Map from Google - China

China is a huge country, and has a great variety of climates. Winter is freezing cold in the north, in the mountains and the plateaus, while it's mild in the south; summer is hot everywhere, except in the highlands and in the high mountains. If we exclude the vast western desert areas, where rainfall is scarce and irregular, summer is the rainiest season. The rainiest part of the country is the south-east, the least rainy the north-west.

Northeastern China
The north-eastern part of China, called Manchuria, has a markedly continental climate, with frigid and dry winters, and hot and rainy summers. The winter monsoon brings cold air masses from nearby Siberia, while the summer monsoon brings warm and moist air masses from the south, in fact summer, from June to August, is the only season where there are significant rains. Even in May and September, the rains are quite frequent, but not abundant. Rainfall, or rather snowfall considering the temperatures, is definitely scarce in the long cold season.
Winter in this area is very cold, since the average January temperature is below -10 °C (14 °F), and even below -20 °C (-4 °F) in the northern part. Cold records are around -40 °C (-40 °F).
In Harbin, a metropolis of ten million inhabitants, the average January temperature is -19 °C (-2 °F). From November to March, the temperature remains below freezing (0 °C or 32 °F) even during the day. In winter the sky is often clear, however, given the low temperatures, the little snow that falls doesn't melt, so the winter landscape is usually covered with snow. Due to the cold, the sculptures of the "Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival", which is held every year in January, remain standing for weeks. Here are the average temperatures of Harbin.
Average temperatures - Harbin
Min (°C)-25-21-100814181690-11-20
Max (°C)-13-92132126282621120-10
Min (°F)-13-6143246576461483212-4
Max (°F)91636557079827970543214

In spring, the temperature rises rapidly, and summer is a warm season, but it's also rainy: in July, 165 millimetres (6.5 inches) of rain fall, and relative humidity is high. In the hottest days, when it doesn't rain, the temperature can reach 35 °C (95 °F). Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Harbin
Prec. (mm)46172545901651205535158585


Further south, in Shenyang, a city of eight million inhabitants, the temperature goes from -11 °C (12 °F) in January, to 24.5 °C (76 °F) in July; even here winter is usually sunny, while summer is humid and rainy.
Average temperatures - Shenyang
Min (°C)-17-13-4411172019124-4-13
Max (°C)-5-26162327292824166-2
Min (°F)192539526368665439259
Max (°F)232843617381848275614328

In the northernmost part of Manchuria, near the border with Siberia, the summer becomes cooler, so that the average drops below 20 °C (68 °F) even in July. Winters are even colder, so that the average in January approaches -30 °C (-22 °F), and cold records are about -50 °C (-58 °F), as we can see from the average temperatures of Tahe.
Average temperatures - Tahe
Min (°C)-36-33-23-8061081-10-25-33
Max (°C)-21-15-5616222321144-11-20
Min (°F)-33-27-918324350463414-13-27
Max (°F)-65234361727370573912-4

The best times to visit Manchuria are spring and autumn, and in particular the months of May and September.

China - Climate of desert

Nearly half of China is arid or desert, including Tibet, which, however, has a peculiar climate. The desert belt begins north-west of Beijing, at no great distance from the capital, so much so that at times the same capital is hit by dust storms, and extends westward, covering almost the entire Inner Mongolia, where we find the Chinese side of the Gobi desert, and then further to the west, in the areas at low or middle altitudes of Xinjiang and Gansu, where we find Taklamakan (or Taklimakan), a huge sand desert. The climate in this area is strongly continental, with freezing winters and hot summers, sometimes torrid especially at lower altitudes, although it should be noted that this area is mostly occupied by plateaus, around 800/1,200 metres (2,600/4,000 feet) above sea level, where the summer heat, though still present, it's tempered by the altitude. Sunshine is frequent throughout the year. The wind is often strong, and can be raise storms in winter and spring.


