Welcome to... a performance of Disney on Ice? No, this is the “Harbin Ice Lantern Party” - a slight name the event that takes place every year in Harbin’s Zhaolin Park, in this Chinese city’s Russian district.

This is the traditional ice festival in Harbin; it used to be the big winter event here before the spectacular Ice and Snow World started up in the year 2000. Here, a couple approaches the bottom of an ice slide after passing through an ice castle.

A side view of the ice slide shown earlier, as visitors begins to enter the park. During the Ice Lantern Party, Zhaolin Park closes for an hour in the late afternoon to get the 20-yuan daytime ticket holders out of the park before letting in the 40-yuan (5$) evening ticket holders. The evening ticket price here is a quarter of that at the Ice and Snow World, which is fairly proportional to the entertainment value one receives.

These days, there are only two reasons for visitors to see the Ice Lantern Party. The first is to see what the Harbin winter festival was like before the arrival of the Ice and Snow World, as this festival in Zhaolin Park has changed little over the years. One could have seen something quite similar to this view years ago.

The second reason is to see the results of Harbin’s ice sculpture competition - this year called “The 21st Harbin International Ice Sculpture Competition” - and that, it turns out, is a pretty good reason to visit. This photograph is of a competition sculpture called “Harmony”, created by a Chinese team. The lights in the competition area of Zhaolin Park had not yet been turned on, and I wanted a shot before the last light of day faded, so in desperation I used a flash to see what would happen. This was the result - a happy accident that turned out to be one of my favorite photographs of the trip. As you’ll see below, this sculpture looks pretty nice when lit as well.

When the lights in the ice sculpture competition area of Zhaolin Park finally came on, this is how they looked. The closest, a jazzy Russian sculpture of a musician playing stand-up bass, is entitled “Composer”. The competition this year completed on January 8th; that, along with the snow sculpture competition across the river in Sun Island Park completing about a week later, makes waiting to visit Harbin until mid January a good idea.

A delicate French sculpture entitled “New Season”. Over a hundred competitors from nearly a dozen countries participated in the competition this year. Unlike the large ice structures lit from within, both here at the Ice Lantern Party and over at the Harbin Ice and Snow World, these ice competition sculptures were all lit from underneath by lights within the base of ice blocks. Despite the unusually mild weather in Harbin this winter, the ice sculptures in late January seemed to show no ill effects, as evidenced by the fine detail in this sculpture.

This horse ice sculpture, from a Russian team, seems rather simple...

...until one notices the clever design of the horse’s head. It’s a Trojan horse, with soldiers ready for battle hidden within the horse’s very design.

Arches of ice over a walkway, lit from within by colored incandescent light bulbs, not unlike ones I photographed here during my visit two years ago.

An awning with many traditional lanterns underneath, near the south entrance to Zhaolin Park. Two years ago, a large and gaudily colored rooster appeared near this spot to celebrate the Chinese New Year - the Year of the Rooster then. No similar sculpture appeared this year to celebrate the upcoming Year of the Pig, but another large and blocky ice sculpture of somewhat in determinant shape did. I found these lanterns more compelling.

A walkway through ice structures at the Harbin Ice Lantern Party. Visitors intending to see both this festival and the Harbin Ice and Snow World might consider visiting this one first, because it’s certainly impressive if one has never visited a major ice festival before, and because its modest structures serve as good apetizers for the much larger ones at the Ice and Snow World.

A view from atop the festival’s ice slide in Zhaolin Park; through the trees on the left is the ice sculpture competition area. Five yuan - about seventy cents - gets one a ride down the slide, complete with a choice among old plastic sacks to sit on for the ride.

A final look at the stunning competition sculpture “Harmony”, now lit up. As mentioned earlier, the home of this competition and the Ice Lantern Party, Zhaolin Park, is in Harbin’s Russian district - Daoliqu - where there's more to see both before and after a visit to this festival.

Source: http://www.rtoddking.com/chinawin2007_hb_zp.htm