Warm winter melts China ice festival

It really struck me this morning – Beijing’s winter seems as mild as North Carolina’s. Walking to work today, I wondered why I bothered carrying gloves and scarf; a windbreaker would have been fine. Of course, this has its ups and its downs.

The hands had melted off a delicately entwined couple of ballet dancers crafted by an ice-sculpting team from Vladivostok. Eaves fashioned from packed snow drooped into icicles at the Roast Meat Fire House restaurant. Authorities banned people from approaching the ice-cube tower at Ice and Snow World because big chunks kept falling off.

The popular ice festival here — based on a local tradition of making ice lanterns and sculpting snow that reaches back almost 1,400 years to the Tang Dynasty — has been undercut by climbing temperatures. Heads are falling from statues and intricately sculpted ice animals are turning into shapeless blobs.The global warming trend that a panel of U.N.-convened scientists last month called unequivocal may or may not be inextricably linked to what is happening in Harbin. It is impossible to say. But the people of Harbin blame climate change for what they say has been a pattern of rising temperatures over the past several years.

“So much melting,” lamented Wang Xuhai, director and Communist Party secretary of the Harbin Ice Lantern Art Exhibition Center. “It’s part of a worldwide problem.”

For Harbin, a usually frigid city in northeast China about 400 miles east of the Russian border, the rise in temperatures is a direct threat to a tourist attraction that brought in 5 million visitors last year and injects millions of dollars into the local economy through tickets, hotel stays, restaurant meals and taxi rides..

Everyone knows I hate the winter and wish Beijing could be warm all year. But if I were invested in the ice festival, I’d be scared as hell – this is what Harbin is world famous for, and now it’s threatened with extinction. And according to the article, this is part of a trend, not a one-time phenomenon. Whether global warming is specifically to blame I can’t say, but I would be inclined to think it is. It’s right in keeping with so many other stories I’m seeing about the changing trends in world climate. If so, Harbin had better come up with a new branding plan fast.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 3 Comments

I’m sure the people of Harbin can adapt, coming in 2008…The Great Harbin Slushee Festival (sponsored by 7-11).

I’m more concerned about the effects of global warming in terms of the rate of desertification on the edges of the North China plain. Go, Al, go!

February 26, 2007 @ 5:51 pm | Comment

Meanwhile, the state of Colorado has already suffered through 4 blizzards in 2 months and states across the mid-west have endured weeks of sub-zero temperatures.

Interesting weather patterns.

February 26, 2007 @ 8:40 pm | Comment

A more important effect of this year’s warm, mild winter: The increased threat of sandstorms in the spring. It’s not just increased desertification, it’s also a large portion of the desert taking flight and settling on Beijing. Looking forward to it.

February 27, 2007 @ 3:29 pm | Comment

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