Heilongjiang in Mandarin and called the Amur River by the Russians, this river borders China and Russia at its easternmost borders for 1,100 miles. Its length totals 2,744 miles, the eighth longest in the world. In winter the river freezes over as the entire area plunges into frigid temperatures of below -20F. It serves as a road in the winter and a canal in summer.

The area was first settled by Russians in the 1800's, thanks to the extremely fertile delta that resulted at the mouth of the river, at the Amur River Valley The Chinese arrived later, settling on the other side of the bank, the Black Dragon Valley. Geographically, the two places are essentially the same, but they have had very different times in history. Stalin had plenty of gulag prisons here, and Heilongjiang used to be a place where exiles used to go in China.

At the mouth of the river are two cities, the Chinese city called Heihe, the Russian Blagoveshchensk. In the 1900's Russian troops fired across the river, which seperates the cities by a mere 900 yards, and slaughtered hundreds of Boxer rebels gathered at the bank to protest the Russian imperialist holdings in China. During the 1960's and 1970's, at the height of the Sino-Russian tension, Chinese soldiers and civilians often gathered at the bank to jeer at the Russians across the river, and vice-versa. At the time, China was suffering from economic paralysis, while the Russian town was a fairly city, by frontier standards.

With the collapse of Russian communism, Blagoveshchensk fell into bad times, and is now a dusty shell of the city it used to be. On the other hand, Heihe is now a bustling Chinese port, riding on the wave of economic freedoms. Now the Russians take the ferry to sell their goods to the Chinese. Authorities on both sides agreed to build a bridge to make trade easier, and a 1997 visit by Boris Yeltsin eased tensions.

Recent investments by foreign companies to mine the gold and oil in the region has greatly increased the living standards of the people in the region. Northeast China is one of its largest industrial areas now. This area will be of great geopolitical interest to the world if more oil is discovered.

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