Why one time zone in China?

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China has only one time zone, Beijing Standard Time, established by the Communist Party in 1949 for practical and political reasons. The country’s large size and diverse regions made it difficult to govern effectively. The use of BST causes practical concerns for those living far from Beijing, and some areas operate on their own unofficial time zones. Hong Kong and Macau have their own time zones, and before the establishment of the PRC, China had five time zones. Daylight saving time was used briefly but abandoned.

China is a large 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). Although it consisted of five time zones, the Communist government changed the country to just one in the late 1940s as part of an effort to simplify it. This has led to some practical concerns for those living far from Beijing, and as a result some areas do not strictly adhere to standard time. China is the only major country other than India that uses only one time zone.


The reason the country has only one time zone is both practical and political. The Communist Party established the country’s current time system shortly after founding the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 to streamline operations, but also to make the country appear more unified. This was a highly political move, since the country is so large and made up of many regions and ethnic minorities, and it has historically been difficult for one power to govern effectively over all the different areas. It was especially important to establish authority over the whole country in 1949, as it had been divided by civil war for over 20 years and had previously gone through a period of fragmentation.

Practical concerns

Having only one official time causes practical problems, especially for people from the western provinces. Beijing is about 3.5 hours ahead of the far western provinces, meaning that in some cases the official time is as early as 10am when the sun rises in places like Xinjiang and Tibet. Since many of the people in those provinces are ethnic minorities, they sometimes find the use of BST oppressive and unnecessary. Additionally, many farming communities across the country simply use their own times, as farm work must be done when it’s sunny, regardless of the official time


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 saving time. Many areas in western China, especially Xinjiang, also operate in their own unofficial time zone. While this sometimes has political implications, it’s usually more of a practical move. For example, stores sometimes work on modified hours so that people can conveniently shop in them.


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 introduction of the single time zone, the country used daylight saving time for a while, from 1986 to 1991, but it was considered inconvenient and was abandoned.

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