In Kashgar, an oasis along the ancient Silk Road, located at 1,300 metres (4,250 feet) above sea level, the temperature goes from -5 °C (23 °F) in January to 25 °C (77 °F) in July, with sometimes torrid days despite the altitude, while nights are usually pleasant. In a year, only 60 millimetres (2.4 in) of rain (or snow in winter) fall, with a greater chance in summer.
Below 1,000 metres (3,300 feet), in summer the temperature can reach 40 °C (104 °F). The hottest area is the Turpan Depression (or Turfan), which is also the hottest place in China: a small area at sea level (or even below, hence the name depression), where winter is really freezing, but summer is hot, since daytime temperatures usually hover around 37/39 °C (99/102 °F) from June to August, with peaks of 45 °C (113 °F). To avoid the climate extremes, you can visit this depression from mid-March to mid-April and in October.
Average temperatures - Turpan
Min (°C)-15-721016222522156-3-11
Max (°C)-361725323739373221100
Min (°F)51936506172777259432712
Max (°F)2743637790991029990705032

Ürümqi, a city of three million inhabitants, located at 850 metres (2,800 ft) above sea level, is the largest city in the world farthest from the sea, which lies 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) away. Here the average temperature goes from -13 °C (9 °F) in January to 25 °C (77 °F) in July; in summer, it can sometimes exceed 40 °C (104 °F), while in winter it can plunge to -30 °C (-22 °F). Due to the proximity to the Tian Shan Range, precipitation is more frequent than in other places of the area, but it remains scarce due to the low moisture available, and it doesn't reach 250 mm (10 in) per year. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit the city, and in general these desert areas located on the plateau at about a thousand metres (3,300 feet) of altitude: in particular the months of May and September.
Average temperatures - Urumqi
Min (°C)-18-16-5512171918123-6-14
Max (°C)-8-64172429313024142-6
Min (°F)032341546366645437217
Max (°F)182139637584888675573621

In the north-west, in the area north of Urumqi and between Mongolia and Kazakhstan, Dzungaria has a frigid winter, with averages ranging between -10 °C and -20 °C (14 and -4 °F), while summer becomes progressively cooler as you proceed towards the border with Russia: in Altay, 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) above sea level, the average of January is -16 °C (3 °F), that of July is 20 °C (68 °F).

China - climate of the mountains
In China there are several mountain ranges. Even Tibet is full of mountains, but we have not shown them in the map, because for the most part they have the same climate of Tibet. Among the mountainous areas, we have to distinguish between two main zones: the several chains of the western part (inside the burgundy area in the left, where even the Himalayas are found), and those of the south-east (Yunnan, in the black circle at the bottom), which due to southern latitude and lower altitude have a much milder climate, so that we can define them as "warm mountains".
Along the western and southern border of China, there are several mountain ranges: Tian Shan, Pamir, Karakoram, Himalaya, while north of Tibet we find Kunlun Shan. Clearly, the temperatures vary according to latitude and altitude.
In Akqi, located at 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) above sea level in the northwest and near the border with Kyrgyzstan, the average temperature goes from -8 °C (18 °F) in January to 19 °C (66 °F) in July: as you can see, the strong summer heating of the Asian continent is evident even at high altitudes.
In China the two world's highest mountains are found: Mount Everest, on the border with Nepal, and K2, on the border with Pakistan. On top of Everest, the average temperature goes from -36 °C (-33 °F) in January, to -19 °C (-2 °F) in July; the cold record is about -60 °C (-76 °F). The temperature never exceeds the melting point. From June to September, the summer monsoon brings clouds and snow showers. In winter, from November to February, the western jet stream moves to a lower latitude and reaches this area, bringing hurricane intensity winds, of more than 250 kph (155 mph), but strong winds are also possible in spring and autumn.

