Transient yet lasting beauty of China’s ‘ice city’
Tourism boom continues
Published: Feb 19, 2024 07:59 PM
Photo: Bi Mengying/GT

Photo: Bi Mengying/GT

Chinese "ice city" Harbin's tourism miracle continued till the Spring Festival. The capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, and the northernmost province, welcomed over 10.09 million visitors during the Spring Festival holidays, an average daily increase of 81.7 percent year-on-year, local authorities said Sunday.

The city raked in 16.42 billion yuan (about $2.28 billion) of tourism revenue during the eight-day holidays, from February 10 to 17, according to the city's tourism department.

Celebrations with snow and ice

Tourists gathered at the Harbin Ice and Snow World, the renowned ice-and-snow-themed park on Chinese New Year's Eve. A very special ice sculpture made its debut at the park to express best wishes for the coming Year of the Dragon to Chinese people across the world. Named "Longjiang Song Fu" (literally translated as Heilongjiang Province sends fortune), the ice sculpture first appears to be the Chinese character fu, or "fortune," yet a closer look reveals delicate details of dragons. The skillful artists spent eight hours on the artwork the day before the Chinese New Year as a new year's tribute to tourists.  

In addition to ice sculptures, the park also offered freshly made dumplings, the traditional Chinese New Year food, to tourists for free, made in a shape that represents happiness and harmony. When night fell, the ice sculptures lit up in different colors. During the live DJ show at night, visitors danced and sang together in the colorful ice and snow world. Strangers heartily exchanged New Year's wishes. Many said it was their most memorable Chinese New Year's Eve and wanted to visit it again. 

On Chinese New Year, the 36th Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Expo held at the Sun Island scenic area in Harbin was also packed with visitors, who eagerly took photos with the giant snowman and were awed by the intricate snow sculptures by artists from home and abroad. 

The expo also invited visitors to team up and engage in a friendly tug-of-war on snow. Participants were given souvenirs like Chinese dragon key chains in red, a color symbolizing good luck and happiness in China.  

A new beginning

While tourists from all over the country celebrated the Year of the Dragon in the ice city, they also got a chance to witness the transient beauty of ice and snow. As temperatures rose, snow and ice started to melt. Popular winter attractions like Harbin Ice and Snow World, the Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Expo, as well as the 50th Harbin Ice Lantern Fair held at Harbin's Zhaolin Park began to bid farewell to visitors one by one during the Spring Festival holidays. 

Thursday was the last open day at Harbin Ice and Snow World. Some visitors even started lining up at the entrance at 7 am to catch the last opportunity. To accommodate more visitors, the park moved up the opening hours to 8:30 am.

Given the significant investment of time and effort in the ice and snow sculptures, many visitors felt reluctant to say goodbye at the park's sudden dismantling. 

According to information from the theme park, it received 2.71 million visits over a 61-day period. The recent increase in temperature has resulted in the melting of several ice sculptures. Some severely melted sculptures were dismantled due to safety concerns.

"It is nature's way of reminding us of the changing seasons and the fleeting nature of time. Seize the day!" wrote a netizen on social media. 

"It was a miraculous winter filled with moving emotions. The snow and ice melt in the spring breeze. It is not an end but a start of a new beginning. We welcome friends to visit again," wrote a netizen of Harbin on social media. 

Visitors appreciate a giant snow sculpture at the 36th Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Expo in Harbin, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, during the Spring Festival. Photo: Bi Mengying/GT

Visitors appreciate a giant snow sculpture at the 36th Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Expo in Harbin, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, during the Spring Festival. Photo: Bi Mengying/GT

Year-round attractions

The enthusiasm of visitors does not wane as the ice and snow melt. Continuous streams of people visit other spots such as the Museum of Evidence of War Crimes by the Japanese Army Unit 731, the Heilongjiang Ethnic Museum, and the Chinese Baroque District, a historical area featuring baroque buildings. 

Harbin has also stepped up efforts in year-round ice and snow project operation, aiming to create a perennial ice and snow paradise for visitors across the country. The Sun Island Ice and Snow Art Museum opened on Friday and quickly captured the hearts of visitors. The indoor ice and snow museum, covering nearly 5,000 square meters, features over 100 ice and snow sculptures made from natural ice from the Songhua River, artificial snow, and colored ice. Visitors can enjoy ice and snow regardless of seasonal changes.

While some outdoor ice rinks in city parks and institutes such as the Harbin Institute of Technology are open to tourists for free with ice skate rentals, tourists also enjoy various indoor skating rinks, experiencing ice skating, ice hockey, and other ice sports activities.

At Harbin Bonski, the city's largest indoor ski area, visitors and locals queued up in long lines. Sales representatives told the Global Times that private lessons for both snowboarding and skiing were highly sought after among tourists. 

Looking ahead, Harbin will continue to integrate various resources such as tourist attractions, large-scale cultural tourism activities, regional characteristic brands, and cultural venues, and design tourism routes and products to help tourists better experience the city's history and charm, local authorities revealed at a press conference held on Thursday.

During Harbin's rise to a tourism sensation this winter, the city's tourism boom has sparked exchanges of love between the north and the south in the form of gift exchanges, specialties and promoting tourism and cultural exchanges. The lesser-known diversity and rich cultures of local ethnic minority groups in Heilongjiang Province have been highlighted amid the city's staggering tourism boom too. As the friendship exchange craze sweeps across the country, more and more ethnic minority groups nationwide are traveling to Harbin from different regions to celebrate their cultures and identities.

As the ninth Asian Winter Games is set to be held in the city, many visitors expressed hopes that they would return to Harbin in 2025.