Also known as "Ice City", Harbin is most famous in China for its winter scenery and bitterly cold temperatures that accompany the freezing environment.
The average winter temperature here is as low as minus 20 to minus 30 degrees C. Make sure you come prepared with plenty of winter woolies!
The Harbinese however, really know how to exploit and make the most out of their situation and have a long tradition of using ice and snow in an amazingly creative and varied number of ways. Frozen lakes are used as natural skating grounds, ground snow is used instead of a refrigerator and even the frozen Songhua lake was once used as a highway.
Ice sculptures first came into being as a traditional Chinese art form during the early Qing dynasty some 350 years ago. Over time, various types and shapes of sculpture have been designed and developed, all enhancing the status of this somewhat unusual art form so that today the annual Ice Festival is televised nationwide, attracting millions of viewers.
Making the ice sculpture is a relatively straight forward process, especially in these freezing temperatures. When the idea first came into being, a colored lantern was placed inside a carved ice block, to make a lantern-like structure. Various techniques have been applied and developed over the years, making the lantern into a more intricate and interesting shape. Designs today include ice flowers, ice buildings (from the Taj Mahal to the Eiffel Tower), ice carvings and life-size figures.
Today, the annual Ice Lantern Festival is held in Harbin from the 5th of January to the end of February. During this time, thousands of ice lanterns,carvings and buildings are exhibited and paraded on huge floats through the city. This is a great experience and even the most cynical visitor cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer size and scale of work that goes into producing many of the sculptures.
history of hardship and warfare, colonialism and co-operation means
that Harbin has developed a very distinctive character.
For centuries, this northernmost city has
had a distinctive and influential relationship with its Russian
neighbor so that locals have for many years given the city the
nickname of "Little Moscow".
Harbin today, has developed from being a
small and insignificant fishing village into a large city, know across
the nation for its unique Russian characteristics.
In 1896, the Russians began construction
of a rail line from Vladivostok, through Harbin, and on to Dalian. The
influx of migrant Russian workers during this time and again in 1917
when thousands of White Russian refugees fled the Bolsheviks, not only
expanded the population but also introduced many special
characteristics to the city.
The Russian presence continued after 1932
when the Japanese invaded as part of their attack on Manchuria. In
1945 the Russians returned for one year before returning the city to
the Chinese in 1945. During the Cultural Revolution too, the city saw
years of fractional fighting which destroyed many of the original
Russian buildings which have today largely been replaced with
There are however, still traces of Russia
scattered around the city in exquisite buildings such as the Church
of Saint Sofia and the streets around Zhongyan Avenue, which have
retained many of their characteristic features. Perhaps even more
obvious instances of the Russian influence here is in the cuisine
(the Harbinese apparently inherited their love for ice cream from the
Russians) and, the fact that the residents of Harbin are reportedly
the biggest drinkers in China!