China's Ice City

15th April, 2015

As we write this blog the view out of the window is a glorious one, with the sun shining and the country set to bask in the hottest day of the year so far. At times like this the thought of snow and ice feels a long way away, but we were intrigued to read about the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival - the largest event of its kind in the world.

Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang province in Northeast China and, during the winter months, experiences bitterly cold winds from Siberia. Average winter temperatures plummet to a chilly -16.8°C, though lows of -35°C are not uncommon, and as a result the Songhua River will often freeze over. The locals have therefore decided to embrace the snow and ice, creating something which would not look out of place in Disney's Frozen.

History and Construction of the Festival

Originally established as a traditional ice lantern show and garden party in 1963, the event was interrupted for several years during the country's Cultural Revolution. However it resumed in 1985 and is held at Zhaolin Park. In 2001 the event merged with Heilongjiang's International Ski Festival and became known as the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.

Some of the eye-catching sculptures from the 2014 festival, the event's 30th anniversary, included:

  • The Roman Colosseum
  • The Empire State Building
  • 150 foot replica of the Hallgrimskirja church in Reykjavik, Iceland
  • 240 metre long ice slide
  • A tribute to Dutch artist, Florentijn Hofman's rubber duck

The construction of the sculptures begins months in advance of the festival opening, with work often taking place around the clock. Ice blocks, taken from the frozen surface of the Songhua River, are carved into the intricate designs using a combination of chisels, ice picks and saws. In some instances deionised water is used to create transparent ‘glass’ sculptures as opposed to translucent ones. Many of the sculptures will then be filled with coloured lights, bringing them to life once the sun has gone down.

Did You Know? In 2007, the festival featured a Canadian themed sculpture in memory of Canadian doctor Norman Bethune. At 250 metres long and 28 feet high, the two part sculpture was created using over 13,000 cubic metres of snow and as a result was awarded a Guinness World Record for the world's largest snow sculpture.

The video below was filmed in the build up to this years' event, with sculptor Ji Huailong explaining how they go about creating these spectacular creations.

Harbin Ice Festival

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