Winter wonderland

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 December, 2009, 12:00am

Ice City

Harbin is known as the Ice City because of its long, very cold winters. It gets so cold because of the winds that blow from Siberia. Its average winter temperature is minus 17 degrees Celsius. But it can reach minus 40 degrees on a really cold day.

The word Harbin comes from a Manchu word meaning 'place for drying fishing nets'. The Manchu - from the northeast of China - founded the Qing dynasty in 1644. Today their language is almost extinct. Harbin was a village until 1898 when the Russians built a railway there. The station connected north China with the Trans-Siberian Railway. That line now connects China with Europe.

Cool carvings

Making a sculpture from ice is not easy. For a start, a lot of ice is not pure. An ice sculptor needs to find ice that is free of impurities. If you have very pure water, you can add colours to it before it freezes.

The actual sculpting is usually done with very sharp chisels. But, today, some ice sculptors even use lasers. A lot of ice sculptors use a chainsaw to create the basic design they are looking for. Then they use smaller chisels - and even brushes and heat guns - to do the more detailed work.

Ice lanterns

In the Harbin Ice Festival, more than 10,000 tonnes of ice are carved from the city?s frozen Songhua River to make amazing sculptures - some of them miniature cities. But historians think this tradition started with ice lanterns. Long ago, fishermen in Heilongjiang discovered that you could make a lantern from ice. They found that if you freeze water in a bucket, then make a hole in the middle, you could put a candle in it. Of course, the ice gradually melted, but it was so cold outside it took a long time. Inside the ice, the candle was protected from the wind. Because ice is transparent, it makes a perfect lamp.

now do this

1 Harbin is a city in ...

a. Siberia

b. Heilongjiang province

c. Shandong

2 Harbin became a city after ...

a. the Manchus built a railway to Beijing

b. the British founded a settlement there

c. the Russians built a railway from Siberia

3 Historians think ice carving in Harbin started ...

a. with ice lanterns

b. when Russians brought the tradition

c. from a Manchurian winter festival