Weather in China
The north of the country enjoys a temperate climate, with seasonal variations but no extreme changes, except in the far north (which borders on Siberia and the Gobi Desert) where winters are harsh. The central area of China is classified as warm temperate, and further south the weather in China becomes subtropical and, at its southern extremity, truly tropical.
Surveying the country climatically from the north, one finds that winters, particularly north of the Great Wall, are bitingly cold, but dry. In November and December temperatures can plummet to well below freezing. Summers, by contrast are hot and wet, with temperatures peaking near 30°C (86°F) during the mid-summer months of July and August.
In Central China, including Beijing, the weather follows a warm, temperate pattern, with temperatures soaring between June and August. Along the Yangtze River the summer months are very humid. Summers (May to October) also bring a fair amount of rain. Temperatures drop off markedly in the central region when autumn arrives, and continue to decrease through November, December and January, when night time averages are below freezing.
The sub-tropical southern area swelters through a prolonged, hot summer, the mercury hitting its highest point in July and August, followed by a short, cooler winter. Southern China experiences a monsoon season from May to October, although it tends to be rather wet all year round. In winter temperatures fall markedly, reaching their lowest levels in January, although it stays well above freezing.
In the far south of China – where Macau and Hong Kong are situated – it is hot all year round, with a rainy season between April and October, when humidity is high. During the winter months temperatures become a great deal milder, but even at night a light jacket is sufficient cover during the coolest months of January and February.
When is the best time to go to China?In general the most comfortable time of year weather-wise across China is early autumn (September and the beginning of October) when temperatures are bearable and the amount of rain minimal. Similarly, conditions in spring (late April and May) are also pleasant, although depending on the region visited the weather could be unpredictable. Many hardy travellers willing to wrap up warmly find good off-season holiday deals in China during the cold winter months – but visiting the frozen wastes of the north at this time of year is not advisable.
What to pack for a holiday in China
The Chinese tend to dress casually and, because most tours of China involve a lot of walking, comfortable walking shoes are first on the list; pack lightly as well. Bring, easily matched sets of clothing with a mixture of colours. Take long sleeved shirts, T-shirts, long shorts, light trousers or hiking trousers and a few warm tops. Add hats, sunscreen and sunglasses for summer and gloves, scarves and warm hats for winter; in addition, use a light waterproof coat in summer and a thick waterproof coat for winter, or visits to elevated areas, as well as thermals. Earplugs and eye-masks add comfort during long transits, and don’t forget to take insect repellent, especially in summer.
Average temperature in China in January: -4.5C, 24°F
Weather in China in January
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in January: 10°C, 50°F
Average rainfall in China in January: 4mm, 0.2in
Note: January is the coldest month in China, but the south (Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen) do not experience very cold conditions. In the rest of the country it can be bitterly cold, and snow falls frequently in the north, including Harbin and Beijing, where ski resorts are popular.
Events: Chinese New Year usually takes place at the end of January, with festivals all over the country. The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is highly recommended for those willing to brave the cold.
Weather in China in FebruaryAverage temperature in China in February: -2C, 28°F
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in February: 8°C, 46°F
Average rainfall in China in February: 5mm, 0.2in
Note: Most of China is in the grip of severe winter weather during February, although signs of spring begin to appear by the end of the month in the central and southern regions. It’s possible to escape the wintry conditions on Hainan Island, where the beaches remain sunny and pleasant during the winter.
Events: If you holiday in China at the start of February you will catch the last of the colourful Chinese New Year Festivals. The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is an unmissable spectacle, which ends in mid-February, but the ice sculptures remain visible into March.
Weather in China in MarchAverage temperature in China in March: 5C, 40°F
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in February: 8°C, 46°F
Average rainfall in China in February: 8mm, 0.3in
Note: March heralds the onset of spring in China, with even the frozen north beginning to feel warmer as the thaw sets in. However it remains chilly, except in the far south.
Events: To enjoy displays of spring flowers head for Wuyuan in Jiangxi Province, or Luoping in Yunnan. The gorgeous Nanjing Plum Blossom Festival runs through the first two weeks of March.
