A new tourist-orientated Russian-style village in Harbin, complete with Russian staff, is helping tighten links with that country.
Harbin, one of the largest cities in Northeast China is proving to be a bridge between the two and plays a host to more and more Russians.
The recent arrival of more than 100 Russians at one time is rather a rare spectacle for local residents.
They were invited to be the residents of the Russian-style village which opened to visitors of Sun Island in Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province, which shares a 3,000-kilometre border with Russia.
Singers, dancers and painters made up the majority of them, mainly from Vladivostok and Khabarovsk areas in the Far East Russia.
The village is operated by Jianglong Group, a local Chinese company focusing on foreign trade.
"They will have an average monthly salary of 2,500 yuan (US$301) each, much higher than the local citizens in Harbin," Lin Feng, head of the village, told China Daily.
They will make up the entertainers and service staff in the village.
"These people are by no means common laborers doing menial work," he said. "They are all high-level workers in their own country, so we have to pay more."
Most have signed a contract of between one and three months and can either renew or return to Russia when their visas expire.
Lin said he plans to increase the number of villagers to 200 in the near future.
Such large-scale employment of Russians is very rare in Heilongjiang, perhaps even in China.
"With the prosperity of border trade between China and Russia, there has been a growing number of Russians coming to China in recent years, either for business or travel," said Zhang Yan, from the Harbin Municipal Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Bureau.
In recent years, not many Russians came to work in China, up to 400 each year, she said.
"Most of them were on some kind of exchange program and just stayed for a short period," she said.
"Generally speaking, people from the two countries still know little about each other," said Zhang Qi from the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT), whose research field is cultural differences between China and Russia.
"Most of the exchange programs between the two countries are under implementation in terms of stage performances," she said.
In the past five years, more than 500 performance groups from Russia have come to China while about 40 such groups have visited Russia, reports Xinhua News Agency.
(China Daily December 27, 2004)