Shenyang life is getting harder in winter, don’t you think? Most of us are not used to living in such cold places, and it would be perfect to become a bear and fall asleep until spring arrives. But we are not bears and have to leave our houses at least some times. In Shenyang, with strong wind the temperature can fall to more than -20oC and sometimes it feels like -50oC, I think. But not for Chinese people for sure. Sometimes, I meet people on the street who are not looking frozen – walking around without hats, scarves and gloves or even unbuttoned jackets.
Let’s take a walk through the ages to find out how people stayed or still stay warm under any weather conditions!
Let’s start from the times of the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC – 220) Dynasties. Already in these times, the Chinese knew how to warm up the house. Special rooms were found in royal palaces of these times, called “temperature adjustable hall”. These rooms were built with pepper mash daubed on the wall, embroidered tapestries were hung on the walls and thick blankets were spread on the ground. Special windshield screens and curtains made of wild goose feathers protected the inhabitants from strong winds. These halls were also a good place for storing books and the comfortable temperature provided a good environment for reading. Also, a fireplace was found in a Qin Dynasty era palace and a kitchen range made with dried mud bricks in Han Dynasty ruins. During Wei and Jin Dynasties (AD 220-420), the ground heating system was invented, which the Chinese kept using during the Ming (1368 – 1644) and Qing (1644 – 1912) Dynasties. This system was built by concreting circular flue underground. With the help of special channels, the charcoal fire smog blew into the whole room and raised the temperature there.
Poor people could not use this system – they had a much cheaper variant called the kang (炕). Kangs are a traditional long platform made of bricks which were used as a heating center for Chinese houses, and also used as a bed and oven for cooking off to one side. An archeological website dedicated to the Shenyang area says that humans have been using this heated bed-floor as early as 7200 years ago.
Since the 20th century, after the Chinese Revolution, China has been divided into two parts – North and South. The dividing line between those two areas is the Huai River (that flows between the Yellow River and the Yangtze River) and Qin Mountains (more famously called Nanshan – “Southern Mountains”). Only north of this arbitrary demarcation does the government provide central heating to people’s homes – even today. Not everyone agrees with this situation. People who live in the “border” cities from the southern side, are suffering from cold because the insides of their apartments or houses are much colder than their outside. An interesting article about this phenomenon was published in the Los Angeles Times, you can find the article here. Luckily, Shenyang is in the North, so everyone is getting heating from the central system. To heat our homes, the government burns a lot of coal (by the way, Chinese people were the first who started using coal to cook or stay warm), that is the main reason of air pollution during the winter time.
In ancient times, in royal court, there were special censers. They were made of two parts: the bottom was a basin and the top was a hollow cover made with flower patterns. People put coal inside and used it for warming hands or feet, depending on the size of the censer.
Since ancient times and until now, the Chinese people have been drinking hot water to warm themselves. Some centuries ago, they used a pumpkin-shaped bronze kettle called a Tangpozi to heat their water. Now, hot water can be found everywhere: you can refill water in airports, train stations or even malls and it is also served for free in nearly all restaurants. This water is safe to drink, as it has been boiled sufficiently long, though it may sometimes have a funky taste to it.
Of course, one of the most important things to consider when trying to stay warm is proper clothing. Let’s first have a look which clothes and materials were preferred in ancient China. According on Shen Congwen’s study of Chinese ancient clothing, since the Jin Dynasty (AD 317- 420), wool textiles and animal furs, such as squirrel skin and raw fox skin, were used for making clothes. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220), different kinds of gloves were first found. Men were wearing silk towels, filled with silk floss, around their heads to keep warm.
In our century, there are lots of different kinds of winter clothes for each wallet size, style choice and weather condition. The most popular cold-weather clothing is down-jackets. There are millions of advantages: they are cheap, so everyone can buy them; they are warm because they are filled with down; for most jackets, the outer material is made of waterproof textile, so you do not have to worry about heavy snow or rain – you will stay dry; there are millions and millions of designs (i.e. short, long, with/without fur, all colors you want and so on). Another – more expensive variant – is a jacket made of animal fur. Of course, they are very warm but… those poor animals! On top of a good jacket, you also need warm shoes. The only problem that can stand between you and new pair of shoes in China is that Chinese sizes might be smaller from European or American ones, so if you buy online, keep this in mind.
Accessories play the biggest role in winter dress-up for Chinese people. There is no doubt that you can find “classical” variants of everything on the Chinese market, but here we will talk about typical Chinese stuff. I noticed that a lot of Chinese young people prefer so-called fur earmuffs instead of the more common hats. Of course, the Chinese also wear hats, but there are definitely more people in China than in Europe or the U.S. who wear these furry balls over their ears.
Do you remember how in one of our previous articles, the one about air pollution, we already showed you different types of weird safety masks? So, in winter people also wear masks like these (with pictures, moustaches, mouths and so on) but which protect your nose only from the cold, not the pollution.
But the weirdest accessory to my mind is gloves. Have you ever seen hands like animal paws, or like bears or something else? Walking along a Chinese market during the winter time, you will find such gloves everywhere.
Another thing, which you will not find outside of Northern China is a special muff. At first glance, it looks like a child’s toy, but you can put your hands into the sides and warm your hands. There is water inside, which you have to warm before leaving home (it works like a normal kettle, so just “charge” and it will make you warm). When I used to study at university here, in Shenyang, every second girl was walking with it on the university grounds (and guess what we got as a Christmas gift?).
Other Chinese “must-haves” during winter time are thick tights with a kind of fur inside (or better two or three pairs). Women either put them on under their trousers or wear them with a skirt (like “normal” tights). More often than not, there is a special strip around the foot which holds them in place.
Of course, every parent on Earth wishes the best for their child and takes care about their child’s health (even when the “child” already has his or her own family). But Chinese parents are extremely afraid that their kid will freeze in winter. So, they put many layers of clothes on them so that children can hardly move. And even sometimes, when kids fall, they cannot get up on their own – as they are wearing too many clothes. Also, Chinese parents like to dress children up in funny suits and hats – making kids look like pandas, bears or a range of other animals. It looks very cute and probably keeps them warm as well.
Take care of yourselves and stay warm during the winter. Pay attention to Chinese modern lifehacks and enjoy a good laugh. And please subscribe to our social media platforms (blog, WeChat, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) in order not to miss further posts.
Written by Inna Mironova