By David Ferguson
During the Japanese occupation in the 1940s, forced labor was used to dam the Songhua River above Jilin City in Jilin Province and build a hydro-electric power station. When the Chinese drove the Japanese out they had to fight hard, bravely, and at considerable cost to prevent the invaders from blowing up the dam and destroying the city. A statue in the center of Jilin commemorates their fight, and the hydro-electric station provides power to the city to this day.
Dusk over the Songhua River in Jilin City [Jilin City Government]
In winter the Songhua Lake freezes to a depth of over a meter. You can drive a car on the ice, with a certain degree of risk. A few years ago a group of local dignitaries were proceeding across the ice in a fleet of limousines when they went through and were drowned. Last year, a similar accident happened on the lake in Jingyuetan Park near the new golf club in Changchun, when a 4x4 went through the ice and its occupants died. A friend once let me drive his car on the Songhua Lake. Unaware of these past incidents, I assumed it was perfectly safe as I skidded and slewed my way for miles around the lake.
In the city the lakes freeze over as well. Opposite our apartment on the banks of the river there is a big park with two substantial bodies of water. My first winter in Jilin, when the cold had fully set in and the lakes had frozen to a depth of a couple of feet, I watched one morning as a group of men made their way onto the ice armed with a huge circular saw.
They began to cut the ice into blocks the size of a large suitcase, which they stacked by the side of a small truck they had brought. I was baffled as to what they were up to – was this in preparation for some kind of ice sculpture for the New Year celebrations?