Changing China

Giant on the move

Ice Acropolis launches Olympic year in China’s frozen North

January 10, 2008

Ice sculpture in HarbinIn China almost everyone wants to share Beijing’s moment of Olympic glory, and the northern city of Harbin started early with a celebration in ice.

A glistening neon re-creation of an ancient Greek temple now bursts out of the winter darkness on the banks of its frozen Songhua river like a hallucination brought on by temperatures plunging below 15 degrees Celsius.

But it’s as real as theIce Sculpture in Harbin translucent, multi-coloured Westminster abbey, electric yellow stretch of the Great Wall of China and blue-green Stonehenge standing nearby.

The kitsch but mesmerizing statues are part of an “ice-lantern” festival that has converted an old trick for luring fish to the hooks of night-fishermen into a more lucrative tool for luring tourists and their cash away from warmer parts of the country.

Each year there is a different theme to the festival, which features dozens of vast scultpures, and this year it was — of course — the Summer Games.

Ice sculpture in HarbinBeside the ice Acropolis – a tribute to original Olympics creator and 2004 host Greece – there is a strange “Olympic tower” soaring in multicoloured splendour tens of metres into the night sky and sculptures of athletes striving for success scattered between plastic trees with neon blossoms.

British monuments get a place because London will hold the next Summer Olympics.

And the sculptures, carved from ice hacked out of the frozen river, aren’t just for staring at.

For as long as you can stand the sub-zero temperatures, you can climb the near life-size Great Wall, speed down a vast ice-slide at the end, take photos with what are touted as arctic foxes, clamber up to the steps of the Parthenon, walk through the bright-pink re-creation of Beijing’s Gate of Heavenly Peace or get closer to the icy Stonehenge than you can to the original.

It’s so popular and, for locals, pricey – tickets go for 150 yuan or around $21 – that there are Russian guards from nearby Siberia at the doors.

“The managers don’t trust Chinese guards. They fear they will let all their family and friends in for free,” said a Chinese tour guide cheerfully.

Emma Graham-Harrison is an Energy Correspondent in the Beijing bureau


Stunning pictures. You mention that there are sculptures of some London buildings — can we see these?

Posted by the beautiful game | Report as abusive

Wow, it’s magnificient! I’ll go there someday.Unfortunately,Western media,biased that they are, don’t carry news about this great happening in Harbin,They love to report negative news about China.

Posted by trico chen | Report as abusive

[Blog moderator] We’ve added a picture of Tower Bridge


Agree with No. 2 comments. Even for a harmless event like the Ice Festival, writer has to make it appear kitschy and money grabbing.

Posted by chinchero | Report as abusive

I had a great time in Harbin and loved the ice-festival, and my blog post aimed to reflect that. Kitsch can be pretty cool, and I think its fair enough to pin that label on life-size recreations in ice and neon of famous cultural sites — the festival is meant to be fun, not high-culture (and that’s probably why its packed with visitors).

As for the price, though I know nothing about ice-economics, it seemed reasonable enough given the time it must take to create the sculptures and the electricity bill that they must be paying. I was only pointing out that by local standards in a city where you can get a meal for a few yuan, it is expensive.


Posted by Emma Graham-Harrison | Report as abusive

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