How to stay warm in China without central heating?

How to stay warm in China without central heating?

Not every knows, but China’s heating system is split in half. While the north gets central heating every year from November to March, the south of China has no such luxury. The division line between the north and the south was traditionally set along the Qinling Mountains, which range from the west to the east, and the Huaihe River, a major waterway between the Yellow and Yangtze rivers; so only areas north of this line are equipped with central heating facilities.

Now we are living in Anhui which this dividing line splits in half. But some genius decided that Anhui isn’t too cold in winter and so the whole province has no central heating. Our city is way up north of Anhui and also way above the set dividing line… Winters here are horrible. For several months we do get below zero, and indoors has the same temperature as outdoors. Most apartments are equipped with air-conditioning which can be turned to hot air. Unfortunately, they are a waste of electricity and have trouble getting the house really warm.

After living in China through several winters I have found several ways how to keep warm. Don’t be fooled even in China’s south winters can get ugly as Sara from Living a Dream in China writes. And also my times in Shanghai during winter were a more unpleasant experience (but then I naturally hate the cold).

I have started to get our new apartment winter ready, and thought it might be useful for some of you if I share my ways of staying warm indoors.

1. Portable electric heater 电暖器


At the moment our apartment has no air-conditioning and we are not planning on installing one for personal reasons. But without anything that can heat up your living space temperatures indoors will drop below the temperature that is actually outside… I don’t know why, but it’s always colder indoors than outside. This year we have decided to get one or two portable heaters. Our bathroom has a heating lamp preinstalled, which is essential if you still want to shower, but if the bathroom has no such thing, you can get a bathroom heating lamp online or in a big supermarket. Make sure they are for bathroom use, so they can handle the moist and water.

We have decided on a portable heater you can simply plug in. It  comes with a drying rack which is awesome for drying a few clothes during the humid winter. I haven’t decided on the brand yet. I guess we will get two different once and just see which one works best, and leave it for the big living room, while the other one will be for the bedroom.

2. Electric heating blanket 电热毯


These heating blankets are sent from heaven. Only we got us two of those precious things. I am sitting on one right now! I can tell you there is nothing more heavenly than a cosy warm bed.

They are called dianretan 电热毯 in Chinese and are found in most supermarkets as soon as winter starts. We got our two from sister in law who is always so worried about me freezing to death. Mother in law is more the kind of “we need more blankets” kind of person. Though more blankets can’t be wrong either. Just be careful not to suffocate by the weight some of those Chinese winter blankets have.

3. Toilet seat covers 马桶坐垫


I know that some think toilet seat covers are unhygienic. But trust me if you have ever tried to sit on a frozen toilet in the morning you will wish for one of those covers.

You can always get several ones, so you always have a replacement when you wash one. They are really cheap in China and come in all designs and colors.

I heard there are even heated toilet seats now. Produced in China, and sold in Japan back to Chinese people. Maybe we should also try to get one…

4. Long underwear 秋裤


No matter if you are indoors or outside, long underwear will be your best friend.

Chinese long underwear even comes with an added thick layer of furry fleece, keeping you even warmer. My husband is a big fan of the long underwear trousers. But every time I try to buy him one of those more Chinese long underwear garments, he refuses…. I don’t understand why… Doesn’t every one love pandas on their clothes?

5. Hot pot 火锅


Hotpot isn’t just delicious but the boiling broth and accompanying heating unit help keep you warm. Hotpot is an essential winter meal, and we have it nearly every day at home.

There is no need to go to an expensive Hotpot restaurant. It’s very simple to make at home and a lot of fun as well. I love this about winter the most, because Hotpot dinners are so easy to prepare. No need for long preparations.

6. Hot foot bath 泡脚


After walking around the whole day in the cold or maybe sitting in a cold office, there is nothing more relieving than a nice hot foot bath in the evening.

My husband swears on hot foot baths in winter, because as soon as it gets cold his feet start to swell from the cold and get itchy. I have seen that with nearly every Chinese person I have met so far. Hot foot baths increase blood flow through the feet and entire skin surface, relieving congestion in internal organs and brain. This type of bath also elevates the body temperature, relaxing tense muscles and increasing white blood cell activity.

