Without central heating, winter in Shanghai can be unbearable

By Huang Lanlan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/14 18:28:39

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

If you ask any southern Chinese person which months they hate the most, the answer will always be "from mid-November to mid-March."

Every winter during these four months, residents in northern China enjoy central heating in their apartments, which is turned on automatically by the government to keep all indoor temperatures a toasty 20 C.

In the south, however, we have no central heating. In Shanghai, you may even feel colder indoors than outside during this season. It's quite bizarre for a world-class metropolis that claims to be China's most modernized city.

Every night before going to bed, I turn on my apartment's air conditioner for 20 minutes to try to heat up my room. Then I take a deep breath, make a fist, crawl under my ice-cold blankets and huddle up like an infant.

Growing up in Central China's Hunan Province, where there is also no central heating, I personally have somewhat adapted to this "winter nightmare." However, some of my newly settled friends in Shanghai are barely surviving winter in this heatless city.

My former university classmate, Jingjing, recently complained on her WeChat that she never knew just how cold Shanghai was until moving here from East China's Shandong Province.

"It's so painful," she wrote. "To feel a bit warmer in my apartment here, I have to turn on all the air conditioners and the bathroom heater, and then hold my husband tight all night."

Similarly, my roommate Yiwei, also a northerner, often grumbles that she ironically feels much colder in Shanghai than she ever did in Northeast China's Jilin Province, where outdoor temperatures plummet as low as -30 C. There, she can eat ice cream without feeling cold, but in Shanghai she wouldn't dare.

I had never experienced central heating (what southerners call "northerner-only privilege") until last December during a business trip to Beijing. The central heating in my hotel was so warm and comfortable that I could hardly believe it was one of the coldest days of a year outside.

China's central heating plan, introduced in the 1950s, separated the nation into two distinct regions, using the Qinling Mountains and the Huaihe River as China's geographic north-south divide. The north was designated as an area "in need" of central heating during the winter while the south was left utterly unheated.

Obviously, this was a result of China's former planned economy and thus discounted the fact that southern China, especially Shanghai, gets even wetter, rainier and windier in the winter, which makes the region far colder than the north, who only have to contend with snow. With no central heating in our homes here, indoor temperatures may drop even lower than outside.

According to my northern friends, central heating has some downsides. Generally, a 70-square-meter apartment in Beijing costs around 2,100 yuan ($317.36) just to heat every winter, which is quite expensive for low-income families.

Air pollution is another factor. Many northern areas suffer from poor air quality every winter due to their dependency on coal to fuel central heating. Statistics show that China's coal consumption was over 60 percent of the total energy consumption in 2016, three times the average of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

This year, Beijing replaced many of its coal-fired heating facilities with clean energy, including natural gas. The result has been bluer skies and fresher air up north. But some areas that reportedly have not yet fully transitioned over to natural gas yet are forbidden from using coal are complaining that they have literally been left out in the cold.

Earlier this week, I caught a cold and a cough due to my freezing apartment. Although central heating is outdated, expensive and environmentally harmful, I still hope that someday we southerners will, somehow, enjoy the same level of warmth and comfort as our northern friends. I'll leave it to Shanghai's new generation of innovators to come up with a plan.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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