Special lights add color to ice sculptures and ice castles at night.

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One Cool City

Every winter, thousands of people brave the cold to attend an ice festival in Harbin, China. The city is a perfect spot for a winter celebration!

Freezing temperatures in Harbin, China, aren’t stopping people from heading to this chilly city this month. One of the world’s largest winter celebrations kicked off there on January 5. It’s called the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. More than 1 million people are expected to attend this year.

Visitors get to see giant frozen sculptures, climb up icy towers, and even zip down supersized ice slides! At night, the town comes to life in color when neon lights shine through the frozen walls of enormous ice castles.


Harbin, one of China’s coldest cities, has hosted the annual festival for more than 30 years. The average January temperature in this spot in northeastern China is about 9 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 11 degrees below zero at night. Water freezes at 32 degrees!

Harbin’s location far north of the equator is one reason for its bone-chilling temperatures. The farther you go from the equator, the colder it usually gets. Strong winds blowing southward from Siberia, a frigid region mostly located in Russia, make Harbin even colder. January is Harbin’s chilliest time of the year.

Wang Jianwei/Xinhua News Agency/Eyevine/Redux

To create the festival’s winter wonderland, workers cut and remove huge blocks of ice from the frozen Songhua [sawng-HWAH] River. Artists carve them into life-sized buildings and enormous figures. They also form sculptures from giant piles of snow.

Artists from all over the world take part in the festival’s ice-sculpting competitions. Last year, Canadians Rusty Cox and Steve Buzak won second place with a 10-foot sculpture of a honeybee surrounded by honeycombs. The contestants had only one day to create their pieces using saws, chisels, and ice picks.

Carving ice in Harbin is no easy feat. To fight the frost, Cox and Buzak wore gloves and several layers of clothing. But they say beating the cold is more than worth it.

“It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before—like walking into a video game where everything around you is ice,” says Cox.

1. Based on the map and article, why do you think that Harbin is known as the “Ice City”?

2. How might you dress if you were to visit Shanghai in January? How about Hong Kong? 

3. Why might the city of Haikou be generally warmer than Harbin?

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