China's ice sculptors build frozen castles in the cold
Harbin, China
Photography by
Carlos Garcia Rawlins.
Reporting byCarlos Garcia RawlinsandXihao Jiang.
Updated 4 January
27 images
For more than 300 "ice miners" in Harbin, work begins in the numbing cold before dawn every day on the frozen Songhua, a broad river that winds its way through the northeastern Chinese city.
A worker stands on a block of ice while breaking it into smaller pieces at the frozen Songhua River.
Wielding long ice picks, the workers break up the frozen surface of the kilometre-wide river into crate-sized blocks of ice.
A worker carries a chainsaw while constructing an ice structure.
Many of them construction labourers or farmers, they wear knee-high rubber boots, down jackets, thick gloves and hats with flaps to protect their ears from the frigid air.
Workers build an ice structure.
"We come to mine ice at 6 a.m. every day," said Zhang Wei, 40. "We need to work overtime sometimes, until 8 or 9 p.m., even late after midnight."
A worker carries a bowl of noodles inside a food stall's makeshift plastic tent, outside the site of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival.
Lunch is brief - a bowl of piping-hot noodles, dumplings or steamed buns. Makeshift canteens built with wooden poles and see-through sheets offer a little warmth.
Trucks line up before being loaded with blocks of ice by the bank of the frozen Songhua River.
Every day since early December, tens of thousands of ice blocks have been prised out of the river and moved by truck to the venue of Harbin's annual winter festival, where they are used to build life-sized castles, pagodas, bridges and even a functioning hotpot restaurant.
Ice from the river is essential.
"Artificial ice isn't that thick, and isn't strong enough to stand in the wind," said Wang Qiusheng, who has been carving ice for the festival for 20 years.
Workers place an ice block onto an ice structure.
Organisers are racing to complete the sculptures at the festival venue - a busy scene of forklifts, cranes and scaffolding.
The ice blocks are painstakingly laid on top of one another while workers shape, trim and cut them to size with chainsaws, pickle forks and tooth chisels.
Workers build ice structures.
The 37th Harbin International Ice Snow Festival is due to begin on Jan. 5, and will feature skiing, sledding, mass weddings, winter swimming and a theme park of ice sculptures bathed by coloured lights.
With China's international borders heavily restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, domestic tourists are expected to account for the bulk of visitors marvelling at the ice sculptures next month in temperatures below minus 35 Celsius (minus 31 Fahrenheit).
1 / 19
Workers build ice structures.
More from
Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Subscribe to the week’s best stories
Scarred by 2020, Gen Z looks to a COVID-free future
Editor’s choice
Earthquake in Nepal
Leaving Hong Kong: A family makes a wrenching decision
Hong Kong
More Stories
One night in Wuhan: COVID-19's original epicentre re-learns how to party
Christmas wishes from Santas around the world
Reuters photographer captures police shooting of gunman at Manhattan church
New York
Editor’s choice
U.S. election year shaped by pandemic and Trump's defiance
How much plastic are you eating?
Editor’s choice
US saw summer of Black Lives Matter protests demanding change
Editor’s choice
How Covid upended life as we knew it in a matter of weeks
Argentines celebrate 'eternal love' for Maradona with tattoos
Buenos Aires
Editor’s choice
A Picture and its Story 2020: Part two
Editor’s choice
A Picture and its Story 2020: Part one
New York
Schools close and student pregnancies rise in lockdown Kenya
The thaw of the Third Pole: China's glaciers in retreat
Back to Top
We have updated our Privacy Statement. Before you continue, please read our new
Privacy Statement and familiarize yourself with the terms.
Follow UsLike UsFind Us Editor's Choice Interactive Behind the News Cultural Atlas Forces of Industry Living Planet Moment of History Perspective Shifting Society Tales of the Unexpected StoriesPhotographers Latest Meet the Italian teen with one leg and no hands finding freedom in acrobatic pole dancing Recommended A journey on a caravan of misery Follow UsLike UsFind UsSubscribeiPad AppAboutFAQsContactRSSBack to reuters.com