Living in China,  My Life

Winter without heating in Guangzhou

guanghou winter

It doesn’t snow in Guangzhou and the temperature doesn’t go below zero, but that doesn’t mean it’s always Summer in Guangzhou either. One of the big surprises that living in Guangzhou has  brought me are the cold winters.

Yangtze River is the longest river in China, actually the longest in whole Asia. In China there is central heating North of the Yangtze River, but not in the South. Nanjing University was built on both sides of the river, meaning only half of the dormitories have central heating. (Source: Jason Cullen)

The temperature in Guangzhou has come up back to 16 Celsius beginning of today, but the last few days were both cold and rainy. For a Finn like me it isn’t a problem if the temperature outside is 10 Celsius, but when it’s as cold inside too, I start to shiver.

We don’t have any heating at home, we don’t have double glazing and the air has a straight access from outside to inside on the first floor. Sun doesn’t shine to our bedroom during Winter and it becomes the coldest room in our floor. I used to hate sleeping with my socks on, but it’s the only option to stay warm in Guangzhou.

During Winter I have to wear two trousers, t-shirt, woolen sweater and a jacket on top. My hands get cold quickly and I try to warm my self by drinking hot water or tea. Taking a shower is both hot and cold. It feels good under the hot water, but as soon as you close the water, all the warm air will escape outside.

After almost four years I’m still not used to the Winters here in the Southern China and I caught a cold. Many of my friends did too. I spent a few days at home sleeping and watching TV series, but now I’m feeling better. I’m wondering how many days per year does Guangzhou have weather that I can feel comfortable in?

My cats are feeling the cold as well, one of them sneaking under the blanket when she gets the chance. They sleep close to each other and nap in the sun when it shines through the windows.

How do you manage Winters in the Southern China without heating?

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  • Stephanie

    You speak right from my heart. I have exactly the same feeling about the winter in Guangzhou (including the experience with the cat sneaking under the blanket and the sock experience).
    What saves my night is an electric heating blanket that I bought in Hong Kong 2 years ago. Not cheap, but a well worth investment.

    Jocelyn Eikenburg Reply:

    I’m with Stephanie, get an electric blanket. You can even put them under your sheets (for certain brands). That’s how I stay warm! But you don’t need to head over to HK to get one…at least, here in rural Zhejiang they sell them in the large supermarkets (like Carrefour or Wal-Mart type supermarkets) or you could just go online and buy one as well.

    I also got myself a huge basin I can sit in while showering. I fill it with hot water and that way my body stays much warmer when I shower. Our shower also has heat lamps inside, which makes a difference.

    Olga Reply:

    Ditto to that: Nanjing in the winter is also effing cold and what saves us is a huge electric blanket and, while showering, switching on the heat lights can save you from a shiver.

    I’m not a great fan of sleeping over an electric appliance all night so I usually turn it off during the night, but it really makes a difference.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I’m sure I would get heaters and heating blankets and everything if I would live in Nanjing or anywhere colder than Guangzhou. Now I just try to get past the cold Winter, which isn’t that long. And then miss it when the Summer starts.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Nice tip to shower in a huge basin! I think my boyfriend’s parents don’t really want to get the electricity bills up by using heating or those heat lamps. They think it’s not really necessary.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I’ve heard so many good things about electric heating blanket, it must be good as my electric heating pillow is very warm as well.

  • chinaelevatorstories

    Yep, this was also something I wasn’t expecting – that winters would be that cold here. People say because of the humidity it feels colder than it would in a dryer climate. I also always have cold hand and feet in winter. We have bought an electric heater this year, heatable slippers, a hot-water bag and a very warm pullover to wear at night (from last year) and I have gotten myself a pair of super-warm trousers which were advertised to work well for Northeastern winters, ha. I don’t usually wear socks at night, because I feel that if I do, my feet won’t get warm at all. Instead, I put the hot-water bag where my feet are, which works pretty well for me.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I totally think that 15 degrees in Guangzhou feels much colder than in Finland, there it would be a Summer morning temperature!

  • Jari

    Guangzhou winter would feel nice after spending week in Guiyang countryside. Weather went to minus degrees during night and room did not have any heating. Even with three covers I felt cold.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Wow, that is very cold without heating indeed.

  • dandmcd

    Time to invest in some electric heaters for your rooms at the new house. Walmart, gome and suning sell a good selection at fairly low prices, and yes, it is only used for a few short weeks of the year, but worth it to have comfort and not catch a cold. It’s crazy the lack of heating, because yes, the winter is short here, but the temps are very harsh with a cold wet wind.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I think we might buy something for Winter 2014-2015. When we finally will be able to move in it’s going to be Spring already, but next Winter. I also think it’s worth it to feel comfortable, but at the moment the parents don’t want to spend any extra dime on something they think isn’t necessary.

  • thenakedlistener

    The situation is the same as in Hong Kong, where 90% of residential buildings have no heating or insulation. Compared with your situation in Guangzhou, Hong Kong is worse because structures here are mostly highrises, with walls 15 cm (6 inches) on average to as thin as 10 cm (4 inches). Most people (including those who grew up in cold climes such as myself) feel pretty much frozen even at 16 Celsius indoors. And since Hong Kong is a coastal city with year-round high humidity, the chill factor (when temperatures drop) is even more pronounced.

    One of the simplest ways to get around indoor chills is to roll down the carpets (not the wall-to-wall types) – but then again, this isn’t a habit with most Hongkongers or Chinese southerners. In a place like Hong Kong, living quarters don’t enough storage space for homeware that never get used for more than three or four days in the year.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Good point of the small living quarters that don’t really allow to storage stuff you don’t need daily or often. My boyfriend’s uncle lives in Hong Kong and they have clear places for all the necessary things they need but no extra space for anything else.

