Before Sun Island and its Ice and Snow World became so important, Harbin’s primary ice festival location was in Zhaolin Park.  Despite being overshadowed, this park continues to hold an annual festival called the “China Harbin Ice Lantern Garden Party” - and it is as unusual as its name.  This bemusing sculpture, celebrating the upcoming Chinese Year of the Rooster, greeted visitors this year.  The flowers at the base are made of colored ice; the rooster itself is painted, and while I could not determine its composition, it did not quite look like ice or snow - but it certainly added some color to this gray winter day.

The ice structures in Zhaolin Park are far less elaborate than those over on Sun Island, giving an idea of what it was like to visit Harbin’s ice festival in the past.  Traditional Chinese elements, like these red lanterns, were in far greater use here.

Harbin’s version of a nine-dragon wall is quite different from the one on display in Beihai Park in Beijing.  The colorful dragons here first appeared to be plastic, but like those flowers at the base of the rooster sculpture, they were actually made of ice.  How do I know this?  Well...

...because sitting next to that wall was this group of colored ice blocks, looking like gigantic popsicles, which the park staff used to create those dragons.  It was so cold that the blocks could be left outdoors - for the next couple of months, if necessary.  Hopefully parents were keeping their kids from eating them.

These flowers encased in ice were artificial, but it took a few looks from a few angles to determine that for sure.  In the background, large paper cuttings are sealed behind plexiglass and encased in ice walls, again showing the more traditional nature of this event.

Zhaolin Park contained one giant building of ice, apparently for official events: a banner across its front announced the “Opening Ceremony of the 19th China Harbin International Ice Sculpture Competition.”  However, no competition sculptures were to be found this day.  Dozens of locally made ice sculptures did appear along park railings and walkways, but they were so odd I could not tell what any of them was supposed to represent.  These lanterns lined the front of the ceremony building.

Zhaolin Park at night during its Ice Lantern Garden Party.  Going to this event after attending the Harbin Ice and Snow World is much like going to a county fair after returning from Disneyworld.  In fact, this event has some of the feel of a county fair, with a Ferris wheel and bumper cars and spinning rides and other things I can’t imagine riding in such cold weather.  This is a detail of an archway near one of the park entrances.

Unlike the internationally inspired structures at the Snow and Ice World, the ice structures in Zhaolin Park are all Chinese.  Surprisingly, a number of tourist publications on China continue to guide visitors to Zhaolin Park for Harbin’s festival, with nary a mention of the Ice and Snow World (or even the Snow Sculpture Art Fair) just north of the river on Sun Island.  Visitors overlooking that far bigger event must walk away from here somewhat impressed but wondering what all the fuss was about.

Colored lights strung over a park entryway.  Kids passing underneath seemed to like this a lot, probably because it looked like sticky noodles tossed onto a ceiling.

On my web page concerning the festival two years ago, I mentioned a Disney film at EPCOT called “Wonders of China” that briefly showed Harbin’s ice festival as it appeared decades ago, with little more than blinking lights inside globes.  Well, here are those same globes.  At Zhaolin Park, little has changed over the years.  That Disney film, on the other hand, has now been updated to include clips from Harbin’s more recent and more elaborate festivals.

A view of Zhaolin Park’s Ice Lantern Garden Party, with the Ferris wheel in the background and city lights atop buildings beyond.  Many of the structures here had a Lego-block quality about them - particularly those in the strange military-influenced section of the park, which contained bulky tanks and ships and old-style submarines, all as green as the walls shown here.

A dragon boat, one of the brightest displays in the park, though not one of the most impressive ice sculptures - only the boat’s hull was made of ice.  Zhaolin Park and its quirky event is definitely worth a visit to see what Harbin’s festival was like years ago - just don’t make the mistake of missing the Ice and Snow World.

My Harbin winter festival photographs through 2007 have been published as a book entitled “Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow: The Winter Festivals of Harbin, China”.  The book, available through Blurb.com, can be previewed and purchased below.