China is a geographically large country with many different climates and terrains. In the south, there is a long coast line running through tropical waters. In the northeast there are cold winters and hot, humid summers. There are mountains in the southwest, a desert in the middle, and plains in the north. 70% of people live in the eastern half of the country and so China is commonly divided between North and South, along the Qin Mountains (秦岭, Qínlǐng) and Huai River (淮河, Huáihé). There are many stereotypical differences between the North and South of China but a major one that affects all other differences is the weather: the North is cold and the South is hot.
Historically, houses in Southern China did not have heat. In Shanghai, the largest city just south of the dividing line, average winter temperatures are 8/3C (47/37F). While it's not tropical and often reaches freezing temperatures each winter, heating was a luxury people couldn't afford. The solution has always been to wear more clothing (多穿衣服 duō chuān yīfu) and drink hot water (喝热水 hē rè shuǐ). The other major southern city in China is Guangdong which is much closer to tropical weather with average winter temperatures of 18/11C (65/52F).
Northern China, however, has an average temperature of 2/-8C (35/17F) in the capital city, Beijing. There has always been a form of heat in wealthy homes in the north. Traditionally, people used fire and heated bricks in or under beds to stay warm. Now, the government provides heating infrastructure and service discounts to everyone living in the north. Floor heating is very common throughout Northern China and often stays on all winter long. Many companies, through government subsidies, provide employees with a heating allowance that covers about half of the heating service costs, commonly 2-3,000 RMB per season, depending on the size of the home. In public places, such as the subway, the heat is on as early as October.
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