The Ice City of Harbin in China
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The Ice City of Harbin in China

Description of the Chinese city of Harbin, its history and the Ice Festival that attracts many visitors to the city each winter.

The city of Harbin is in the extreme north east of China and not too far from the Russian border. It is in the province of Heilongjiang and about 1200 km or 750 miles north east of Beijing. Harbin is a city of extremes, in the summer months it can be one of the hottest parts of the country and regularly reaching 100 F, while in the winter the temperature can plummet to about -30 C.

Evidence suggests that the first settlements in the area date from around 2200 BC, only a small village existed until the railway first arrived in 1898. The Russians wanted to extend their railway network at that time and chose Harbin as a point to bring the Trans-Siberian Railway through China. Harbin then grew as an important railway centre and it was later extended through to Beijing. The Trans Siberian Railway can today be taken from the Chinese capital all the way to Moscow. One of the routes passes through Harbin.

Since the arrival of the railway the city has had a strong Russian influence and one of the streets in the city centre the main walking street has several stores selling Russian merchandise. Russian architecture can be seen at many locations across the city as well as at the cathedral known as St. Sophia. It is no longer used for worship and today houses a museum. At one time Harbin had 15 Russian Orthodox Churches, most were destroyed at the time of the cultural revolution. Harbin at one time was home to the largest population of Russians outside Russia. A large Jewish population also resided here after fleeing from the Nazi’s in the early 1930’s. The Japanese army took control of the city in 1932 when they invaded China. The city was briefly under Russian influence again in 1945 before it passed back into Chinese hands in 1946.

Harbin is the tenth largest city in China by population with around ten million inhabitants. Harbin means ‘The place for drying fishing nets’ when translated into English and the modern city lies on the southern bank of the Songhua River. The river when not frozen over is a busy inland shipping route, each year from early November until the middle of April the river is frozen and many winter activities are performed on the ice. When the weather permits the river port to operate it is the largest inland port in north eastern China with both cargo vessels and passenger ships operating up and down stream to many locations within China as far as the border with Russia. The railway continues to be an important hub of the region and for all of China with direct services for passengers to many of the major cities across the country.

Harbin has become known as the Ice City, partly because of its climate but also for the annual festival held in and around the city. Blocks of ice are cut from the frozen river and ice carvings help transform the city into one filled with sculptures carved from these frozen blocks. During the winter there are competitions in creating ice sculptures and artists from all over the world as well as many locals attend these events. For two weeks in late January and early February an area of land on the northern bank of the Songhua River is transformed into an Ice City. For a few weeks prior to this local workers remove thousands of blocks of ice from the river and make often life size models of famous landmarks for whatever the theme is that year. Visitors will come mostly from China as well as a few from overseas for this event that is best seen at night when the sculptures are all illuminated to great effect. This festival of snow and ice is one of four major events of its type in the world. The others are held in Sapporo, Japan, Quebec in Canada and at the Ski festival in Norway. The ice sculptors of Harbin are renowned throughout the world for the skill they bring to this art and many of them will travel the world creating new sculptures to show to the world until their creations melt with the arrival of Spring.


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Comments (9)
Ranked #2 in China

My kind of article John, good one. More of the same please.

Very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.

Yes, very interesting and informative

Voted up

WEll done information with wonderful detail. Out of votes, so I promoted this great article. Thank you.

I have seen ice sculptors pictures and they are marvelous. Voted up since my last visit I was out of votes.

Bit chilly in winter for me... *Grins*

Nice write up here. I can see you are the expert on China-related issues.

Well done on this informative article. Voted up.