Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

25 Stunning Photos of China's Ice and Snow Festival

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

This time of year, the temperature in Harbin can drop below zero—tomorrow's low is -17° F. So if you're going to be freezing, you might as well invite people to create some of the world's coolest ice sculptures to distract you from all the shivering.

The 30th Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival opened yesterday. It's one of the world's largest ice-carving festivals.

If you live where it snows, use the gallery as creative inspiration for your next snowman-building project.

Standing at 46 meters tall and built from 12 thousand meters of ice, a replica of the Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik, Iceland, is the tallest ice sculpture in China. The structure boasts a 240-meter slide, sculpted from ice.

About 10 thousand workers are involved in fashioning ice (about 590 thousand square feet worth) and snow (492 thousand square feet) into larger-than-life sculptures.

The festival's 30th anniversary theme is "Global Ice and Snow Dream, World Cartoon Tour."

The festival's ice-carved duck is a nod to Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, and his well-traveled rubber duck urban installation.

Structures featured at the festival include the Empire State Building, the Great Wall of China, and the Colosseum. 

The festival first started in 1963 as a traditional ice lantern garden party. The annual event was revived as a permanent fixture in 1985, after being put on the back burner during China's Cultural Revolution.

Ice lanterns have played an integral role during northeastern Chinese winters since the beginning of the Qing Dynasty in 1644, when fishermen fashioned lanterns out of candles and "hollowed-out pails of ice" to use as lights during the winter season.

The festival's length depends mostly on the weather conditions, usually running through the month of February.

Some of the ice bricks used to construct the festival's ice structures were extracted from the Songhua River.

Some of the festival's sculptors use deionized water, which gives ice a completely transparent, glass-like quality.

Artisans can opt to sculpt by hand or by utilizing lasers. Ice picks, chisels, and swing saws are all common tools for festival carvers.

Come February, visitors can take part in closing down the festival by "smashing the sculptures with ice picks."

The display park for Harbin's ice sculptures takes up 600 thousand square meters.

According to the festival's engineering manager, the display park took just 15 days to complete.

Festival organizers cancelled a planned fireworks display to open the festival due to Harbin's air pollution levels.  

In the last two years, the festival has attracted 28.5 million visitors to its icy cityscape.

The festival is split into four areas: the sculptures and Snow World inhabit Sun Island, Zhaolin Park hosts the festival's ice lanterns, and winter sports reside along the frozen Songhua River.

Harbin's nickname is "Ice City." The Weather Channel attributes the low temperatures to arctic air coming down from Siberia.

The festival's sculptures use computer-controlled LED lighting to illuminate at night, according to the Daily Mail.

Harbin landed in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2007 for the largest snow sculpture (named "Romantic Feelings" and measuring in at 115 feet tall and 656 feet wide) as part of its International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.

Harbin ranks as China's city with the highest altitude and lowest average annual temperature: a chilly 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

Harbin sends ice sculptors to the United States every November to promote ice carving as an art form.

All photos via Lintao Zhang/Getty Images.

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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iStock

Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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