finally wrapped up nearly 40 years later when a boundary was finally agreed upon in 2008.