I am not sure who loves those baths more, me or my husband, because one is for sure, I don’t have cold feet anymore afterwards with which I could torture him in the evening…

7. Chinese winter pyjamas 冬睡衣


Before I came to China I didn’t know such thick and cuddle pyjamas even existed. Though, some are so thick that I cannot move in them.

A Chinese winter pyjama is essential here. They keep you warm indoors and in most smaller places in China it is socially accepted to go outside with them to do some shopping. Some even get along with winter house shoes.

8. Electric hand warmer 暖手宝


Electric hand warmer or nuanshoubao are a great invention. They come in all forms and sizes and you can simply plug them in until the red light turns off and they heat up to a nice warm temperature. You can take them with you where ever you go. I have one the cover my computer mouse, because my hand always freezes. There are also some for your feet.

9. Insulation tape 密封条


This is something I have found recently. As most Chinese houses have never heard of insulation for windows are doors, no matter how much money you put into a great heater, the warmth will always leave within seconds after turning the heat off.

I have started to tape off all windows and doors with the insulation tape I got online. They come in three different colors, so they won’t be too visible. The best way to keep the warmth in your house is to tape off every single window.

Our entrance door is the worst. It has a huge gap between floor and door, and you can hear the wind blowing through. I bought tape and in addition made one of these draft stoppers.


So far my measures have worked. Apartment is warm and cosy and I am not afraid of the winter anymore! Winter you can come! I am prepared!


How do you handle the cold, especially without central heating?

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

7 thoughts on “How to stay warm in China without central heating?

  1. I see you have everything covered!! Winters here without heating are really a torture, and I can imagine that in Anhui it is even worse than in Suzhou/Shanghai. Every time winter comes I feel like going to visit the person who decided that the “south” didn’t need heating and slap him. Or well, if he is already dead, spit on his grave or something…

    I heard that some apartments in Suzhou have floor heating! That sounds like a dream came true, but I have never actually seen it. It must be only in the luxury compounds…

    PS. I loved the frozen toilet drawing, haha. In my previous apartment the toilet seat was made of plastic but the new one is ceramic, so my ass is surely going to freeze, haha. I will think about buying some covers, but the thing is the toilet bowl is rectangular, not sure if there are suitable covers!
    Marta recently posted…A tourist in ShanghaiMy Profile

    • I remember winter in Shanghai. It was unpleasant, but I only had a little room in a university dormitory, and airconditioning was more or less enough to heat it… but now all grown up and with our own apartment, heating is always a struggle…

      I actually also heard rumors of apartments with floor heating here in Bozhou, but so far I have to find someone who can prove its true and not only wishful thinking haha

      About the toilet seat covers, I am sure you can find any form and style on taobao. In supermarkets they usually sell the round ones, but you know, taobao has anything you can imagine (or would never imagine).

  2. I love your blog. You have a great voice, Anna. Your interview with the tv station was great. You’re so talented.

    Congrats on your husband’s clinic.

    Here’s a simple ying and yang recipe that has been my winter hot drink for many years as I am prone to chest infection when I get a cold. It was given to me by my homeopath.

    Fresh ginger, about an inch, peeled, roughly chopped
    1 spring onion, sliced
    1.5 cups of water

    Simmer for 10 minutes. Drink while hot.

    p/s Listen to your body – you will know when you need to stop drinking this concoction because you will find it unbearably hot inside your system.

    • Thank you. I have heard of fresh ginger boiled in hot water as a drink but not spring onions… can I leave the spring onions out? Do you taste the onions? I hate onions, so maybe I only take the ginger :)

  3. This is a fragrant drink.

    I left the spring onion out once but I felt the ginger on its was too much for me. By all means, try it out for yourself.

  4. Oh yeah, read about this before and I really wonder what was going on in the persons head who decided on not placing there central heating/ how big the red pocket was.
    Too bad you dont got your own little house somewhere because then you could just easily build a wood/ coal oven with nice bricks around to keep the heat for the whole day. This kind of system of heating through electric devices is just insane, not only for your own pocket but also for the environemt. Hope they get someday around and see what value central heating in all of China would have!
    Timo recently posted…The Silent OneMy Profile

    • Exactly! It’s a huge waste of electricity and especially with China’s environmental problems, they should make a change… There is an animation going around the Chinese interent of an airconditioning that is not blowing air but one hundred RMB notes… very precise descrption… We are still without heating, saveing on electricity as long as possible.

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