Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival 2005!

Welcome to a Mini-City of Ice!

The result of much expertise and industriousness, Harbin’s International Ice and Snow Festival (Hā’ěrbīn Guójì Bīngxuě Jié), has got to be the most exciting winter celebration on earth!  And it’ s the perfect place–in Northern China, not far from Russia, with winds blowing in from Siberia. Yup, Harbin’s a cold place in the winter and it’s wonderful!

The Greatest Ice Celebration on Earth!

Illuminated Ice: Entrance to Harbin Ice and Snow Festival 2005 (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

Heida Ice Dragon 2005

The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival involves  ice and snow carving displays on Sun Island and Zhaolin Park. It also includes what others throughout the city have created, such as what I dubbed “the Heida Ice Dragon” in front of Heilongjiang University. I’m shown with it, pictured above.

(For anyone interested: Heilongjiang is the name of the province in which Harbin is the capital. Daxue is the word for university. Hence, the university’s nickname Heida. Heilongjiang, incidentally, means “Black Dragon River.”)

Ice Dragon in the Black Dragon River (Heilongjiang) province of China

“Heida Dragon,” Harbin 2005 (Ramona McKean photo)

What was extra special for me was seeing some of the process of its creation:

1. A truck arrives with ice cut from the Songhua River, which flows (when it’s not winter) through Harbin.

Ice Dragon Sculpture to be Constructed

Ice delivered for construction of Heida Dragon (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

2. Here I am standing amidst ice blocks cut from the Songhua River.

Blocks of ice from the Songhua River.

In front of Heilongjiang University, Harbin  (Ramona McKean photo)

3. I saw these men cutting the ice but did not actually see how they hoisted it up the scaffolding.

Construction of a Harbin Ice Dragon

Cutting ice with a massive circular saw (swing saw). (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

4. Not only were these men sculpting the ice; they were also installing the blue, yellow and red lights that would illuminate the dragon at night. See first photo above.

Ice Sculpting Heida's Dragon during Harbin's 2005 Ice and Snow Festival

Ice Sculpting Heida’s Dragon (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

Ice Lanterns

Like the dragon, ice lanterns throughout the city of Harbin were striking too, but in a softer, more poetic way. I took this photo just off campus from where I worked at the Harbin University of Science and Technology (HUST). These lanterns were modest in size and design but they delighted me. Kind of like appreciating tiny delicate flowers hidden away in a lavish garden. I’d happily return to Harbin in the middle of any winter to see these kinds of ice lanterns again. And I’d also be sure to visit Zhaolin Park!

Illumination by ice lanterns

Street lantern of ice, Harbin. (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

Photographer R. Todd King and the Zhaolin Park “Ice Lantern Party”

Near the Russian area of Harbin, Zhaolin Park can be found. I have never been to this park, at least not yet. I’m happy to say I still have photos to share with you, taken by a superb photographer named R. Todd King.

I wish to publicly thank Mr. King for granting me permission to use some of his photos and for unknowingly helping me out several years ago.  Way back  in the summer of 2004, I thought I was going to Tianjin to teach, that is, until my Canadian employer said, “Uh, no. We need you to go to Harbin.” “But I don’t want to go to Harbin. It’s too cold.” (I’d read about its sometimes -40 degree climate.)  I resisted only until discovering Mr. King’s  online  photos of  Harbin in winter. “Why am I resisting? Harbin looks amazing!” He had me hooked.

Please click here to see many of Mr. King’s other stunning photos. You may get an idea of how I could get so excited about going to a -40 climate! While you’re at it, you may like to see his beautiful book,  Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow, The Winter Festivals of Harbin, China.

Zhaolin Park Winter 2007, Enter into a World of Magic

Zhaolin Park Archway of Illuminated Ice, Harbin, China

Directly above this icy archway is the slide you’ll see in the next photo. (R. Todd King Photo)

Zhaolin Park ice slide, Harbin, China

Look like fun? Ice slide at Zhaolin Park (R. Todd King photo)

Ice Arches, Zhaolin Park, Harbin

A wonderland of ice, Zhaolin Park, Harbin, 2007. (R. Todd King photo)

“Harmony is the name of this delicate ice carving of geese, as fragile-looking as fine china. I wonder if it was as strong as fine china though. Click here in order to see the geese illuminated with pink, green, gold and blue lights (Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page.) Which do you prefer? The photo of the geese as shown here with the natural light or the photo with the colored lights? Let me know in the comments section below!

Harmony ice geese, Zhaolin Park, Harbin

These translucent ice geese are featured in a carving called “Harmony.”  (R. Todd King photo)

The Coolest Show on Earth!

First…the Snow

Now that we’ve seen the Heida Ice Dragon and some Zhaolin Park photos, here are festival ground photos taken on Sun Island, situated in the middle of the Songhua River.

A Chinese Blessing, these two young children hold a character considered very special in China. 福”

[fú] means blessings, happiness and good fortune. It can be seen on cards, banners, decorations, etc. most notably during Spring Festival (i.e. Chinese New Year) time.

