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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 08:49 GMT
China's ice capital of Harbin
Saint Sophia Russian Orthodox Church, Harbin - archive picture
Central Harbin retains its international feel
Harbin, the Chinese city at the centre of a health scare following the polluting of the river Songhua, is better known for ice than water.

Each winter, the snow-bound city hosts an ice festival which draws tourists from across Asia.

Elaborate ice sculptures - some the size of a house - depict everything from China's latest rocket launch to international symbols like the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben.

This international feel extends throughout the city, which owes its development over the last century to Russian financiers and emigres as much as more recent Chinese rule.

The city's most famous tourist landmark is a Russian Orthodox church, and it is often referred to as the Oriental St Petersburg.

The modern city took root from 1898 as a staging post on a Russian-built railway, but it developed rapidly as an industrial and commercial centre. After the Russian revolution in 1918 it became an important centre for fleeing White Russians.

After a spell under Japanese control, it was handed back to China in 1946, becoming the capital of the country's most northerly province of Heilongjiang.

In the last 20 years, as China's economic growth has gathered steam, Harbin has developed rapidly - in step with other Chinese cities.

The European-style buildings on Central Street and around Hongbo Square are now dwarfed by modern skyscrapers and office blocks, and the town's population - estimated at just over two million in 1980 - is now 3.8 million.

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