Fighting to preserve Harbin’s Russian legacy – China’s latest society and culture news

Society & Culture

A summary of the top news in Chinese society and culture for June 5, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina news roundup "South China Sea: Does China have ‘contempt for other nations’ interests’ or is the U.S. ‘irresponsible’?"

FILE PHOTO: Baidu Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Robin Li speaks in Wuzhen town of Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China, December 17, 2015. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

In Harbin, a northeastern Chinese city that was an outpost of imperial Russia in the late 19th century, architecture from the colonial period is under constant threat of demolition by the local government to make room for roads and high-rises. According to the New York Times (paywall), a group of local preservationists have banded together, hoping to convince the city government to protect the physical remains of the city built by Russians.

At the center of this ongoing preservation battle is Jihong Bridge 霁虹桥, an iconic local landmark built by Russian engineers in 1926. It was classified in 2013 as an “immovable cultural relic” by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, which means that any changes regarding the bridge need to be approved by the central government. Last year, the local government’s decision to dismantle the bridge to make way for a high-speed rail line met with strong resistance from local communities and rejection from the central government. As a result, the new plan kept the bridge in its original location “but on a longer and higher span to accommodate the new rail line.”

Online, opinions are divided as to whether historic architecture is worth preserving at the cost of public inconvenience. Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website, featured a thread (in Chinese) on this debate, with one commenter writing, “As a Harbin local, I have deep feelings about Jihong Bridge. But since traffic in Harbin is unbearably terrible, I agree with any suggestions that can make traffic better, even tearing down Jihong Bridge.”