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Why Does China Have Only One Time Zone?

A map of China, including the provinces.
A global map including time zone divisions.
Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Hong Kong has its own timezone.
The flag of Macau, which has its own time zone.
The entire country of China is set to Beijing Standard Time, which is Greenwich Mean Time plus eight hours.
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  • Written By: KD Morgan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 16 April 2014
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China is a vast country, yet it has only one time zone, called Beijing Standard Time (BST), or China Standard Time (CST), which is Greenwich Mean Time, plus 8 hours (GMT+8). Though it used to consist of five time zones, the Communist government changed the country to only one in the late 1940s as part of an effort to streamline it. This has led to some practical concerns for those who live far away from Beijing and, as a result, some areas do not strictly adhere to the standard time. China is the only large country besides India that only uses one time zone.

Purpose

The reason that the country only has one time zone is both practical and political. The Communist party established the country's current time system shortly after it founded the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 to streamline operations, but also to make the country appear more unified. This was a strongly political move, since the country is so large and consists of many regions and ethnic minorities, and it has historically been difficult for one power to effectively rule over all the different areas. It was particularly important to establish authority over the entire country in 1949, as it had been divided by civil war for over 20 years and had gone through a period of fragmentation before that.

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Practical Concerns

Having only one official time does cause practical problems, especially for people in the western provinces. Beijing is about 3.5 hours ahead of the far Western provinces, meaning that in some cases, the official time is already 10 AM when the sun rises in places like Xinjiang and Tibet. Since many of the people in those provinces are ethnic minorities, they sometimes feel that the use of BST is oppressive and unnecessary. Additionally, many farming communities throughout the country just use their own times, since agricultural work has to be done when the sun is out, regardless of the official time

Exceptions

Hong Kong and Macau both use their own time, called Hong Kong Time (HKT) and Macau Standard Time (MST), both of which are Coordinated Universal Time, plus 8 hours (UTC+8). Neither region uses daylight savings time. Many areas in Western China, particularly Xinjiang, also work on their own unofficial time zone. Though this sometimes has political implications, it's usually more of a practical move. For instance, stores sometimes work on modified times so that people can conveniently shop in them.

History

Before the establishment of the PRC, China was divided into five time zones. From east to west, they were Changpai Time Zone, Chungyuan Standard Time Zone, Kansu-Szechuan Time Zone, Sinkiang-Tibet Time Zone, and Kunlun Time Zone, ranging from GMT + 8.5 to 5.5 respectively. After the single time zone was introduced, the country did use daylight savings time for a while, from 1986 to 1991, but it was considered inconvenient and dropped.

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Discuss this Article

anon355596
Post 11

Anon334695

Shanghai is of longitude 121.5E, 1.5' away from standard UTC+8 line, more accurate than most other major cities in the world. You have nothing to complain about.

anon334695
Post 10

I hate when I'm in Shanghai and the sun rises at like 5 a.m. Hard to sleep in on weekends.

pleonasm
Post 9

@clintflint - The problem with that is that these days everywhere is connected with everywhere else, particularly within a country. So, if you've got an area where everyone starts work at 11am, they won't be able to network as efficiently with other companies.

And it really does go back to ancient China and the relationships between provinces established then. Those groups far from the heart of China were simply not considered to be on the same level.

If you want to make it in business in China you need to either be in Beijing or willing to work on Beijing time. Which means the employees of companies in areas where time is skewed will either end up with strange sleeping habits or they will miss out.

clintflint
Post 8

@browncoat - It's tough to know without being there, but it might be partly just a way to establish control over the outer provinces. On the one hand it makes me sad that those areas are treated like that.

On the other hand, this really is a minor kind of thing. If it's been established that the sun rises at 10am, then just make it standard practice to go to work at 11am and work until 7pm and so forth. The clock time doesn't mean all that much when you get right down to it. It's just a method of organizing the day.

browncoat
Post 7

@anon259850 - I'm not sure if the powers that be in China care as much about being efficient as being in control. It might seem ridiculous to us, but I guess to them there's no reason to change a system that seems to be working.

And to people who only live in Beijing and do most of their business there, it is working.

anon259850
Post 6

Time zones are supposed to make a society more efficient, so how does China intend to grow under this policy? When will they change?

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