Tourism miracle in Chinese 'ice city' Harbin indicates Northeast China needs new ideas to rejuvenate
Published: Jan 07, 2024 04:35 PM
Tourists take photos in front of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Harbin, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, on January 4, 2024. Photo: VCG

Tourists take photos in front of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Harbin, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, on January 4, 2024. Photo: VCG


Chinese "ice city" Harbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, became the latest internet sensation, with its exquisite sculptures, the fairy-tale ice-snow world and an artificial moon attracting record numbers of tourists to the city and the region. 

The city has lured an overwhelming number of new fans, as many praise the city as a "big brother" that has shown utmost hospitality, sincerity and creativity this winter.

Observers said Harbin's example will produce positive impact on a new round of comprehensive revitalization in Northeast China, by providing a strong boost to the development of modern services including tourism, creative cultural products and local produce delivery. They said the region's current tourism momentum, if sustained, will greatly tap the region's economic potential by attracting more investment.

In the beginning of 2024, Harbin, unexpectedly, became the first city attracting widespread social media buzz in China. Tourists from across the country, such as from southern China like Guangdong and Hainan provinces, rushed to the "ice city" to experience local cultural traditions, braving cold temperatures at around - 10 C most of the time.

Tourism miracle

During the three-day New Year's Day holidays, from December 30 to January 1, Harbin welcomed more than 3 million tourists, generating tourism revenue of about 5.91 billion yuan ($832 million), which set a new record high.

The International Ice and Snow Festival kicked off on Friday in Harbin, marking the start of the peak season for winter tourism. Video footages of tourists in puffer hats and gloves dancing to music in Harbin posted by China Media Group attracted nearly 100 million views on Sina Weibo as of Saturday afternoon.

Many netizens praised Harbin's tourism boom as a miracle. "Harbin is not only a travel destination but a new model that reflects national solidarity," a Sina Weibo user posted on Friday.

Apart from the city's unique tourism offering, local government's swift and thoughtful response and residents' warmth have also been important contributors, Wang Zhuo, deputy director of the China Tourism Marketing Association told the Global Times on Friday.

Arriving in Harbin, tourists were welcomed with live performances at the airport, and temporary dressing rooms lined up for them to change into warmer clothing. In addition, many local residents voluntarily offer free car ride for arriving tourists, while local vendors offer free samples of special local products like Wuchang rice for free.

Many overseas media outlets have reported on Harbin's tourism boom, for example, a column in the South China Morning Post noted that Harbin's success story offers valuable lessons for Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to emulate.

Wang said Harbin's experience reflects the rich cultural accumulation and high-quality services in the highly industrialized region of China.

The phenomenon will inspire other cities in Northeast China, and thereby holds important meaning for the development of tourism industry in the region and the whole nation, as well as the recovery of consumer spending, Wang said.

According to data from, bookings for hospitality and tickets in the city of Qiqihar in Heilongjiang via the platform surged by 160.2 percent year-on-year during the New Year Day holidays, while entertainment income jumped by 866.5 percent year-on-year.

Harbin's success has also thrilled investors, with A-shares related to the revitalization of Northeast China reporting a rapid climb in prices. Notably, share prices of Changbai Mountain Tourism Co, which is based in Northeast China's Jilin Province, surged more than 51 percent in the past five trading days.

Regional revitalization

The tourism boom in Harbin will have a positive impact on a new round of the comprehensive revitalization in Northeast China and elsewhere as it's expected to drive the development of modern services including creative gifts, online booking and express delivery, while creating more opportunities for the manufacturing industry, cross-border trade and other sectors, Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday.

A key meeting held in September 2023 in Heilongjiang stressed the need to "write a new chapter" in striving for the full revitalization of Northeast China. It said the region is now facing great opportunities, given its rich resources, solid industrial foundations, favorable location and significant development potential.

Northeast China witnessed the birth of the country's first bucket of molten steel, the first-generation jet fighter and the country's first car. With its solid industrial foundation, the region also produced many of the key components used for rockets, satellites and many other large-scale machines like hydropower generators. China's first domestically-built aircraft carrier set out from the region too. At the same time, vast and fertile farmland there provides strong support for the country's food security.

Northeast China should embrace new ways of thinking, enhance its innovation capacity, upgrade key industries and try to retain talent in order to gradually recover the economy in Northeast China and achieve full revitalization at an earlier date, according to Da.

Local governments in Northeast China should explore new driving forces such as winter tourism so as to create stronger links between upstream and downstream industries, and forge a new path for innovation and the revival of the northeast, Da said.

He said the integrated development of tourism in Northeast China will have a demonstration effect on the integrated development of other industries in the region. In addition, the region needs to encourage further opening up, institutional innovation and bold thinking to boost "dual circulation".

In 2023, the three provinces in China's northeastern region stepped up efforts to boost high-quality development and sustained revitalization. In the first three quarters, Northeast China's Jilin Province saw its GDP grow  by 5.8 percent on a yearly basis, whereas Liaoning Province's GDP up by 5.3 percent year-on-year.

Last year, a number of foreign-funded projects embarked on business exploration in Northeast China. A mega China-Saudi Arabia chemical project with total investment of 83.7 billion yuan commenced construction in Panjin, Liaoning in March 2023. In China's automobile hub of Changchun, Jilin Province, German auto giant Audi and Chinese automaker FAW's new energy vehicle project is making steady progress, local media reported.

"Now, my eyes brim with warm excited tears. Harbin city let me know revitalization of Northeast China is never a slogan, but down-to-earth efforts are making it become true," a netizen posted on Sina Weibo on Saturday.