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21 Jan 2018 6:01
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  •   Home > News > International

    At the Harbin Ice Festival in China, an epic city rises and falls every winter

    Each year in the Chinese city of Harbin, where the weather can plunge below minus 30 degrees Celsius, the world's largest ice sculpture city comes to life.

    There are few people on Earth who have carved as much ice as Gao Kailin.

    Each year the 47-year-old bears the early winter chill of China's north-east to help create the world's largest ice city.

    "First, the workers cut the ice out of the river, and then others deliver it around town, and then sculptors like me use water to glue all the ice bricks together," he said.

    "They go up like constructing buildings, but there's no frame inside."

    Harbin's weather can plunge below minus 30 degrees Celsius in the depths of winter, but the city's 10 million residents have decided to make the most of it.

    What originally started as a small ice carving contest for hobbyists has grown into the world's largest ice sculpture festival.

    "We started learning how to carve these sculptures as kids," Mr Gao said.

    "Some of the old masters taught us, and the knowledge passes from generation to generation."

    About 15,000 workers helped create this year's ice world, which sprawls more than 800,000 square metres in a park next to the Songhua river.

    Locals say the ice is sourced from the river in early December and is famous for its transparency.

    "Ice carvers from Harbin have travelled all over the world to create ice sculptures," said Sun Jian, another ice sculptor.

    "Canada, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand — we've all been there to create ice statues."

    Sculptors bring icons from around the world to Harbin

    At this year's event, Chinese icons like Beijing's Temple of Heaven sit alongside European monuments, all illuminated by thousands of lights.

    Across town in a separate park run by the conglomerate Wanda, a replica of Moscow's Saint Basil Cathedral illuminates the night.

    About 180,000 cubic metres of ice is used to build the city, while a similar amount of snow is turned into snow sculptures.

    Organisers estimate about 1.5 million tourists — mainly from other parts of China — come to Harbin to visit the ice city each year.

    The tourism dollars and the temporary construction boom help create jobs in one of China's more sluggish economic regions.

    "The temperate isn't a problem for us," said tourist Dong Cheng, who travelled from southern Zhejiang province.

    "In winter the south is cold and damp. At least here it's a dry cold."

    For the sculptors who create this fleeting city of ice, enduring the cold is just part of the job.

    "It's not much good to be worried about the temperature," sculptor Sun Jian said.

    "And if you carve ice for long enough you'll start breaking a sweat, so the cold's the least of your problems."

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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