Harbin itself does not have a long history as a city unlike most other Chinese cities. The area had fishing villages until the Russians started to build a railroad into this area in 1897. The Russians wanted a shortcut through this area. In 1896, the Qing Empire granted a construction concession to Russia to construct the Chinese Eastern Railway in northern Inner Manchuria. Then the Russians built a town to house the personnel who were helping to build the railroad. When the railroad was opened in 1901, railroad personnel lived in the town. The residents included many Russian Jews who escaped to this area during the Russian pogroms. After that, many thousands of other Jews settled there, and they took a leading role in building the new city’s buildings, businesses and schools. A record shows that Harbin had a total of about 70,000 people about the year 1913 who were mostly Russian, but many people of dozens of other nationalities lived there as well. During the 1910s and 1920s, about 150,000 Russians moved there to escape from Russia, and there was an attempt by White Russians to make the city a base in the eastern area of Russia. Thousands of Jews and other people moved there to escape the Fascists in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s.
The hundreds of thousands of Europeans who settled there left for various reasons during the 1930s, during the Japanese invasion, and afterwards. Japanese troops occupied Harbin in 1932, and the former Soviet Union sold the Chinese Eastern Railway to the Japanese. There was an exodus of Russians to the former Soviet Union and other places. During an occupation of Harbin by the Soviet Army from August 1945 to April 1946, thousands of Russians who fled the former Soviet Union were forced back. Other Russians and the Europeans who lived there moved back to their own countries or to the USA, Australia, Brazil or Israel.
- At St. Sofia Orthodox Church, visitors can view some precious old photos of Harbin's past.
- At Heilongjiang Provincial Museum, visitors can see lots of relics of Harbin history.