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City in Heilongjiang finds its niche on creative map

By ZHOU HUIYING | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-02 09:39
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Customers pick cultural and creative products at a store in Harbin, Heilongjiang province. ZHOU HUIYING/CHINA DAILY

Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province in Northeast China, scaled new heights, culturally and creatively, this winter as its ice and snow, and design economies fused to bring forth a large number of innovative ideas and technological empowerment.

So far, over a thousand new stores selling cultural and creative products have sprung up near various scenic spots in the city, with some achieving a daily turnover of 500,000 yuan ($6,9150), according to a report by Harbin Daily recently.

For instance, 10,000 units of the first batch of augmented reality refrigerator magnets featuring Harbin design elements sold out within five days, and exceeded 100,000 units in sales through the ice and snow season.

Harbin's cultural and creative market not only opens up a new path for the ice and snow economy, but also serves as a sample for cultural and creative products in the national cultural tourism market, according to the report.

The booming cultural and creative industry has also inspired talented young people to return to their hometowns.

Shao Weiwei, a member of the post-1990s generation, quit her job in Beijing to take up the position of chief designer at the design team of Heilongjiang Sino Shine Media Group last autumn.

"When our team began to design, we took different routes for city walks to seek inspiration," she said. "We spent much time developing a complete and vivid design to make the appearance of the product match the inner spirit."

As the 9th Asian Winter Games will be held in Harbin in 2025, the team created four sports-themed refrigerator stickers and cups based on Siberian tiger "Nini", one of the two mascots for the Games.

Zhang Xuli, assistant to the chairman of the group, said: "We have opened three specialty stores in Harbin, selling over 400 cultural and creative products, among which more than 100 are original works of our team. After the opening of a store located near a huge snowman on the bank of the Songhua River in January, we saw a constant stream of customers every day during the tourism season."

"Among all the products, AR refrigerator magnets, cups, fans, power banks, and keychains received much applause, especially those with Harbin characteristics," Zhang said. "During the Spring Festival holidays, the daily sales of the store reached nearly 40,000 yuan."

Zhang said when tourists scan a QR code of the AR refrigerator magnet using their phones, they will see an animated video of the big snowman.

The experience has reinforced Shao's determination to stay in her hometown and achieve her career development goals together with her young colleagues.

"Our company has four design teams, including around 50 members responsible for the visual and IP categories," said Shao. "Many of the young designers returned to Harbin from first-tier cities."

"The popularity of Harbin has brought about a new business environment and new opportunities and I believe that more idealistic young people will return to better build the city," Shao added.

Pioneering efforts

At the end of last year, Harbin Polar Park upgraded its cultural and creative product store, renaming it after its superstar seven-year-old "Smart Penguin", which has become the ambassador for the city's tourism industry.

"In 2017, we began to focus on creating the 'Smart Penguin' series of cultural and creative products as a nationally pioneering penguin ice and snow parade garnered widespread attention," said Zhang Dongyue, vice-general manager of the park. "So far, we have developed over 400 cultural and creative products, among which over 60 products rank in the 'Smart Penguin' series."

In the first two months of this year, Harbin Polar Park sold cultural and creative products worth over 20 million yuan.

According to data from the store, a "Smart Penguin" doll wearing a little red hat and carrying a small schoolbag has been ranked as the bestselling product every month.

"We will continue to develop a wide variety of cultural and creative products," said Zhang. "Simultaneously, we will continue to develop more products that appeal to young people."

Apart from exquisite souvenirs, various Harbin-themed flavors and shapes of ice lollipops from local brand Modern have also attracted numerous youngsters.

In 2023, over 300,000 cultural and creative Modern ice lollipops were sold, with the sales value exceeding 3 million yuan.

During the Spring Festival holiday, daily sales of the cultural and creative ice lollipops reached around 1,500.

"We have designed serious shapes for ice lollipops, such as snowflakes and the city's landmarks, including the Saint Sophia Cathedral, the Modern Hotel and the Central Avenue," said Liu Fubin, director of the marketing department at Harbin Madieer Group Co Ltd. "To enrich the flavors of the ice lollipops, we incorporated flavors such as coffee, durian and blueberry, and even collaborated with a liquor brand to develop an alcoholic ice lollipop."

To build Harbin as the capital of creative design, the local government has promoted a series of policies and measures.

Through policy guidance and talent support, Harbin New Area has constructed a diverse and multilevel cluster of creative design enterprises.

Following a joint effort with the Harbin Creative Design Center, the area carried out a talent development plan that trained over 900 designers in 2023.

In 2023, five enterprises in the area received special funds for supporting the development of the creative design industry, with a total subsidy amounting to over 1.7 million yuan, which can also help attract talent and capital to flow into the field of creative design, thereby promoting the prosperous development of the creative design industry.

Founded on September 30, 2022, the Creative Design Industrial Park of Harbin Normal University has attracted 23 teams.

"Leveraging the advantages of high-end talent and the university's disciplines and specialties, such as media, fine arts, music, and international fine arts, we have seen rapid development of cultural and creative products in the park," said Zheng Fangming, director of the park's management committee office and Party head of the university's School of Media. "Our cultural and creative products mainly revolve around rural tourism, agricultural cultural creativity, artistic rural construction, ice and snow tourism, intangible cultural heritage and regional characteristics cultural creativity."

"In the future, we will employ more advanced technological means such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality to promote the innovation and digital transformation of cultural and creative products," said Zheng.

With the rapid development and increasing emphasis on cultural and creative industries, the university has also added relevant content to its curriculum and paid more attention to cultivating students' entrepreneurial consciousness and abilities.

"Some new courses have been designed to provide students with multifaceted knowledge and skills to help them fully understand and participate in the cultural and creative industries, develop their professional competence in the fields of art, design, management and entrepreneurship, and prepare for future career development," said Huang Qian, director of the visual communication design department of the School of Fine Arts at the university. "The university also encourages outstanding students to engage in related industries, especially in Heilongjiang, and provides them with development opportunities, hoping to bring new vitality into the development of local cultural and creative industries."

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