From Mao to Mickey: Harbin Ice Park is privatized

Posted by Ian on Feb 17, 2009 in blog | No Comments


Photo by Gilles Sabrie for the New York Times

One of the big debates in any social development plan is whether or not to allow for privatization. Whether public transport or public health, there are vigorous proponents of all perspectives. One sector which is under such pressure but which is rarely discussed publicly is cultural heritage.

Recently, the Harbin Ice Park in China was taken over by a Disney licensing company challenging over two decades tradition of local ice-craftsmanship exploring different architectural forms with a private company’s experience-brand. Once the home of replicas of Red Square, colossal ice-buddhas and Great Ice Walls, the park is now home to Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald and Winnie the Pooh. It is another Disney Theme Park.

The Harbin Ice Festival has been occurring since 1985, featuring everything from small families’ ice lanterns to large scale public ice sculptures. The festival has become the number one winter attraction in China. With the Ice Park’s buy out by Disney, there may be concern that the organic local traditions of ice craftsmanship will be lost in the wake corporate expansion.

The conversion of the Harbin Ice Park into a Disney Theme Park is not the first theming of the park’s work. In 2002, for example, the sculptures were decided to be an exploration of the culture of Finland (see image below). The commerical and corporate overtones are, however, new.

Both the construction and display of ice Magic Kingdoms or ice Red Squares are, however, the materialisations of symbols of international economic ideologies. Whichever one one is more comfortable with, the experience of encountering either can be similar – as an experience of the skill, vision and sheer dedication to an artform only practicable in a few corners of the world.


A colossal laughing buddha…


An ice version of St Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow…


A giant Santa from Lapland at the 2002 Harbin Ice Festial exploring Finnish culture…

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