China’s north-south divide of haves and have-nots.

Ever wondered why the children in my classroom wear coats inside when I am teaching??  I did when I first saw photographs and videos taken in Chinese classrooms… This was before I learnt about the Chinese north-south divide of haves and have-nots.

A mention of the north-south divide immediately brings to mind the line that separates the more wealthy from the less wealthy, or the economically developed countries from the less developed areas of the world, the haves from the have-nots.  In China, however, the north-south divide of haves and have-nots takes on a completely different meaning, especially in winter.   It is the great dividing line of being warm or cold in the months when temperatures dip to uncomfortable levels…  And Shanghai and Hangzhou are just on the wrong side of it…


About sixty years ago, in the time of the Great Leader, a plan was hatched to provide Chinese citizens with free central heating in homes and offices and centralised systems were installed in residential areas, with the assistance from the Soviet Union.  Laudable you may say, and so it would have been if the offer had embraced the whole of the country.   But at those years, China was facing extreme energy shortages and the then Premier, Zhou Enlai, suggested the Qin-Huai line, a well-known geographical demarcation between north and south, as a cut-off point.  Buildings to the north would be provided with free or heavily subsidized central heating for four months each winter; buildings to the south would have no heating facilities whatsoever…  Rather unfortunate for those living below the line, even by just a mile….

I had been told by other Westerners that the cold in Shanghai and Hangzhou is different. Not that anyone could explain why.    Although freezing temperatures are not unheard of, the mercury seldom dips below zero and hovers somewhere between the low single digits and just above ten…  Like a British winter, basically.  But whereas in Britain we move from one nicely warmed room to another toasty area, here the only way to stay warm is to keep moving, moving from one icy place to another even icier place… There is no escape from the clammy penetrating cold sweeping in from the sea.  It flood your entire body and soul right down to the core..

So how to endure a winter here?  People are resourceful and adapt.  Instead of just wrapping up warmly to venture outside into the cold, people wrap up even warmer when entering their arctic homes.  Shoes and trainers are replaced with fur-lined boots and Chinese people wallow all day long in thickly padded pyjamas that make normal movement impossible…  And with an extra coat on top.  And yes, in school windows are thrown wide open to allow the more temperate outside air to circulate and ‘warm up’ the classrooms.  My days at school are spent in a state of permafrost…


Living in winter pyjamas


And then wearing long underwear underneath the pyjamas

In the meantime, I bought an extra woolly hat and special leggings and tights with fur on the inside.  Deliciously warm!!!

Luckily, China’s recent economic advancement has allowed for some improvement and newer apartments below the line of haves and have-nots now come with an air-conditioning-cum-heater units.  They are electrical, not very efficient and expensive to run, but at least they take away some of the chill.  For instance, my apartment has one located just next to the huge window, fighting off the biting cold permeating the double glazing.  But whilst the area around my window and bed easily reaches a sultry 25 degrees, the heat does not travel well and never extends to the bathroom at the other end.  Getting out of bed can be a trial and a frosty toilet seat is not exactly inviting; showers have to be kept short (not a lot of hot water in the small tank) and can only be started once the cubicle is misted up with hot steam.  I have been tempted to supplement my heating with a small electrical oil radiator; it’s all the rage… and probably more effective than the huge unit on the wall.  But with China trying to curb its greenhouse gases, maybe adding to them by generating the luxury of heat may well be frowned upon…


Last winter, us foreign teachers were chastised for putting on the blow heater in our small office.  Why did we not put on our coats, like the rest of the teachers and students???  It was an alien notion to us then and at the point no one had explained the big divide which meant that heating was a luxury only to be enjoyed on very special occasions, such as a whole week of deep frost…


I certainly no longer make fun of e-bikes fashioned with little blankets at the front to shield hands and body from the icy winds…You would do anything to keep warm…

Maybe  the solution is moving several thousands of miles to the south of the big dividing line…  Hmmm, and I have just signed up for another year in China, in Hangzhou…  I better invest in some more and warmer winter gear.


(drawings by Anna Z. and found on her blog post:

6 thoughts on “China’s north-south divide of haves and have-nots.

  1. Alison and Don

    I think I’d be moaning before half way through a winter. I lived in Canada’s far north (Yukon) for nearly 10 years so know all about the cold/living in pj’s/long johns/coats that make you look like the Michelin Man. Ten years was enough. Even though my cabin was warm as long as I kept the fire going, and buildings are centrally heated, I was always glad when winter finally ended. I’d for sure have bought one of those oil heaters! Stay warm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lievelee Post author

      I am definitely already looking forward to the warmth of Spring… But as winters go, apparently this year winter has been quite tolerable and not as severe as last winter. I count myself lucky!!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. lievelee Post author

      Yes, indeed… although i have not invested in a pair of quilted pyjamas, I do spend my evenings in fluffy warm pyjamas with a hoodie over the top… Cold certainly has a different meaning here.


  2. elisabethkhan

    Here in India, central heating is unheard of. If we had a North-South divide, I wonder what side Bhopal would fall on, as we are smack in the middle of the country. The winters here are like yours, short but fairly cold, especially at night, although I have never experienced frost here (minimum temps around 6º C). Still, poor people have died from hypothermia in the state. My house is facing north, I don’t get any sunshine except in the back bedroom. My kitchen window is not very large and the southern exposure is obstructed by a wall. Of course this is great in summer!
    The range of space heaters available in the market is minimal. I have two blowers and one LED heater, which work for small spaces or when you are sitting right next to them. I’m considering splurging on an oil radiator, with as many “fins” as I can find, but I doubt that even the largest model could warm up my living-dining-kitchen area, all open and with a very high ceiling.
    I am typing this wearing two wool cardigans over my pajamas, with the LED heater directed at my back. I’m waiting for the outside temperature to hit the 20s around noon, so I can open doors and windows to let the “balmy” afternoon air in.
    So, Lieve, China must have charmed you despite the cold winter, as you’re planning to stay another year. I’m looking forward to more stories and pictures from you!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lievelee Post author

      Don’t be fooled by the lack of negativity in my stories about China. Self-censorship is a powerful and necessary tool for survival…

      But yes, I am staying another year… There are still quite a few places I want to visit before moving on to a different country (Vietnam still beckons..) and the salaries for ‘native’ teachers are pretty tempting… But although I am staying in the same town, I will be working in a different school in a different area, closer to Downtown where the prospects for a decent social life are more promising…

      In the meantime, keep warm in Bhopal… Being cold is no fun!!!

      Liked by 1 person


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