The most famous Winter Festival in the world happens in Harbin, China in the Heilongjiang Province. That all started with the Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair! Though it is not quite as impressive as the Ice and Snow World, or even the Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo, the Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair is worth a visit! It showcases Harbin in the winter and is the oldest part of the Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin.
What is the Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair?
The Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair is a showcase of ice lanterns and ice sculptures! The ice lanterns were originally the best way to light Harbin in its cold and long winter nights. Eventually, they became an art form, representing Harbin’s making the most of their ice. It is one of the three exhibitions that make up the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.
Also known as the Ice Lantern Garden Party, this showcase covers Zhaolin Park with ice sculptures from several competitions, students, and some large ice structures designed for winter activities. You can spend between 1 and 2 hours and see all the ice structures, and then walk down Center Street in downtown Harbin for dinner.
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Tips for Going to the Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair
The Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair is open during the day. From 10am to 2pm, full price tickets are ¥50. From 3pm to 9pm, the park reopens and the colorful lights turn on! This is nice, and you really need to visit after sundown. That’s when the lights in the lanterns make the park a rainbow, and it begins to feel like a small wonderland.
Zhaolin Park itself is on Zhaolin Road, close to where it meets the Songhua River. It runs from Youyi Road to Senlin Road, one block east of Center Street. As it’s in the heart of downtown, you should have no trouble getting to it! I stayed near Center Street and was able to walk from there to St. Sofia’s Cathedral, and from the cathedral to Zhaolin Park. If you are living farther away, any bus that stops near Center Street or at the Zhaolin Park station (兆麟公园) is perfect.
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I expected to see large crowds, but I didn’t when I visited on a Tuesday night. In general the Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair is smaller and more intimate than the other two exhibitions (Ice and Snow World and the Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo). Most of the ice sculptures aren’t taller than a typical person, and there was only one small slide on the side of the park. That is likely why it costs less than half of the other exhibitions.
I would highly recommend visiting after mid-January if you can. On January 2, when I visited, several of the ice sculptures were only half-finished (maybe 5%). The more significant unfinished part of the exhibition were the larger sculptures, though. There was construction going on even after sundown. Some workers were filling part of the manmade stream with a hose to let it freeze over and begin to form a small ice skating rink. There wasn’t even a discount for visiting early, so I was a bit disappointed with that as well.
When you walk through the park, you should be fine with regular shoes. Unless it’s snowing it shouldn’t be particularly slippery, and you’ll be able to walk on grass and concrete. Make sure you stop by the little memorial statue that is near the west entrance of the park. It commemorates General Li Zhaolin, a leader in the Second Sino-Japanese War. He is known in Harbin for directing the military actions of the local party organization after Japanese invasion of northern China.
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Symbolism in the Ice Sculptures
Chinese people love their symbolism. Whether it’s using homophones or combining auspicious images, art is typically for wishing for good luck. Ice sculptures are no different. Out of the several hundred ice sculptures I saw in the 2018 Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair, I would guess at least 50% included imagery of luck, wealth, and dogs for the new year (2018 is the year of the dog). If you’re interested in paying attention to them, these are symbols of luck that you can look for in the ice sculptures:
- Coins (the old kind with a hole in the middle through which you can pass a string)
- Chinese Zodiac Animals that represent the New Year (dog for 2018, pig for 2019, etc.)
- The word 福 (Fú) meaning “luck”
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Photo Gallery of the Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair
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