Global Times: Harbin tourism boom spurs ethnic unity

BEIJING, Jan. 16, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — China’s “ice city” Harbin in Northeast Heilongjiang Province has definitely become a tourism sensation this winter, attracting millions of domestic and international travelers. Beyond the lure of ice and snow tourism, the lesser-known diversity and rich cultures of local ethnic minority groups have also been brought under the spotlight during the city’s staggering tourism boom. 

At the tourist-packed Central Street, a pedestrian street famous for its Western architectures during different eras in downtown Harbin, a group of Aoluguya Ewenki people dressed in their ethnic regalia with a herd of seven reindeer are swarmed by tourists who excitedly take photos and videos as the group sing traditional folk songs while walking down the street.

The Aoluguya Ewenki is the only ethnic group in China that raise reindeer. According to media reports, sometimes people confuse the Ewenki people for the Oroqen people, one of the smallest ethnic groups in China, as both used to be nomadic and hunted in forests. The Aoluguya Ewenki decided to take advantage of the opportunity of Harbin’s booming tourism sector to showcase their unique culture and identity to visitors from all over the country.  

Since the Aoluguya Ewenki people’s public appearance, more and more local ethnic minority groups have made their public debuts, with some from other parts of the nation even journeying to Harbin. “If you want to see China’s rich multi-ethnic culture, you should come to Harbin now,” netizens state encouragingly on Douyin (China’s TikTok).

Local diversity

Heilongjiang has a rich history and diverse cultures with 10 ethnic minority groups having called the region home for generations.

The Hezhes are one of the smallest ethnic minority groups in China, and less than a century ago, their population was so small that they were on the verge of disappearing. Now the group has a population of more than 5,000. They mainly subsisted on hunting and fishing in the past in the Sanjiang Plain and are celebrated for their hospitality and traditional practices, such as offering grilled rare fish to guests and creating ornaments from fish skin and bones.

A group of Hezhe people also came to Harbin, introducing their culture to the public. “We are from Raohe county, Shuangyashan. The well-known folk song, ‘Chanty of Wusili’ is adapted from a Hezhe folk song,” said Xu Jingwen, a young Hezhe woman, dressed in a fish-skin coat.   

Following their debut in Harbin, Xu’s social media account attracted many followers. As of the time of publication, her Douyin account had 275,000 followers. She has since published more videos to introduce the culture and history of Hezhe people, tourism and local agricultural products in Raohe. 

With the surging public enthusiasm toward local ethnic minority groups, the Heilongjiang Ethnic Museum in Harbin has inadvertently attracted more visitors as well. A family visiting Harbin from Tianjin Municipality missed the performance of various ethnic minority groups when they visited the Central Street. They decided to take their child to learn more about their unique culture and history at the museum instead.

Among the visitors were Harbin’s own local residents. “I live nearby. Seeing the ethnic minority groups dressed in their traditional clothes on the news reminded me to come here and see if there’s any new exhibition,” said a local resident.

“The tourism boom in Harbin has attracted nationwide and even global attention. Taking this opportunity to showcase our rich tourism resources as well as our diverse culture should be encouraged. It will enhance the public’s knowledge of these areas where ethnic minority groups reside in Heilongjiang, and contribute to local tourism as well,” Jiang Yihai, a vice chairman of the Heilongjiang Province Tourism Association and vice chairman of the Heilongjiang Ski Association, told the Global Times.

Nationwide celebration

South China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is the autonomous region with the largest population of ethnic minorities in China, which accounts for 37.6 percent of the region’s permanent population. This southern region and Harbin have bonded significantly because of the northernmost capital’s tourism boom.

It started with 11 preschoolers from Guangxi who toured Harbin. To express gratitude for the great care and hospitality the children received, Guangxi sent nearly 200 tons of fresh tangerines to Harbin as a thank-you gift, to which Harbin sent back more gifts to Guangxi. Aside from several rounds of “gift exchanges,” Guangxi announced the offer of free or low-priced admission to tourists from Heilongjiang at some local tourist spots.

A video showing a tourist group from Guangxi singing a Zhuang folk song together upon arrival in Harbin went viral online, receiving more than 43,000 likes and thousands of comments. “We might as well host the Spring Festival Gala in Harbin this year,” read a comment pointing to the various performances by different ethnic minority groups brought to Harbin.

“We were very touched by the love and care received by our ‘little sugar tangerines’ from Guangxi, and the comments from netizens in Harbin were very heartwarming. During our long flight to Harbin, we practiced a Zhuang folk song to express our happiness at visiting Harbin. I am very moved by the exchanges of love between the North and South and among different ethnic groups, sparked by the tourism boom in Harbin. I hope to see such exchanges blossom across every corner of our nation,” Lai Ziyin, a member of the group, told the Global Times on Sunday.

As the friendship exchange craze sweeps across the country, more and more ethnic minority groups are traveling to Harbin from different regions across the country.

“It warms my heart to see the tourism boom in Harbin and how it has turned into a celebration of ethnic unity across China. I appreciate the opportunity to introduce the diverse ethnic culture of my hometown here in Harbin and welcome everyone to visit as well,” Zeden Drolma from Lixian county, Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, told the Global Times.