A Chinese Blessing-- 福 fú

A Chinese blessing (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival Giant Mythic Snow Horses 2005

Giant Mythic Snow Horses, Harbin 2005 (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

January 2005 was still the Year of the Monkey, not the Year of the Rat (or mouse). Someone had fun creating this cheesy sculpture. Not spectacular; I just liked it.

"Free Cheese" snow sculpture

February 9, 2005 would see the start of the Year of the Rooster. (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

“Year of the…?”

One of my students told me about the coming of the “Year of the Cock.” (Yes, I see the inadvertent pun.) Technically, there was absolutely nothing wrong with his statement. I did however tell him that “rooster” might be a more appropriate translation.  So here is my pictorial “Heralding the Year of the Rooster, February 9, 2005 – January 28, 2006″! Click on the photo to see a more splendid version! (To return to the site, just hit escape.) Don’t the colored lights show this strutting bird in all its glory?

Snow-Carved Rooster at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival

Heralding the Year of the Rooster, February 9, 2005 – January 28, 2006. (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

It was a rough go for my poor little digital camera. Though not designed for sub zero temperatures, it held up. I had an arsenal of fully charged batteries in warm inner pockets. Within minutes of putting them in the camera, the batteries froze. This necessitated my removing them to warm up in a pocket. Battery rotation was the name of the game. In the evening at the ice portion of the festival (when the temperature dropped even more), the problem became more pronounced.

And Now for the ICE!

As I neared the ice festival grounds with friends, I could hardly contain myself. Talk about exciting! I was never so bedazzled in my life! The next few hours was a time of “release of the inner child,” and not just for me. Just about everyone I saw was having a lot of fun.  🙂

As for this “festival ambassador,” I wonder how long he managed to stay outside barely clad and still smiling.

Warm welcome to a -17 C degree cool event

The message on this festival ambassador’s sash warmly welcomes people to a “wonderland of ice and snow.” (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

Ice arches evening stroll, Harbin Ice & Snow Festival, January 15, 2005. It was -17 degrees.

A relaxed stroll under ice arches, Harbin 2005. (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

Icy Splendor

A church of illuminated ice? (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

Fun to be Had!

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival Ice Wall Climbing, 2005

Somehow climbing a wall of ice didn’t appeal to me, but it did to these people. (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

Ice Cars for Rent

Bikes built for ice with bumper balls. (Photo taken by Ramona McKean)

Chinese friends taught me an old familiar Chinese saying:  “Three feet of ice does not result from one day of cold weather.”  (冰封三尺,绝非一日之寒, Bīng fēng sān chǐ, jué fēi yí rì zhī hán). The meaning: It takes time to develop the attributes necessary for success/mastery. I do believe this saying fits Harbin’s winter festival. An English equivalent is roughly “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Harbin Ice Festival 2005

From a different vantage point. Do you see the entrance in the distance? (Photo by Ramona McKean)


Harbin Ice and Snow Festival 2007R. Todd King Photos 

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival Entrance 2007, R. Todd King Photo

Harbin Ice Festival’s 2007 citadel-like entrance, made from ice!  (R. Todd King photo)

Can you imagine the planning and construction of this icy Hulan Catholic Church, sometimes called “the Notre Dame of the Orient”?

Cathedral of ice at Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival with wintry sunset in background.

Hulan Catholic Church made of ice, with Harbin sunset (R. Todd King photo)

The crescent moon appears between the towers of this ice replica of Hulan Catholic Church. Apparently the real church celebrated its centennial in China in 2008.

Hulan Catholic Church, ice replica at Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. (R. Todd King photo, used with permission)

Ice replica of Hulan Catholic Church, Harbin 2007. (R. Todd King photo)

About this ice maze, R. Todd King wrote, “When the temperature’s well below freezing, as it is by this time of night, getting lost in here is not a good idea.” Though a hexagram rather than an octagon, this maze is reminiscent of the Taoist symbol called a bagua, used in the I Ching. Very clever!

Ice Maze, Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival 2007

Ice maze, Harbin 2007 (R. Todd King photo)


Here is a video I hope you enjoy.

Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival – Lonely Planet travel video

In closing, I’d like to say hooray for the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival 2014, happening right now in Harbin, China! I hope you have enjoyed my blog. 🙂

I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Zhídào xià yīcì (直到下一次 ), wǒ de péngyǒu (我的朋友),

Until next time, my friends,

From my heart to yours,



By | 2017-05-28T18:37:23+00:00 January 11th, 2014|China & Chinese Culture|27 Comments

About the Author:

Ramona McKean is creating a "Bridge of Light" (aka “a Bridge of the Heart”) to promote cross-cultural appreciation and awareness. An author and speaker, she lives in Victoria, BC, Canada.