In the province of Yunnan, the "warm mountains" have a definitely more pleasant climate. In Kunming 1,900 metres (6,200 ft) above sea level, the average goes from 8 °C (47 °F) in January to 20 °C (68 °F) in July: therefore, the climate is temperate, even though the winter nights can be cold. Here are the average temperatures in Kunming.
Average temperatures - Kunming
Min (°C)236914161716141273
Max (°C)151720242524242423201715
Min (°F)363743485761636157544537
Max (°F)596368757775757573686359

The rainfall amounts to 1,000 mm (40 in) per year, the bulk of which occurs in summer: in July and August, more than 200 mm (8 in) of rain per month fall. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Kunming
Prec. (mm)12121627921732052061228940141007

In the far south, on the border with Burma, Laos and Vietnam, the climate is sub-tropical even at an altitude between 1,000 and 1,500 metres (3,300 and 4,900 feet): winter is mild, while summer is hot and humid, with heavy rains. This area can be visited in spring, especially in March and April; in summer, even though the temperatures are pleasant, the rains are frequent and abundant and the sunshine amount is poor.

Beijing area
The area of Beijing has a continental climate, although not as extreme as in the north-east: winters are cold, with average temperatures in January ranging from -10 °C to 0 °C (14 to 32 °F), and summers are hot and humid. Summer is the only rainy season, while in the other seasons the sun usually shines. Annual precipitation goes from 300 to 700 millimetres (12 to 27.5 in), and is more abundant near the sea.
In Beijing, the winter is cold: the average in January is -4 °C (25 °F), with lows around -10 °C (14 °F), and highs around or just above freezing. The sky is often clear (apart from the pollution plaguing the capital as well as other Chinese cities), and freezing winds blow, bringing dust from the desert of Mongolia. Snowfall is relatively rare. In spring, the temperature increases rapidly, so much so that already in April it often exceeds 20 °C (68 °F), and in May the average maximum is around 26 °C (79 °F). In June, it's already hot as in midsummer, but in July and August, the maximum temperature does not increase any more, because the summer monsoon arrives at about the middle of June, bringing heavy rains and high humidity. So, in Beijing summer is hot, but especially muggy. July and August are the rainiest month. Anyway, even in summer there may be entire weeks without rain, and these periods are usually the hottest. The monsoon is quite irregular, here as well as in the north-eastern part of China, so the rains may be more or less abundant depending on the year.
Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Beijing
Prec. (mm)3610253070175180502062578

To escape the summer heat, people go to Beidaihe or generally along the coast of the Bohai Sea, where sea breezes temper the heat. In September, in Beijing the humidity decreases and the weather becomes pleasant, while in October the nights begin to be very cool. In the capital, the best times are therefore spring and autumn: April-May and September-October.
Here are the average temperatures.
Average temperatures - Beijing
Min (°C)-9-7-17131822201470-7
Max (°C)241120263031302619103
Min (°F)161930455564726857453219
Max (°F)363952687986888679665037


Near Beijing, the sea is very cold in winter, while it becomes warm enough for swimming from July to September, as we can see in the following table.
Sea temperature - Beidaihe
Sea (°C)4347121823252319148
Sea (°F)393739455464737773665746

North-west of Beijing, along the course of the Yellow River (Huang He) there are two cities, both at the northern edge of this area, beyond which the desert is found: Baotou and Hohhot, respectively, the principal city and the capital of Inner Mongolia. Both are located at 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) above sea level, and in winter they are very cold, also because of altitude, in fact the average temperature in January is around -10 °C (14 °F). Summer is hot, a little less than in Beijing, since the July average is 23.5 °C (74.5 °F). Precipitation amounts to only 300 mm (12 in) per year, because the summer rains are less abundant than in the capital, around 80/100 mm (3.1/4) per month in July and August.
Average temperatures - Baotou
Min (°C)-17-13-62914171591-7-14
Max (°C)-408172428302722155-2
Min (°F)192136485763594834197
Max (°F)253246637582868172594128

Every now and then the Beijing area, especially in the part closest to the sea, can be affected by typhoons or their remains. Typhoons occur in summer and early autumn, and are more common in the southern areas (see the following paragraphs, the area of Shanghai and the south).

