Harbin, China’s “ice city,” has emerged as a captivating destination for travellers this winter, drawing in local and international visitors, Global Times reported. While the city’s snow and ice tourism are undoubtedly a major draw, the rich cultural tapestry and diverse heritage of the local ethnic minority groups have also taken centre stage amidst the city’s remarkable tourism surge.
Amidst the bustling Central Street, a renowned pedestrian thoroughfare in downtown Harbin celebrated for its eclectic array of Western architectural styles from different historical periods, a spectacle unfolds. Here, a gathering of Aoluguya Ewenki individuals, adorned in their traditional ethnic attire, accompanied by a retinue of seven majestic reindeer, captivates the tourist throngs. Eager visitors eagerly capture the scene, recording the Ewenki’s melodic rendition of age-old folk tunes as they gracefully traverse the street.
The Aoluguya Ewenki community is the sole ethnic group in China renowned for their reindeer husbandry. At times, the Ewenki people are erroneously conflated with the Oroqen people, one of China’s most diminutive ethnic enclaves, owing to their historical nomadic lifestyles and shared heritage of forest hunting.
Seizing the opportune moment presented by Harbin’s burgeoning tourism sector, the Aoluguya Ewenki have chosen to showcase their distinctive cultural heritage and individuality to a broad spectrum of visitors hailing from various corners of the nation.
In the wake of the Aoluguya Ewenki’s prominent public appearances, an increasing number of local ethnic minority groups have made their debuts in the public eye, with representatives from other regions of the country making the pilgrimage to Harbin. Enthusiastic netizens on Douyin (China’s TikTok) have fervently extolled, “If you want to see China’s rich multi-ethnic culture, you should come to Harbin now.”
Heilongjiang Ethnic Groups
The northeastern Heilongjiang Province, home to Harbin, boasts a storied past and a tapestry of cultures, with ten ethnic minority groups having resided in the region for generations.
Among these groups, the Hezhes stand as one of the most diminutive ethnic minorities in China. Less than a century ago, their population teetered on the brink of extinction. Today, however, their numbers exceed 5,000. Historically reliant on hunting and fishing in the Sanjiang Plain, they are esteemed for their warm hospitality and adherence to age-old customs, such as presenting grilled rare fish to guests and fashioning adornments from fish skin and bones.
A contingent of Hezhe individuals has also ventured to Harbin, imparting their cultural heritage to the public. “We hail from Raohe county, Shuangyashan. The renowned folk ballad, ‘Chanty of Wusili,’ finds its origins in a Hezhe folk melody,” remarked Xu Jingwen, a youthful Hezhe woman garbed in a fish-skin cloak.
After their introduction in Harbin, Xu’s social media presence garnered a sizable following. At the time of this report, her Douyin account had amassed 275,000 followers. She has since disseminated additional videos to illuminate the culture and history of the Hezhe people, tourism, and local agricultural offerings in Raohe.
The surge in tourism in Harbin has garnered attention on a national and even global scale. The local government took the opportunity to exhibit the region’s abundant tourism resources and diverse culture. This initiative will not only enrich public awareness of the areas where ethnic minority groups in Heilongjiang reside but also bolster the local tourism sector.