  • Kaiser

    When I’m south of the Yangtze during winter, I bundle up and take it like a man. 男子汉!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Good for you Kaiser! ;)

    sten hård Reply:

    You roll over and take it like a man??????

  • Bryan

    When I was young in Southern China, my mother made thick blankets for the winter. These blankets are very thick (about 4 inches think) full the whole family. That keeps me and the family warm during the winter. It is funny that we still relied on thick blankets even though my house has a heater in the US. She doesn’t even bother to turn it on.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Haha, I’m sure my boyfriend’s mother would be the same!

  • Eileen

    I live in Shanghai and despite I have a heater, it doesn’t really work so I don’t use it. :O! Now that sucks.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    How is the temperature over there during Winter?

    Eileen Reply:

    It will be in the negatives tonight.

  • Stephen Cronin

    About 10 years ago I was living in Zhaoqing in Guangdong and
    had the same experience. Our accommodation was not built to keep the cold out.
    We were freezing! Then we all went out on an emergency shopping trip to buy
    electronic blower heaters and that made things much better.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Yes, they don’t build for Winter at all in the south. In my opinion they also don’t build to have AC in the living rooms, only in the bedrooms.

  • Ashley

    Well, I’m not in Guangzhou, I’m in Taiwan. But I think the weather is about the same. 16 celcius and rainy is a typical winter day.

    I live in a small studio apartment in the middle of Taipei. Sometimes the air inside of my place feels just as cold as outside. I have a few different ways of dealing with it. Here’s an overview of what they are:

    1. Invest in some wooly slippers. As a rule, my feet don’t make contact with the frigid floor when I get out of bed in the morning without insulation and protection. Socks are a good idea too, of course. But get thee some slips and keep ’em beside the bed.

    2. Space heater. This wondrous little contraption doesn’t consume too much electricity, yet keeps me roasty toasty when it’s unbearably brisk indoors. Actually, it doesn’t need to stay on very long to do the trick, either. When I’m at my desk or computer, I switch it on for a half hour or so, by then I’m content and no longer need it.

    3. Well-insulated bedclothes. My mother in law bequeathed us with a really thick comforter, which although cold to the touch when the air in my room is chilly, insulates well. Meaning that once you’re underneath it for a few minutes, body heat is trapped inside and keeps you nice and snug. Sometimes it’s really hard to find decent comforters around, or they’re expensive. But I like to think of it this way- it’s a lot cheaper to buy a good blanket than to pay a winter season’s worth of heating bills! I don’t know if China has Muji (a store), but they have some good comforters.

    4. Dehumidifier. In this humid clime, it’s a necessity! Dampness in the air, particularly indoors, can really maximize the discomfort level during the cold season. My husband had a strange assumption that if we remained in our place while it was running we’d become mummified, but of course that’s not true. Whether you’re in or out, get one of those things and run it for at least a couple of hours a day and you’ll feel a major difference!

    Looks like you’re getting a lot of other useful advice, too. Good luck! Remember, winters are much shorter here. Summer will be back with a vengeance in the blink of an eye!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you so much for these tips Ashley! I’m sure they are helpful for us all. You are also right, soon the Summer will be here, well sooner than we think, and it’s time to find the tips on how to survive the long and hot and humid Summer!

  • Marta

    I always wonder who decided the “south” started from the Yangtze river down because I’d very much like to slap him. I spent 3 years in Beijing but the freezingest winters of my life have been in Shanghai and Suzhou. It snows, for God’s sake, and the flats have zero insulation, the glass in the windows is a joke and of course no radiators. Today when I arrived home it was 9 degrees inside!! (5 outside). And I just can’t stand being at home with my coat on so I turn the hot air con at full power. When I go to sleep I rely on the good old hot water bottles, they can really save your life.

    I heard the newest flats in Suzhou have 暖地, heat irradiating floors. I would love to live in one of those apartments hahaha.

    BTW I didn’t know it could get that cold in Guangzhou. But I just came back from Taipei and yes, it can get cold inside places too.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I tried to find an answer to why the south starts from Yangtse river. This is what I found:

    “Since ancient times, Chinese people have
    recognized the Qinling Mountain Range and the Huaihe River as the
    geographical line dividing northern and southern China. North China
    needs a central heating system because its weather is much colder than
    that of South China. Winter in northern China is much colder and longer
    than in the southern parts. Winter lasts up to six months in Northeast
    China, where temperatures can drop to minus 40 C. Compared to the
    northern parts, winter in South China is warmer and shorter.
    Temperatures in South China are usually above freezing point in winter.
    In fact, in some places winter lasts little more than a month.” Source:

    I also found out that:

    “In 1908, the Chinese geographer Zhang Xiangwen published a work defining north China as anything above a line running at roughly 33 degrees north latitude from the Qinling Mountains in the west to the Huai River in the east.

    When the Communists came to power in 1949 after decades of war and revolution, they relied upon Zhang’s definition for deciding where to introduce heating systems. In an era of
    austerity, it was deemed that the south did not require them.” Source:

    Kaiser Reply:


  • Emily Lofgren

    I think winters are cold up North of Beijing and often think it would be lovely to move South. Then I remember that all of you in Southern China don’t have the luxury of heat. Although the outside temperatures are more desirable in the South, at least I am able to have a heated apartment.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Heated apartment really is a luxury we don’t have here in the South. For example now it’s +6 Celsius and my hand are very cold typing on my computer.

    Kelvin Lai Reply:


  • JavaXu

    I’m a Chinese and tell this to my friends in UK. None of them believe it until I show them your blog. To be honest, even I was born and grew up in southern China, a city similar to Guangzhou, and study in Guangzhou for four years, I still could not get used to it either. T^T

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    This Winter has been easy as the Winter haven’t really even started! I wonder if it gets cold at all.