On the border between this area and the next and milder area of Shanghai, we find the city of Xi'an, famous for the terracotta army.

Shanghai area
In this central area, the climate becomes milder in winter, since the average temperature in January is between 0 and 10 °C (32 and 50 °F), while summer is warmer and longer, with a greater influence of the summer monsoon. In addition to the higher temperature, cloudiness and rainfall throughout the year increase, so that rainfall hovers between 1,000 and 1,600 mm (40 to 63 in) per year. Along the lower reaches of the Yangtze River (or Chang Jiang), we find some large cities with a similar climate, such as Wuhan, Nanking (Nanjing) and Shanghai.
In Shanghai, winter is certainly milder than in Beijing, but it's still pretty cool, since the average temperature in January is 4 °C (39 °F). Unlike in Beijing, in winter the sky is often cloudy, and the rains are quite frequent, though not abundant. Summer, from June to September, is hot and muggy, with abundant rainfall. July and August are the hottest months, with daily averages of 27/28 °C (81/82 °F), and despite the proximity to the sea, in a city so large the urban heat island effect is evident, and the breeze is not so effective.
Here are the average temperatures.
Average temperatures - Shanghai
Min (°C)1251116202525211592
Max (°C)8913192427323227221711
Min (°F)343641526168777770594836
Max (°F)464855667581909081726352

Precipitation amounts to 1,100 mm (43 in) per year, with a maximum in summer. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Shanghai
Prec. (mm)4060801001151501301351556050351110

In Shanghai, the sea is warmer than in the north, and it's warm enough for swimming from July to September, while it is a bit cool in June and October.
Sea temperature - Shanghai
Sea (°C)1088111621252725221814
Sea (°F)504646526170778177726457


In Chongqing, located south of Shanghai and very far from the sea, winter is milder than in Shanghai, since the average in January is 8 °C (46.5 °F), and it's also less rainy, but cloudiness is even more frequent, so that the sky is almost always overcast. Summer is even more hot and muggy: there is no relief on summer nights, when temperatures do not drop below 24/25 °C (75/77 °F). Moreover, here and across southern China, the monsoon rains begin earlier, with a peak in May and June, and they last until October.

During summer, this area can be reached by typhoons, tropical cyclones which originate in the Pacific Ocean, and then move over Southeast Asia, penetrating several hundred kilometres (or miles) inland, although their effects are more remarkable on coastal regions. Typhoons can bring strong winds and torrential rains.

Climate of southern China
In the southernmost part of China, winter is very mild, so that the average temperature in January is above 10 °C (50 °F), while there's a long tropical summer. Annual precipitation is between 1,200 and 2,000 millimetres (47 and 79 inches), with a winter minimum and a summer maximum. The rainfall, during the long hot season, occurs mostly in the form of showers and thunderstorms, in the afternoon or evening, while it can be long and torrential during typhoons, which are more frequent from August to early October.
In Fuzhou, the summer, with highs equal to or higher than 28 °C (82 °F), lasts 5 months, from mid-May to mid-October, while in Guangzhou (Canton) it lasts six months, from May to October.
Here are the average temperatures in Guangzhou.
Average temperatures - Guangzhou
Min (°C)101115192325252524211611
Max (°C)181822262931333331292421
Min (°F)505259667377777775706152
Max (°F)646472798488919188847570

However, the rainiest period in the south goes from April to September, and in October the rains fall sharply, even though it's still warm. At these southern latitudes, the wettest period goes no longer from May to June (as was the case of the area located south of Shanghai), but it extends throughout the long summer: in Guangzhou, rainfall exceeds 230 mm (9 mm) per month from May to August.
Here is the average precipitation in Guangzhou.
Average precipitation - Guangzhou
Prec. (mm)4565851802852602302201708040251685

