China’s Single Time Zone

Upon the creation of the PRC, leaders sought to publicize the singular identity with a single time zone for the whole of massive China. Why?

Clock without numbers on grey background.

Holding a territory as large as the United States, China spans more than 60 degrees of longitude, covering what would be five time zones, with up to three hours’ difference. Yet, the whole country observes a sole local time, Beijing Standard Time. It may seem strange to many coming from multiple time zone countries, but the reasons behind the madness may be more legitimate than you think.

Many people may quickly connect the standard to the country’s centralized regime, and it’s not all wrong. The single time zone policy was only enforced after the establishment of the PRC.

When the Republic of China toppled the last dynasty in 1912, it established five different time zones, ranging from five and a half to eight and a half hours past Greenwich Mean Time.

If China needs more than one time zone, it’s GMT+6 for Xinjiang and Tibet. But in many cases, they are left neglected due to their small percentage of habitants. After all, what’s the logic in asking 1.4 billion people make changes for 24 million?

In 1949, the Communist Party took over and was eager to signify the national unification and centrality after decades of fragmentation and conflicts. A unified time zone centralizing with the Beijing Time served this purpose well. People joke: “Only when the sun is shining straight above the leader’s head is claimed a noon.”

Looking at the map, the major victim of the Party’s great course remains the far western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, where the time is two hours behind Beijing. However, with using either one or multiple time zones, people continue to schedule their daily activities according to the sun.

Thus, Xinjiang people usually go to work at 10:30 am and get off at 7:30 pm. The sun doesn’t reach its highest point in the sky until 2 pm. What have they missed?

Imagine, while the rest of the country is watching Xin Wen Lian Bo (CCTV’s longest-running daily news program) at 7 pm sharp during dinner, the unfortunate Xinjiang people are still trapped at work.

In addition, since 99 percent of the Chinese population lives in the two continuous GMT+8 and GMT+7 zones, the sole Beijing Time somehow brings a lot of convenience without too much adjustment for the majority.

If China needs more than one time zone, it’s GMT+6 for Xinjiang and Tibet. But in many cases, they are left neglected due to their small percentage of habitants. After all, what’s the logic in asking 1.4 billion people make changes for 24 million?

In fact, Beijing Time and Urumqi Time (GMT+6) are both officially applied in Xinjiang. According to different ethnic groups, the Uighur people like to use their local time and the Han nation prefers Beijing Time.

In addition, considering the short daylight in winter, using Beijing Time actually creates a daylight-saving effect for them. And although daylight saving time is not officially implemented across the country, many public organizations, parks and museums utilize a different winter time schedule.

On the other hand, the northeast region, which is one hour ahead of Beijing, experiences shorter daylight during the winter, getting dark before 4 pm.

Take the US, for example. Both the east and west coasts contain the country’s most important economic and cultural centers and population, plus due to its federal system, it’s unrealistic to dictate a common time zone. Other single time zone countries in the world, such as Japan, India and Argentina cover two or three time zones, as well, but they choose to use one local time based on convenience.

Some people prefer to have the same time zone, so they don’t need to change their clock or do math when traveling or having meetings. Some favor to do things at the exact time when it should be done.

There’s no better or worse solution for this issue, just like length, capacity and weight standards. Time zones are a human invention and each country adopts to the one they think suits them the best.