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7th Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China

The 37th Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China have opened to visitors, featuring frozen towers, palaces and castles. The festival in Harbin, a city in China’s northeast Heilongjiang province, is one of the biggest of its kind. At first participants in the festival were mainly Chinese, however it has since become an international festival and competition, with the 2018 festival attracting 18 million visitors and generating 28.7 billion yuan ($4.4 billion) of revenue. 

The festival includes the world’s biggest ice sculptures. It features towering ice and snow structures and will host activities like sledging, ice hockey, ice football, speed skating and Alpine skiing competitions. With entry to China restricted because of the coronavirus pandemic, domestic tourists are expected to make up the majority of visitors. 

The festival originated in Harbin’s traditional ice lantern show and the garden party that takes place in winter, which began in 1963. It was interrupted for several years during the Cultural Revolution but has since been resumed when an annual event at Zhaolin Park was announced on January 5, 1985. In 2001 the Harbin Ice Festival was merged with Heilongjiang’s International Ski Festival and got its new formal name, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.

In 2007, the festival featured a Canadian themed sculpture, in memory of Canadian doctor Norman Bethune. It was awarded a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest snow sculpture: 250 metres long, 28 feet (8.5 m) high, using over 13,000 cubic metres of snow. The composition consisted of two parts: the “Niagara Falls” and the “crossing the Bering Strait” (the latter depicting the migration of the First Nations).

In 2014, the festival celebrated its 30th anniversary with the theme “50-Year Ice Snow, Charming Harbin”. Various fairs, competitions and expos were held from December 20, 2013, to February 28, 2014. In 2015, the 31st Harbin Ice Snow Festival opened on January 5 and was themed “Ice Snow Harbin, Charming China Dreams around the world” with an opening ceremony, firework show, ice lanterns, birthday parties, snow sculpture competitions and expos, as well as winter swimming, winter fishing, group wedding ceremony, fashion shows, concerts, ice sports games lasting from December 22, 2014, to early March 2015. At the 35th annual festival held in 2019, the festival’s most popular attraction, the Harbin Ice and Snow World, took up over 600,000 square meters and included more than 100 landmarks. It was made from 110,000 cubic meters of ice and 120,000 cubic meters of snow. The festival also included ice sculptures by artists from 12 different countries competing in the annual competition. 

Celebrating its 36th year in 2020, this festival was viewed as one of the world’s top winter celebrations, joining the ranks of the Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan, Canada’s Quebec Winter Carnival and Norway’s Holmenkollen Ski Festival. In 2020 the sculptures were produced using roughly 220,000 cubic meters of ice blocks, all pulled from the nearby Songhua River. 

The 37th Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival opened with a theme “Magical Harbin, Ice Snow Charming China” on January 5 in 2021. The festival is featured by 5 category ice snow events & activities of tourism, culture, fashion, trade and sports. It consists of four theme parks: Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo, Harbin Ice and Snow World, Songhua River Ice and Snow Harbin Valley, and the Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair. As well as some new programs at Volgar Mannor and Ying Jie Scenic Area. The festival is supposed to run till February 25th 2021.

In December 2020, about 300 “ice miners”, many of whom are construction labourers and farmers, built the festival’s towering ice structures. To build the frozen city, tens of thousands of ice blocks were prised out of the kilometre-wide frozen river Songhua, which winds its way through Harbin. The blocks were then moved by truck to the festival venue, where they were used to build life-sized castles, pagodas, bridges and even a functioning hotpot restaurant. Ice miner Wang Qiusheng report why they needed to use ice from the river: “Artificial ice isn’t that thick, and isn’t strong enough to stand in the wind.”

The workers wore knee-high rubber boots, down jackets, thick gloves and hats with flaps to protect their ears from the freezing temperatures. “We come to mine ice at 6 am every day,” Zhang Wei says. “We need to work overtime sometimes, until 8 or 9 pm, even late after midnight. “The ice blocks were laid on top of one another to build walls. The workers then shaped, trimmed and cut them to size with chainsaws, pickle forks and tooth chisels. When working, the ice miners ate their lunch – a bowl of piping-hot noodles, dumplings or steamed buns – in makeshift canteens made of wooden poles and plastic sheets. The elaborate ice structures are lit up at night in a splendid array of colours.

By Jumana Jabeer

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