The Old Paris of the Orient transforms the ice into gold
The Harbin Ice Festival, established in 1985, is held annually from January 5 and lasts for over one month. Harbin is the capital city of Heilongjiang Province and this is China’s original and greatest ice artwork festival, attracting hundreds of thousands of local people and visitors from all over the world.
The city’s location in northeast China accounts for its arctic climate which provides abundant natural ice and snow. Subsequently, the ‘Ice City’ of Harbin is recognized as the cradle of ice and snow art in China and is famous for its exquisite and artistic ice and snow sculptures. The fabulous Ice Lantern Festival was the forerunner of the current festival and is still the best loved part of the overall event in the opinion of all who come to Harbin each year.
The first Ice lanterns were a winter-time tradition in northeast China. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the local peasants and fishermen often made and used ice lanterns as jack-lights during the winter months. At that time these were made simply by pouring water into a bucket that was then put out in the open to freeze. It was then gently warmed before the water froze completely so that the bucket-shaped ice could be pulled out. A hole was chiseled in the top and the water remaining inside poured out creating a hollow vessel. A candle was then placed inside resulting in a windproof lantern that gained great popularity in the region around Harbin.
From then on, people made ice lanterns and put them outside their houses or gave them to children to play with during some of the traditional festivals. Thus the ice lantern began its long history of development. With novel changes and immense advancement in techniques, today we can marvel at the various delicate and artistic ice lanterns on display.
Today’s Ice Lantern
Nowadays, ice lantern in broad sense refers to a series of plastic arts using ice and snow as raw material combining ice artworks with colored lights and splendid music. The specific patterns of ice lantern include ice and snow sculptures, ice flowers, ice architectures and so on.
Harbin Ice Festival provides visitors each year a whole new world of ice and snow. The best collections of ice artworks are exhibited in three main places: the Sun Island Park, Harbin Ice and Snow World and Zhaolin Park.
The Sun Island Park is the site of the Snow Sculpture Exposition displaying a wonderful snow world. It has the world’s largest indoor ice and snow art museum and it opens to the public in November every year.
Harbin Ice and Snow World came into being in 1999 and is one of the world’s largest ice architecture parks. The inspiration for the ice and snow sculptures usually are derived from traditional Chinese fairy tales or world famous architectures such as the Great Wall, the Egyptian Pyramids, etc.
Zhaolin Park is a ‘must see’ during the festival because it has a traditional program that shows the most excellent ice lanterns. With water, lights and the natural ice from the Songhua River running through Harbin as the material, the ice lanterns are made by freezing water, piling up ice or snow, then carving, enchasing, decorating, and so forth. The ice lantern park touring activities have been held here annually since 1963 and is said to be one of the most wonderful 35 tourist attractions in China. There are numerous pieces of ice artworks in the park arranged in groups according to different themes depicting Chinese classic masterworks, European folktales and customs and so on.
A great variety of objects such as buildings, gardens, flowers, waterfalls, European-styled churches, lions, tigers, dragons are carved from ice. In the daytime, the ice sculptures are magnificent and verisimilitude. Moreover, with the interspersion of the sparkling colored lights embedded in the sculptures at night, the park becomes a glorious and amazing ice world.
Today, the festival is not only an exposition of ice and snow art, but also an annual cultural event for international exchange. Every year, there are many ice sculpture experts, artists and fans from America, Canada, Japan, Singapore, Russia, China, etc. gathering in Harbin to participate ice sculpting competitions and to communicate with each other in the ice and snow world. Also, Harbin ice lanterns have been exhibited in most of China’s main cities as well as in many countries in Asia, Europe, North America, Africa and Oceania. For more than 40 years, Harbin’s natural resource of ice and snow has been fully explored to provide joy and fun for visitors to the city. Now during the festival, many sporting competitions are also popular including ice-skating and sledding.
Weddings, parties and other entertainments are now very much a feature of this ice world, adding their own contribution to the celebrations of this great festival of art, culture, sports and tourism.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ADRIEN GALLO
Adrien Gallo has written and photographed numerous articles for a wide variety of publications and photo agencies, including Atlas Magazine, Paris Geo Magazine France and U.S.A Partir (travel magazine), Chimo Magazine, Flasch Foto, Dorada Magazine, U.S.A. Nuestro, Geo Mundo, Jewish Week, Dallas Morning News, San Antonio Express News, Arkansas Gazette, Kansas City Star, Hispanic Review of Business, Deseret News, Virginia Country, Island Magazine and the Los Angeles Times.