  1. Jason January 18, 2014 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    Fantastic post about China!

  2. Maria January 22, 2014 at 10:18 pm - Reply

    I love the “Notre Dame of the Orient” one. I’ve been the festival twice. Nice pictures!

  3. Ramona, Dancing in the Heart of the Dragon January 22, 2014 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Jason and Maria, for your comments. Maria, you’ve been twice? Lucky you!!

  4. Lenie February 16, 2015 at 6:41 am - Reply

    Ramona, thanks for sharing these gorgeous photos – I guess, like lemons, when you have ice you make ice sculptures. Fantastic. But I did want to throw a blanket about that ambassador.

  5. Ken Dowell February 16, 2015 at 7:49 am - Reply

    The giant ice structures are amazing. Don’t remember ever seeing such large and intricate ice sculptures. A timely post for those of us dealing with an icy winter.

    • Ramona February 16, 2015 at 9:24 am - Reply

      Can you imagine the time in late February or, more likely, March when these creations start melting? Ooh–the sogginess!

  6. Alice February 16, 2015 at 8:03 am - Reply

    Every time we see something like this on TV we must watch. i am in awe how they build structures and how bit by bit you see the details appear in the rough blocks of ice. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ramona February 16, 2015 at 9:22 am - Reply

      You are most welcome, Alice. It was my pleasure!

  7. Jacqueline Gum February 16, 2015 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    I lived in Minneapolis for a few years when I was a kid. They had a really beautiful Winter Festival that included snow and ice sculptures…but NOTHING as spectacular as this! Absolutely stunning!

    • Ramona February 16, 2015 at 9:54 pm - Reply

      Glad you liked it. Absolutely stunning, I agree!

  8. Pamela Chollet February 17, 2015 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    I have NEVER seen anything like this before; those sculptures are incredible! They sure beat the heck out of the “ice swans” I saw at wedding receptions. Gosh, I got cold just looking at those images. Thanks for sharing so many photos Ramona.

    • Ramona February 17, 2015 at 10:05 pm - Reply

      Pam, I’m so happy you liked these pictures. The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is at the top of the list of exciting places I’ve ever visited!

  9. Mahal Hudson February 17, 2015 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    What a wonderful journey! Thank you for sharing.

    • Ramona February 17, 2015 at 10:03 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome, Mahal. 😉

  10. Donna Janke February 18, 2015 at 7:32 am - Reply

    What amazing ice and snow sculptures. Having lived through cold winters my entire life, I now try to escape the cold and go somewhere warmer in the winter, but these sculptures make a visit to cold Harbin appealing.

    • Ramona February 18, 2015 at 9:46 am - Reply

      Having lived most of my life on the South West Coast of British Columbia (not even one flake of snow this entire winter in Victoria), I’m not big on cold either, Donna. Still, I’d jump at the chance to visit Harbin’s Ice and Snow Festival again! Thanks for your comment.

  11. andleeb February 19, 2015 at 12:34 am - Reply

    Wow, this festival is amazing and I was amazed to see such beautiful sculptures. Thank you for sharing with us these colorful and lovely pictures of snow and ice. If you may have not mentioned, it is hard to believe how some great artists mold the snow / ice into amazing shapes.

    • Ramona February 19, 2015 at 11:14 am - Reply

      Tremendous planning must go into these works of art, and then the execution of those plans! Yes, that is a an amazing feat too. 🙂

  12. William Rusho February 19, 2015 at 9:08 am - Reply

    What wonderful works of art.
    I wonder what the artist feels, knowing his creation will melt away and be lost to the world forever. Makes you appreciate it more when they are here.

    • Ramona February 19, 2015 at 11:18 am - Reply

      I bet the artists are grateful for photographs to help keep their creations “somewhat alive” after the spring melt! Dazzling they indeed are. 🙂

  13. Tim February 19, 2015 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    In China they certainly go big, don’t they? Those sculptures are amazing and the lighting effects really showcase the intricacies of it all. Not sure I would want to be standing around in set of swimming shorts or climbing an ice wall but hey, whatever seems like fun.

    • Ramona February 21, 2015 at 4:53 pm - Reply

      “Intricacies” is such a great word. Yes, the effect of light with ice can be quite amazing.

  14. Christine Larsen February 21, 2015 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    Thank you Ramona, for recording some of the best of mankind’s magical side. Can we imagine the beauty of the spirits who create these masterpieces to bring such joy to Man, surrounded by those who only see cruelty and suffering and destruction? Only imagine how Life as we know it could change if the ‘goodies’ could take over the world. If only…

    • Ramona February 21, 2015 at 4:49 pm - Reply

      What a thoughtful reflection, Christine. “Mankind’s magical side”: I love it! Thank you for your beautiful comment.

  15. Xiao September 22, 2015 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Such wonderful and exciting pictures. I am greatly proud of their unbelievable imagination and innovation. They are really creators of beauty. Thank you for sharing these fantastic pictures, Ramona.

    • Ramona September 22, 2015 at 2:44 pm - Reply

      Xiao, thank you so much!

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