Timber Transforms a Chinese Town
For China, though, the trade has been a boon.
Much of the wood from Russia crosses the border in Manzhouli, a former nomadic settlement that became a junction in the Trans-Siberian Railway at the turn of the 20th century. The trade has transformed what was once a sleepy border town into one of China’s main hubs for wood processing and production.
In the last two decades, more than 120 mills and factories have sprung up. They process raw or rough-cut lumber into plywood, and manufacture veneer panels, laminated wood, doors, window frames and furniture.
The factories cover dozens of acres on the city’s edge and have created more than 10,000 jobs in a city of 250,000 people, according to a municipal official.
New construction has made the city an architectural homage to Russian culture. Many buildings have features like faux onion domes. There is even a replica of St. Basil’s Cathedral that is a children’s science museum, and a hotel in the shape of what officials claim is the world’s largest matryoska, or nesting doll.
Zhu Xiuhua’s career has traced the arc of the Russian trade.
Now 50, Ms. Zhu moved to Manzhouli when China began restricting logging. She began brokering imports from Russia, then in 2002 began to seek the rights to log Russian forests directly. Four years later, she founded the company she owns today, the Inner Mongolia Kaisheng Group, one of the city’s biggest.
Ms. Zhu now oversees three factories in Manzhouli, as well as concessions to log 1.8 million acres of Russian forests near Bratsk, a city next to Lake Baikal, and to transport them to China. “We are growing every year,” she said.