HARBIN, China – Ice sculptures of Moscow’s Red Square and Bangkok’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha are among landmarks featured in the world’s largest ice festival.
The Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in the frigid northeastern Chinese city is known for massive, elaborate and colorfully lit ice sculptures featuring animals, cartoon characters and landmarks.
Some of this year’s displays center on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s major foreign policy and trade initiative, the One Belt One Road, an ambitious plan to link Asia and Europe with a network of railways, ports and other infrastructure.
Ice sculpture artist Han Zhenkun designed his work based on the historic Silk Road.
“Back then, through the Silk Road, exquisite art works from China like potteries were transported by camels and horses to the Western world,” Han said.
The festival runs through late February with large crowds expected during Lunar New Year celebrations, Feb. 15-23. Temperatures at this time of the year can dip below zero.
Last year’s festival drew 18 million visitors and $4.4 billion in tourism revenue for Harbin, data from the city’s tourism bureau showed.
The city started its icy event in 1963 with the Ice Lantern Garden Party, a celebration of the tradition of creating lanterns out of hollowed-out blocks of ice. The larger festival began in 1985 and added sculptures, which have grown in number and size over the years. The city holds the Guinness World Record for the largest snow sculpture, a 656-foot-long and 115-foot-tall landscape created at the 2007 festival.
One park, the Harbin Ice-Snow World, features more than 2,000 ice sculptures made from 240,000 cubic yards of ice collected from the Songhua River by nearly a thousand workers. In the evening, sculptures are lit with colorful lights.
In addition to ice sculpture competitions, the festival also includes winter swimming, ice hockey, skiing and snow biking.
“Art has no borders,” Han said. “It’s an abstract language. We communicate with our works in this international competition. It means a lot.”