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Russian history alive at Harbin library

By Tian Xuefei, Zhou Huiying and Yang Cheng (China Daily)

11:19, March 23, 2013

For Russian immigrant with given name as Coliya, the Heilongjiang Provincial Library in Harbin was nostalgic place that gave him a connection with his home and mother tongue.

"It is a place I could trust. The books are mingled with my love for my country and language," he said as he prepared to move to Australia for health reasons.

Before leaving he donated 30 more Russian books to the library.

In the Heilongjiang capital, many Russians like Coliya frequent the library, a place bridging cultures and countries.

The library's Russia Document and Information Center has some 82,000 documents and books in Russian. It is the world's 13th-largest such repository.

Among the 82,000 items are 5,000 historical documents recording the history of Russian immigrants to the province, many of whom followed the Trans-Siberia Railroad after the Russian Revolution.

Jiao Fangmei, deputy director of the information department at the library, said the center is often a place of pilgrimage for Russian descendants seeking to find out more about their family roots.

The center also has 5,000 books that predate the 1917 revolution. The oldest volume, which dates back to 1800, has "significant research and historical value", she said.

The center also has 800 Russian contemporary magazines and newspapers.

Russians flocked to Heilongjiang starting in 1897 as the fabled railway - known as Zhongdong in Chinese - made its way to Vladivostok, bringing with them documents, books and materials covering politics, economics, culture, literature, geology and history.

The Russian library opened in 1962, the year the Soviet Union's Consulate in Harbin closed as librarians rescued documents and other materials that were on their way to paper recycling plants.

In 2007, China Year was held in Russia, when the document and information center was also established as part of events that included donations, purchases and exchange programs for cross-cultural materials.

Sino-Russian book exchanges have since grown, said Jiao.

In 2010, the Russia Far East State Research Library donated 41 original finely printed and valuable books. The Heilongjiang Library reciprocated with books about China and the province.

Xia Julan, a researcher at the library, said readers from around the world can now find the books and materials after they went online with the establishment of a database at the library.

"Foreign readers are allowed to read them here after a check of their visas," Xia said.

Jin Meiling, a graduate student at the Russia Language and Literature Department of Peking University, said she found treasure trove of books at the center in Harbin.

"Compared with the library at Peking University, it has an abundance of modern Russian books," Jin said. "It offers me a top learning environment and helps promote more Sino-Russian exchanges."

Jin has such strong affection for Russian literature she paid a visit to the hometown of renowned author Leo Tolstoy last year.

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