Map from Google - China
China is a huge country, and has obviously different types of climate. Winter is very cold in the north, on mountains and plateaus, while it's mild in the south; summer is hot everywhere, except in the highlands and in 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 northwest.
The north-eastern part of China, called Manchuria, has a markedly continental climate
, with cold and dry winters, and hot and rainy summers. The winter monsoon brings cold air from the nearby Siberia, while the summer monsoon brings warm winds and rains, in fact summer, from June to August, is the only season where there are significant rains. Even in May and September, 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 frigid, since the average January temperature is below 14 °F, and even below -4 °F in the northern part. Cold records are around -40 °F.
, a metropolis of ten million inhabitants, the average January temperature is -2 °F. From November to March, the temperature remains below freezing 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 by snow. The frost ensures that 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
The rise in temperature in spring is very strong, so that summer is a warm season, but it's also rainy: in July, 6.5 inches of rain fall, and relative humidity is high. In the hottest days, when it doesn't rain, the temperature can reach 95 °F. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Harbin
Further south, in Shenyang
, a city of eight million inhabitants, the temperature goes from 12.5 °F in January to 76.5 °F in July; even here winter is usually sunny, while summer is humid and rainy.
Average temperatures - Shenyang
In the northern part of Manchuria, near the border with Siberia, the summer becomes cooler, so that the average drops below 68 °F even in July. Winters are still colder, so that the average in January approaches -22 °F, and cold records are about -58 °F, as we can see from the average temperatures of Tahe.
Average temperatures - Tahe
The best times to visit Manchuria are spring and autumn, and in particular the months of May and September.
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 sandy 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 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 stormy in winter and spring.
, an oasis along the ancient Silk Road, located at 4,200 feet above sea level, the temperature goes from 23 °F in January to 77 °F in July, with sometimes torrid days despite the altitude, but usually pleasant nights. In a year, only 2.4 inches of rain (or snow in winter) fall, with a greater chance in summer.
Below 3,300 feet, in summer the temperature can reach 105 °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, from which the name depression is derived), where winter is really cold (the average in January is 16 °F), but summer is hot, since daytime temperatures usually hover around 99/102 °F from June to August, with peaks of 113 °F. To avoid the climate extremes, you can visit this depression from mid-March to mid-April and in October.
Average temperatures - Turpan
, a city of three million inhabitants, located at 2,700 feet, is the largest city in the world farthest from the sea, which lies 1,500 miles away. Here the average temperature goes from 8.5 °F in January to 77 °F in July; in summer, it can sometimes exceed 105 °F, while in winter it can go down to -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 poor due to the low moisture available, and it doesn't reach 10 inches 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 3,300 feet of altitude: in particular the months of May and September.
Average temperatures - Urumqi
In the north-west, in the area north of Urumqi and between Mongolia and Kazakhstan, Dzungaria
has a cold winter, with averages ranging between 14 °F and -4 °F, while summer becomes progressively cooler as you proceed towards the border with Russia: in Altay, at 3,300 feet above sea level, the average in January is 3 °F, and in July it's 68 °F.
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 there is also the Himalayas), 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 "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.
, located at 6,600 feet above sea level in the northwest and near the border with Kyrgyzstan, the average temperature goes from 18 °F in January to 66 °F in July: as you can see, the strong heating of the Asian continent during summer 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 -33 °F in January, to -2 °F in July; the cold record is about -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 comes to these parts, bringing winds of hurricane intensity, of more than 155 mph, but strong winds are also possible in spring and autumn.
In the province of Yunnan
, the "warm mountains" are definitely more comfortable. In Kunming
at 6,200 feet above sea level, the average goes from 46.5 °F in January to 68 °F in July: the climate is, therefore, pleasantly tempered, even though the winter nights can be cold. Here are the average temperatures in Kunming.
Average temperatures - Kunming
The rainfall amounts to 39.5 inches per year, the bulk of which occur in summer: in July and August it reaches 8 inches. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Kunming
In the far south, on the border with Burma, Laos and Vietnam, the climate is sub-tropical even at an altitude between 3,300 and 5,000 feet: winter is mild, and 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.
