China’s Harbin Winter Festival Becomes “Mickey on Ice”
Ice sculptures at China’s Harbin Winter Festival last year, before Disneyfication.
What’s not to love about a winter festival? Ice skating, snow sculptures, and wandering through the white stuff with a sense of wonder are some of my favorite things about the season (also: hot chocolate and making soup, but I digress…). So I was a bit upset to hear that China’s Harbin Winter Festival, one of the oldest winter festivals in the country, has allowed itself to become…Disneyfied. The New York Times reportsThe New York Times reports:
What is perhaps the world’s most famous ice festival has become another of the world’s Disney theme parks, with a Disney licensing company taking over operations from the local Communist government. It is the first time a private company has run the ice festival.
Snow White has replaced snow dragons. Children wander through the frozen hallways of Aladdin’s Castle instead of a Qing dynasty palace. “It’s a Small World” plays in one corner of the park. (What better theme music for globalization?)
Mickey’s role in the change is an indirect one – the Disney licensing rep in Shanghai is the one responsible for the shift, not the company itself – but the addition of a Cinderella castle and a Pirates of the Caribbean ship (note: a Caribbean ship? made of ice? does not compute) have allowed them to double the ticket price to $15, which is costly for the typical Chinese visitor.
The history of the festival stems back to the Qing Dynasty, when people would carve lanterns out of ice. There is still one section of the park that is devoted to traditional non-commercial sculptures, and features over 30 designs by artists from 12 countries, but the Times reporter says that its traffic pales compared to the Disney section.
If you want to avoid feeling like you’ve stumbled upon a frigid Orlando, you can check out the World of Snow and Ice Festival, which is held a bit further north in Harbin. Only ten years old, it occupies a space as large at Tiananmen Square and this year features a huge snow Buddha and… a giant Uncle Sam. So while it may allow you to escape Mickey, there may be no escaping the American influence on snow festivals in China this year.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
What do you think? Should the Chinese government have allowed the Disney licensing group to reinvent the park?
Read More: Harbin’s Snow Festival is just one of the One Hit Wonders featured in our WorldWise quiz.
Photo: StrudelMonkey via the Intelligent Travel Flickr pool