China is a huge country, so the weather is extremely variable.
When you travel across the country, you can experience almost arctic temperatures in the north as well as tropical heat in the south.
This makes it impossible to generalize about the weather in China.
To help you understand China’s weather a bit better, I’ve put together 10 fun facts.
So, whether you’re planning your first trip to China or you just have an interest in the country’s climate, by the end of this blog you’ll have a little more knowledge.
1. Northern China is freezing cold
In winter, northern China can get extremely cold.
Temperatures go well below freezing, with winds that sweep in from Siberia and freeze everything in their path.
Depending on what city you’re in, you may experience temperatures as low as -35°F (-37°C).
Winter starts in late November and extends all the way through to March in this region.
If you don’t like the bitter cold, I recommend avoiding northern China in winter. It can really dampen your spirits.
Having said that, the Chinese really know how to celebrate wintertime. The city of Harbin is known for its famous winter festival where there are spectacular ice sculptures and snow activities.
Put this city on your travel list if you want to experience a real winter and all the festivities that come along with it.
2. Northern China is boiling hot
Unfortunately, it’s not always that comfortable in northern China in the summer either, because the weather becomes extremely hot and humid.
Summer starts in May and officially ends in August, but this region often gets warm days throughout September as well.
Summer is also monsoon season, so there can be a lot of rain at this time.
But just because it’s rainy doesn’t mean the area is gloomy. Most parts of northern China experience a lot of sunshine, with an average of 2,500 hours each year.
If you’re headed for Beijing in the summer, you’ll definitely need your sunglasses and a hat.
3. You can get sandstorms in Beijing
When you think of Beijing, the Great Wall or Tiananmen Square probably comes to mind.
But did you know that as well as experiencing extreme seasonal highs and lows, the ancient capital gets the odd sandstorm?
During spring (March to May), sandstorms can blow in from the nearby Gobi Desert, leaving the city in an orange haze.
The Gobi Desert is the fastest growing desert in the world, and this puts pressure on China’s fertile lands and the health of its people.
To combat the problem, the Chinese government started an ambitious tree-planting project in the Gobi in 1978.
Known colloquially as The Great Green Wall of China, the government is hoping to plant 88 billion trees by 2050, effectively stopping desertification and future sandstorms.
4. The smog might kill you
OK, this might be an overreaction. But the smog and pollution in China is a big issue, and it’s having devastating effects on the locals.
In fact, exposure to chronic air pollution has shortened China’s average life expectancy by more than four years, according to the World Health Organization.
One of the positives of the coronavirus pandemic was that China’s skies were clear of smog for months. Sadly though, air pollution returned with a vengeance as factories rushed to ramp up output after going idle during the outbreak.
If you’re planning a short trip to China, I wouldn’t worry too much about pollution. Beijing used to be pretty bad but has improved significantly in recent years.
China’s most polluted city (and the second most polluted in the world) is Hotan. It’s located in the remote far west of the country and sees few tourists.
China’s other really polluted cities are not visited much by tourists either.
5. Western China is wildly extreme
The western parts of China, like Tibet, can get extremely hot or cold depending on the season.
In July 2015, the temperature reached 122°F (50°C) near Ayding Lake in Xinjiang province. This was the highest temperature ever recorded in China.
The mountainous areas in the west are very hard to travel through from December to March. Heavy snowfall is common at this time of year, and the roads aren’t that good when they’re clear either.
Western China is also the country’s windiest area, and that’s why the world’s biggest wind farm was built there.
Located in Gansu province, the Gansu Wind Farm has thousands of wind turbines.
Authorities are planning on transmitting the power to the booming central and eastern parts of China.
6. Shanghai is hotter than you think
Shanghai weather can take some time getting used to. The humidity in particular can be an issue for tourists who haven’t done their homework on the weather in China.
Even though it’s on the central coast, Shanghai can experience temperatures of 100°F (37°C) in the summer.
On July 20, 2017, the megacity had its hottest day ever. The mercury reached 105°F (40.9°C).
Don’t stress if you forget to pack the sunscreen though. The Chinese are obsessed in keeping their skin as light as possible, and you’ll find sunscreen available everywhere in Shanghai.
7. The monsoon will drench you
Southern China experiences heavy rainfall in summer, which is between April and September.
The average rainfall varies from city to city, and in Hong Kong can go as high as 20 inches (506 mm) in June.
While this doesn’t mean you should avoid travelling in southern China at this time of year, it should definitely influence your suitcase-packing choices.
In June 2019, a record downfall hit Guangxi province, killing five people and displacing thousands more.
The normally busy tourist town of Guilin, near the magnificent Longji Rice Terraces, was ground to a halt as the city became submerged by floodwater.
Then in June 2020, more intense rainfall over southern China left more than 100 people dead or missing.
In Yangshuo, a popular travel destination known for its stunning mountain vistas, a once-in-two-centuries burst of heavy rain damaged over 1,000 hotels and guesthouses and 5,000 shops.
The impacts of climate change are really having an effect on China.
8. Typhoons will blow you away
Another quirk about the weather in China is the typhoon season.
Typhoons can have winds of up to 120 miles (194 km) per hour and do a lot of damage. They’re common in southern China, especially between July and September.
This is particularly relevant if you’ve visiting coastal areas or islands like Hong Kong, Hainan and Taiwan.
Typhoons will force you to stay indoors until they pass, which can be hours or even a few days. This can severely cut into your trip.
If you want to avoid them completely, choose another time to visit or travel inland.
9. Southern China is sticky hot
If you travel in the south of China from May to September, you’ll experience very warm temperatures. But it’s not a dry heat like in the west – instead it’s humid and sticky.
The further south you go, the hotter and more humid it gets. In places like Fuzhou, Xiamen and Shenzhen, your clothes will stick to you the minute you leave your hotel.
When I taught English in Fuzhou a few years ago, I found that wearing loose, long-sleeved clothing made out of natural fibers was the best way to protect myself.
If you want to explore the sticky south, make sure you get all your vaccinations for China. Getting seriously ill from a mosquito bite is the last thing you want!
10. The best weather is in October
If you have the freedom to choose your vacation time in China, I recommend traveling in October.
You’ll miss the summer highs as well as the winter lows in all areas, and the average temperatures will be cooler but not too cold.
Shanghai and Beijing for example, two cities that will probably be on your travel list, will have comfortable average temperatures.
Shanghai will have lows of about 59°F (15°C) and highs of 72°F (22°C), while Beijing’s temperatures will move between lows of 45°F (7°C) and highs of 66°F (19°C).
You’ll also experience less rainfall in most of the cities you’re visiting, which will make your trip more pleasant and less likely to get interrupted because of flooding.
It will also be easier for you to pack for your trip, because you won’t need to take heavy winter coats or rain gear.
Just try to avoid travelling in the first week of October. This is China’s National Day holiday, and many of the locals will be travelling at this time. This makes train tickets and domestic flights harder to book too.
Finding your sweet spot for the weather in China
China is a huge country, which makes it impossible to say what the weather will be like without knowing exactly where and when you’re going.
Generally speaking, fall and spring are the best times to travel in China. The weather is milder, which makes sightseeing easier and more enjoyable.
Whatever temperatures you’re most comfortable in or want to experience, China has it all.
I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about the weather in China. It’s a pretty crazy country! I’ve also written an article about the things you shouldn’t bring to China, which will help you if you’re traveling there.