Hunlunbuir is a prefecture in northeastern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (Inner Mongolia, for short) whose capital is the city of Hailar, which lies roughly midway between the Xinggan Mountains in the east and Lake Hulun in the west. The border with Russia lies some 20 kilometers north of the northernmost shores of Lake Hulun. Hulunbuir was formerly (until 2001) organized as a League, an older and looser Inner Mongolia administrative entity that was first established under the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty. Most of the Leagues of Inner Mongolia have since been reorganized as prefectures, as is the case with Hulunbuir, though part of the structure of the League has been carried over to the prefecture, such as "Banners", or fiefdoms, that were protected from encroachment by other Banners and which also - at least originally - limited the influx of Han Chinese to the region.*
Spanning an area of some 264,000 square kilometers, Hulunbuir is the largest prefecture in China, and since prefectures are generally also considered cities (the term "prefecture-level city" is usually applied), the "city" of Hulunbuir is larger than many Chinese provinces (and larger than 42 of the 52 US states). In fact, measured in terms of area, the "city" of Hulunbuir is the largest city in the world. However, Hulunbuir is only a city in name, for it is predominantly a grassland. As such, the area comprising present-day Hulunbuir Prefecture was ideally suited to the nomadic way of life of the Mongoloid peoples who settled there. Today there are 35 ethnic minority groups besides the Han majority group living in the prefecture, the largest of which are Mongols, Manchu, Daur, Hui, Evenks, Koreans, Russians, Oroqin and Xibe.
Nature and Wildlife
Thanks to the abundance of lakes and rivers, many migratory birds spend part of the year here, including swan, cranes, egrets, storks, and wild geese. Larks nest in the tall grass in the summer, flying high in the sky in the spring with their characteristic fluttering flight and their distinctive song. Butterflies abound everywhere during summer. The ocean of tall grass swaying in the breeze, the vastness of the sky above and the large herds with their nomadic herdsmen on horseback are as picturesque as it gets. In fact, the most salient feature of Hulunbuir Prefecture is that it is what one in the great plains of the US would call "Big Sky Country", i.e., in its flatter, or steppe, parts, it offers views that stretch endlessly, and generally with vast blue skies above.
Not all of the prefecture is flatland, of course. Hulunbuir Prefecture also boasts mountains (the Greater Xinggan Mountains), various lakes - of which the Hulun and the Buir are the largest, albeit, Lake Buir lies mostly within "Outer" Mongolia - and numerous rivers, some of which are majestically serpentine. For example, the Mergel Gol River is said to have more bends than any other river on earth, but in fact, the Yimin River, which runs from Ewenk Banner northward into the city of Hailar, has even more bends. The effect of these many serpentine bends in the rivers of Hulunbuir Prefecture is that more grassland area is supported, enabling larger herds to graze here.
The area of the Greater Xinggan Mountains is characterized by deep gorges and precipitous cliffs where the Argun River flows northward, being fed by many smaller streams along its 700-kilometer-long course before linking up with the Heilong (aka the Amur, in Russia) River, which empties into the Strait of Tartary some 2000 kilometers farther eastward, between Sakhalin Island and the mainland. The Argun and the Heilong/ Amur form the boundary between China and Russia for hundreds of kilometers as the Argun River courses northward, then becomes the Heilong/ Amur River as it arcs eastward.
The Han Chinese who settled in the eastern part of Hulunbuir Prefecture stem mainly from the northern and northeastern areas of China proper. They have maintained many of their customs over the years, especially their food customs. Therefore one sees the divergence in food habits between the eastern and western parts of the prefecture, where congee, noodles, Mantou bread and rice are enjoyed in the east, while beef, mutton and Mongolian style milk tea are enjoyed in the west.
Hulunbuir Prefecture offers "four-season" weather, including snowy mountains in the winter. In the summer period, which is quite brief, there are a number of ethnic festivals. For lodgings, one can also choose stay in a Yurt with a Mongolian family, experiencing first-hand the culture of the local Mongols.
* Most of the present-day Banners of Hulunbuir Prefecture correspond to an ethnic group. For example the, Daur, Evenk, and Oroqin ethnic groups correspond to the Morin Dawa Daur Autonomous Banner, the Evenk Autonomous Banner, and the Oroqin Autonomous Banner, respectively, though in everyday-speak, the "Autonomous" is dropped. There are several Banners belonging to ethnic Mongolian groups. These are: New Barag Left Banner, New Barag Right Banner and Old Barag Banner, "Barag" being an ancient designation for the forefathers of the Mongols.