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[Opinion] China’s Songhua River

Posted November. 28, 2005 05:44,   


The Songhua River in China originates from the Changbai Mountains, where the Cheonji Lake of Mt. Baekdu originates. And Jilin’s development has been possible because of the Songhua River.

The name “Jilin” originates from jilin wula, the Chinese transcription of a Manchu term meaning "along the river." The Songhua River is the blessing and lifeline of Jilin.

China is proud of the great scenery of frost on trees along the Songhua River, created by the freezing cold of 40 degrees below zero in the winter. The glittering frost nestling on trees like white snow is cited as one of China’s four most beautiful vistas, along with the mountains and waters in Guilin, the Three Gorges along the Changjiang River, and the Stone Forest in Yunnan.

Harbin, the largest city on the Songhua River, means “where the fishing nets are dried” in the Manchu language. Just 100 years ago, it was a small and lonely fishing village. It was when Russia was granted railroad rights by the Qing Dynasty and built railroads that it began to develop into a city. Then, Russian royalists who fled their country, as the Russian Revolution erupted, arrived and stayed there. With this influx of Russians, the city began to grow into a big city. Its Ice Lantern Festival and Snow and Ice Festival, held during winter, attract tourists from around the world.

Thanks to the Songhua River, Jilin has grown into what it is today: one of the biggest industrial centers in China. The momentum for Jilin’s development into a major industrial center came when the Fengman Hydroelectric Power Plant was built in the 1930’s. Jilin has since developed into China’s biggest chemical industry hub, thanks to the river.

This time, however, the river has brought a disaster to the region in the form of a blast in a benzene factory. About 100 tones of benzene spilled into the river and caused a drinking water shortage in Harbin, 380 kilometers downriver from Jilin. In Harbin, some schools were closed and stores did not open.

Depending on how humans treat the river water, the river water could bring a calamity upon them.

The Songhua River runs northeastward, combines with the Amur River in Russia, and terminates in the Russian city of Kharbarovsk. That city has already declared a state of emergency.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing summoned the Russian ambassador to China and apologized. However, because the river water will freeze as the temperature drops in winter, the calamity of benzene leak is expected to be prolonged.

As observers watch the environmental disaster in China and the subsequent state of emergency in Russia, one cannot help but think what the response of Korea would be to a similar event in China, the world’s factory, which boasts an annual average growth rate of 9%. Environmental degradation in China is not a problem of China alone.

Kim Chung-sik, Editorial Writer, skim@donga.com