Weather in China in AprilAverage temperature in China in April: 14C, 57°F
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in April: 11°C, 52°F
Average rainfall in China in April: 17mm, 0.7in
Note: April is a lovely month for visiting China, with most of the country in bloom and temperatures rising. Look our for splendid flower festivals. There can be occasional dust storms in the north, and the threat of rainy days in the central and southern regions.
Weather in China in MayAverage temperature in China in May: 20C, 68°F
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in May: 16°C, 61°F
Average rainfall in China in May: 35mm, 1.4in
Note: As the weather heats up, China’s peak tourist season kicks into gear. The countryside is green and festooned with spring flowers, and May brings a preponderance of sunshine everywhere north of the Yangtze. Further south the rainy season sets in, and humidity levels rise.
Weather in China in JuneAverage temperature in China in June: 25C, 76°F
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in June: 21°C, 70°F
Average rainfall in China in June: 78mm, 3.1in
Note: China begins to swelter at the start of summer in June, with temperatures nudging 30°C (86°F) and above. In the south the monsoon rains lash the land, accompanied by high humidity levels. It’s a good time to head for cooler mountain resorts or the north, where Beijing and Xi’an remain relatively dry.
Weather in China in JulyAverage temperature in China in July: 26C, 79°F
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in July: 25°C, 77°F
Average rainfall in China in July: 243mm, 9.6in
Note: July is searing hot and sticky in most of China during July, with an abundance of heavy rain (especially in the south), but it is nevertheless peak holiday season so expect all the main sights to be crowded with tour groups.
Weather in China in AugustAverage temperature in China in August: 25C, 77°F
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in August: 27°C, 81°F
Average rainfall in China in August: 141mm, 5.6in
Note: The height of the summer season in China is a good time to visit Tibet and Mongolia, which are warm and dry. It is a busy tourist month throughout the country generally with the mercury hitting heights of 35°C (95°F) and beyond, especially in the southern regions, which are very wet and subject to typhoons. This does not put off the locals, though, many of whom take their holidays this time of year when schools are on holiday and swarm to local attractions.
Weather in China in SeptemberAverage temperature in China in September: 20C, 68°F
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in September: 25°C, 77°F
Average rainfall in China in September: 58mm, 2.3in
Note: September is a cool month to travel to China – literally. Autumn sets in and temperatures drop everywhere, except in the far south where the heat and humidity lingers until month end. The north is particularly pleasant, with sunny, dry conditions ideal for trekking in Tibet or visiting the Silk Road.
Weather in China in OctoberAverage temperature in China in October: 13C, 55°F
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in October: 22°C, 72°F
Average rainfall in China in October: 16mm, 0.6in
Note: October is a wonderful month for a holiday in China, with temperatures and humidity dropping to bearable levels, the monsoon rains a thing of the past, and altogether pleasant weather conditions. It is the perfect time to visit the Great Wall, with the summer tourist season tailing off. Avoid the start of the month, however, if you are keen on avoiding crowds, because the Chinese celebrate their national day with week-long celebrations.
Weather in China in NovemberAverage temperature in China in November: 4C, 39°F
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in November: 18°C, 64°F
Average rainfall in China in November: 11mm, 0.4in
Note: During November the winter chill sets in across most of China, with snow starting to fall in the north. The Central and southern regions are pleasantly cool and dry, though, and the countryside is resplendent with the colours of autumn. The locals stay home and get down to business, so attractions are far more accessible and less crowded.
Weather in China in DecemberAverage temperature in China in December: -2.5°C, 28°F
Sea temperature in China (Shanghai) in December: 14°C, 57°F
Average rainfall in China in December: 3mm, 0.1in
Note: The big winter freeze sets in in China in December, with bitterly cold conditions to be expected everywhere except in mild South China. Winter in Hong Kong is pleasant. If you visit China for its growing popularity as a ski destination, this is the time to hit the resorts around Beijing, which open for business in December.