Why Is There Only 1 Time Zone in China?
In a country the size of China, one would expect to find several time zones. However, the whole country observes the same local time.
In spite of being almost the same size as the continental USA, China has only 1 official time zone.
Ideal Time Zones
Ideally, the globe is divided into 24 time zones, each of which spans 15 degrees longitude and differs by 1 hour from its neighbors.
The time in each time zones is conventionally defined by its offset from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), where UTC is based on the prime meridian (0 degrees longitude), UTC+1 refers to 15 degrees east, UTC+2 to 30 degrees east, and so on.
In these ideal time zones, the Sun is at its highest in the sky at around noon.
5 Time Zones in 1
Measuring around 4800 kilometers (3000 miles) from its western border shared with Pakistan to the East China Sea in the east, China covers more than 60 degrees of longitude, incorporating 5 ideal time zones with UTC offsets ranging from UTC+5 to UTC+9.
However, all of China observes the same time zone, which is UTC+8. It is internationally called China Standard Time (CST). In China, the time zone is known as Beijing Time.
History of Time Zones in China
From 1912 until 1949, China did have 5 time zones: Kunlun (UTC+05:30), Sinkiang-Tibet (UTC+06:00), Kansu-Szechwan (UTC+07:00), Chungyuan (UTC+08:00), and Changpai (UTC+08:30).
In 1949, Communist Party Chairman, Mao Zedong, decided that all of China was to use Beijing Time.
The time of day when the Sun is at its highest in the sky is called solar noon. If everyone only followed solar time, the Sun would always be at its highest in the middle of the day, at noon.
The reason why solar time was globally abandoned in favor of time zones is that each longitude has its own solar time. This arrangement, a reality until the 19th century, proved increasingly impractical given the technological advances in transport and communication.
Most countries observe a standard time that is as close as possible to their ideal time zone to ensure that solar noon occurs around 12 o'clock.
Noon at 3 pm
Given the huge geographical dimensions of China's single time zone, solar noon occurs much later than 12 o'clock in the country's westernmost areas. In Kashgar, in western Xinjiang, solar noon can be as late as at 15:10 (3:10 pm). In eastern areas, solar noon is before 12 o'clock. For example, in Fushun, the year's earliest time of solar noon is 11:27 (11:27 am). In comparison, in Beijing solar noon is very close to 12 o'clock: between 11:58 (11:58 am) and 12:28 (12:28 pm).
Unofficial Xinjiang Time
In Xinjiang, Chinas westernmost region, the Uyghur population operate on a different local time known as Xinjiang Time or Ürümqi Time. The unofficial time zone is much closer to solar time and only 6 hours ahead of UTC, meaning that the local time is 2 hours behind Bejing Time.
While the Uyghur population usually go by Xinjiang Time, known colloquially as “local time”, other ethnicities, like the Han Chinese, normally refer to Bejing Time. This means that visitors asking for the current time in the streets of the region's capital Ürümqi might get 2 conflicting answers, depending on whom they ask.