Economy, Modern Chinese Culture, Tourism

When Winter Wonderland Land Meets Reality

Do you know that Chinese character for “snow” 雪 (xuĕ) poetically depict the meaning of “feathers falling like rain”? Despite the cold, most people would agree that snow is beautiful and a wonder in nature. As Norwegians are checking for the snowiest place for ski and winter sports for this winter holiday, many Chinese are also making plans to experience some real coldness. Harbin in the North-eastern tip of China, well know internationally for its annual Ice and Snow Festival, is certainly one of the most popular destinations. However, just a few hundred kilometers out of Harbin, there is a special little town which has quite a story of its own that you may not heard of. This place is called Snow Town, formerly a small timber village covered in thick, viscous snow almost half a year. Since the year 2000, following award-winning photos that revealed a natural fairytale land, the town gradually emerge in the tourism market.

An ancient form of the character for snow in Chinese, depicting the meaning of “feathers (the lower part) fall down like rain (top part)”

Winter wonderland of China

What makes this place unique is not only the incredibly large amount of snow it receives. Being in between two high mountains, the village has just the right level of humidity that keeps the snow “sticky”, so they could form thick layers of up to 50 cm without crumbling. The resulting “mushroom snow” on top of small wooden houses, tree, and traditional red lanterns, in the middle of a valley covered in thick white snow makes a picturesque fairytale land that tourists adore. Once a quiet village on the verge of disappearing due to urbanization, the stunningly beautiful Snow Town came to national attention when a popular TV show filmed an episode there in 2013.

The “mushroom snow” that made Snow Town famous

Not quite the fairytale

What follows however, was far from a fairytale ending where the local economy boomed with tourism and everyone lives happily ever after. With the shift to tourism, local authority put a halt to the old timber industry, which means the town would rely on the three months of winter tourism as its only economic pillar. As the whole town worked to meet the high expectation of an idyllic experience for over 700,000 tourists every year, the harsh reality of adjustment problems surfaced quickly: donkeys used to transport woods are now giving rides to tourists, timber workers turn their homes into hotels and had to manage their online profiles, food and essentials that need to be transported into the isolated village become a lot more expensive as demand surges. Businesses people also came in to take advantage of the shortage in lodging, but the infrastructures are far from equipped to serve all the people that suddenly flock to the town. Eventually, after a few outrageous cases which made national news, the once beautiful, innocent village is sadly labeled as a “commercialized tourist black spot” that over-charges and disappoints. In the past two years, the local authority has issued new policies and regulations in attempt to save the destination’s reputation. While the results are still to be seen, the story of Snow Town will be a good cautionary tale for the many newly discovered tourism spots in China and other places in the developing world.