The sea at the latitude of Guangzhou, therefore at the Tropic, is never cold, even though it gets a little cool from December to March, while it is definitely warm in summer.
Sea temperature - Shantou
Sea (°C)212022242628292828262421
Sea (°F)706872757982848282797570

In the far south, the island of Hainan has a quasi-tropical climate, since the average January temperature is near 20 °C (68 °F). In this island, the interior is occupied by hills and low mountains, where tropical forests grow. The rains are abundant from May to November on the eastern side, while the western side is more sheltered, and receives moderate rains only from June to October, and even abundant in August and September; however, the total annual rainfall hardly reaches 1,000 mm (40 in), not a lot for a tropical area, while on the eastern side of the island it rains about twice as much. However, in winter the sky is often cloudy, even though there is little rain.
Here is the average rainfall of Haiku, on the northern coast, where the rains are at an intermediate level, around 1,600 mm (63 in) per year.
Average precipitation - Haikou
Prec. (mm)20355010518521021022525020095351625

And here are the average temperatures.
Average temperatures - Haikou
Min (°C)151619222425252524222016
Max (°C)212226303233333231282522
Min (°F)596166727577777775726861
Max (°F)707279869091919088827772

The sea temperature in Hainan is similar to that of Guangdong, although it is a bit warmer in winter. However, it is a bit cool for swimming from January to March.
Sea temperature - Haikou
Sea (°C)212122242729292929282523
Sea (°F)707072758184848484827773

Given the vastness of the country and the wide climatic variety, it's hard to find a single period which could be the best throughout the country. In general, however, the best times are spring and autumn.
In Beijing, in April and October the days are pleasant, while at night it can get a bit cold, besides, spring is preferable because it has longer days. May and September are warmer, but they are also fine.
In Shanghai, which has a longer summer, you may prefer April, May and October.
The warm mountains of Yunnan can be visited in March and April.
In Guangzhou and in the south, since spring is already rainy, we prefer October and November, perhaps avoiding early October, because there's still some risk of typhoons.
The north-eastern cold area and the northwestern desert area, both hot in summer, can be visited in May and September.
You can visit Tibet in summer (see the climate of Tibet).

What to pack

In winter: for Harbin and the north-east, the mountains and the desert, especially in the northern part (Urumqi and Dzungaria), cold weather clothing, synthetic thermal long underwear, parka, Gore-Tex jacket, gloves, hat, scarf.
For the Beijing area, very warm clothes, down jacket, gloves, scarf, hat, which can be removed in the warmer days of February.
For the area of Shanghai, warm clothes, sweater, jacket, possibly a raincoat or umbrella.
For Yunnan, in Kunming, warm clothes, sweater, jacket, hat for colder nights, heavier garments if you want to rise in altitude and climb mountains.
For the south, Fuzhou and Guangzhou, spring/autumn clothes, sweater, jacket, raincoat or umbrella. For Hainan, spring/autumn clothes, light for the day, sweater, jacket.

In summer: for Harbin and the north-east, light clothing, a sweatshirt or sweater for the evening, raincoat or umbrella.
For the desert, light clothing, scarf for the wind, sweatshirt or sweater for the evening at hill altitudes and in the far north; you can add a jacket, maybe long for the wind, above 1,000 metres (3,300 feet).
For the high mountains (Tian Shan, Pamir, Karakoram, Himalayas), down jacket, hat, gloves, scarf.
For the Beijing area, light clothes, light raincoat or umbrella, scarf for the wind, light sweatshirt for air conditioned places.
For the area of Shanghai, the south and Hainan, tropics-friendly, lightweight clothes, light raincoat or umbrella, light sweatshirt and scarf for air conditioned places.
For Yunnan, in Kunming, spring/autumn clothes, light for the day, sweater, raincoat and umbrella; bring heavier clothes if you plan to climb mountains.

If you forgot something, you can find it easily and at low price on the spot.
For women, it is preferable to avoid shorts and miniskirts in rural and non-tourist areas.