The area of Beijing has a continental climate, although not as extreme as in the north-east: it has cold winters, with average temperatures in January ranging from 14 °F to 32 °F, and hot and humid summers. Summer is the only really rainy season, while in the other seasons the sun often shines. The annual precipitation goes from 12 to 27.5 inches, and is more abundant towards the sea.
, the winter is cold: the average in January is 25 °F, with minima around 14 °F and maxima around or just above freezing. The sky is often clear (apart from the pollution problems plaguing the capital as well as other Chinese cities), and icy winds blow, bringing dust from the desert of Mongolia. Snowfall is relatively rare. In spring, the temperature increases rapidly, so much so that it often exceeds 68 °F already in April, and in May the average maximum is around 80 °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 about the middle of June, bringing heavy rains and high humidity as well. 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 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
To escape the heat, people go to Beidaihe or generally along the coast of the Bohai Sea, where the breezes temper the heat. In September, in Beijing the humidity decreases and the weather becomes pleasant, while in October the nights start 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
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
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 3,300 feet above sea level, and in winter they are very cold, also because of the altitude, in fact the average temperature in January is around 13 °F. Summer is hot, a little less than in Beijing, since the July average is 74 °F. Precipitation amounts to only 12 inches per year, because the summer rains are less abundant than in the capital, around 3/4 inches in July and August.
Average temperatures - Baotou
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).
In this central area, the climate becomes milder in winter, since the average January temperature is between 32 °F 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 precipitation throughout the year increase, so that rainfall hovers between 40 and 63 inches 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.
, winter is certainly milder than in Beijing, but it's still pretty cool, since the average temperature in January is 39 °F. Unlike in Beijing, in winter the sky is often cloudy, and 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 81/82 °F, and despite the proximity of the sea, in a city so large the urban heat island is evident, and the breeze is not so effective.
Here are the average temperatures.
Average temperatures - Shanghai
Precipitation amounts to 44 inches per year, with a maximum in summer. Here is the average precipitation.
Average precipitation - Shanghai
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, though still acceptable, in June and October.
Sea temperature - Shanghai
, located south of Shanghai and far from the sea, winter is milder than in Shanghai, since the average in January is 46.5 °F, and it's also less rainy, but the clouds are even more frequent, so that the sky is almost always overcast; summer is even slightly hotter. 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 that originate in the Pacific Ocean and then with a retrograde motion move over Southeast Asia, penetrating several hundred miles inland, although their effects are more remarkable on coast and maritime regions. Typhoons can bring strong winds and torrential rains.
In the southernmost part of China there's a very mild winter, so that the average temperature in January is above 50 °F, while there's a long tropical summer. The annual precipitation is between 47 and 78.5 inches, with a winter minimum and a summer maximum. The rainfall, during the long hot season, occur 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.
, the summer, with highs equal to or greater than 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
However, the rainiest period in the south goes from April to September, so 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 extends throughout the summer: in Guangzhou, rainfall exceeds 9 inches per month from May to August.
Here is the average precipitation in Guangzhou.
Average precipitation - Guangzhou
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
In the far south, the island of Hainan
has a quasi-tropical climate, since the average January temperature is near 68 °F. In this island, the inland areas are 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 an important amount of rainfall only from June to October, and abundant in August and September; however, the total annual rainfall hardly reaches 40 inches, 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 the average rainfall of Haiku, on the northern coast, where the rains are at an intermediate level, around 64 inches per year.
Average precipitation - Haikou
And here are the average temperatures.
Average temperatures - Haikou
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
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 little cold, besides, spring is preferable because has longer days. May and September are warmer, but they are also fine.
In Shanghai, with 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
: 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, to remove possibly 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.
: 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 in the plateau and in the far north; you can add a jacket, maybe long for the wind, above 3,300 feet.
For 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 sweater 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 want to rise in altitude or 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.