Each January, the city of Harbin in northern China becomes an icy wonderland as it hosts the largest ice and snow festival in the world. In Harbin, temperatures can drop as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius. The annual festival, in its 35th year, draws millions of visitors to activities like hockey, a photography contest and an ice and snow painting exhibition. VOAs Deborah Block tells us about the ice sculpting competition, which features fantastic carvings by artisans from around the world.
The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is an annual winter festival that takes place with a theme in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China, and now is the largest ice and snow festival in the world. At first participants in the festival were mainly Chinese, however it has since become an international festival and competition. The festival includes the world's biggest ice sculptures. Officially, the festival starts on January 5 and lasts one month. However, exhibits often open earlier and stay longer, weather permitting. While ice sculptures are erected throughout the city, there are two main exhibition areas: Sun Island is a recreational area on the opposite side of the Songhua River from the city, which features an expo of enormous snow sculptures. Ice and Snow World is an area open at night which features illuminated full size buildings made from blocks of 2–3' thick ice taken directly from the Songhua River. At first China celebrated it then Harbin took over. During the festival, there are ice lantern park touring activities held in many parks in the city. Winter activities during the festival include Yabuli alpine skiing, winter-swimming in the Songhua River, and the ice-lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden. Harbin is located in Northeast China and receives cold winter wind from Siberia.
The festival originated in Harbin's traditional ice lantern show and garden party that takes place in winter, which began in 1963. It was interrupted for a number of 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, It was awarded a Guinness Record for the world's largest snow sculpture: 250 meters long, 28 feet (8.5 m) high, using over 13,000 cubic meters 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 20 December 2013 to February 2014. In 2015, the 31st Harbin Ice Snow Festival opened on Jan. 5 and was themed "Ice Snow Harbin, Charming China Dreams around the world.
Thirty-four teams of artists from around the world continued work on their grand ice sculptures on Monday as the three-day competition in China's north-eastern Harbin, the host of an annual international ice and snow festival, heated up. Each piece of art, being sculpted by people from 16 countries, including Russia, Canada, Spain, the U.K., and China, was originally a solid block of ice pulled from the nearby Songhua River. Buildings and monuments of different architectural types and styles, figures including animal’s people and mythical creatures, slippery dips or ice slides and lanterns. Apart from winter recreational activities available in Harbin, these exquisitely detailed, mass-produced ice sculptures are the main draw card in attracting tourists around the world to the festival.