China’s national weather forecaster issued an unconventional outlook this week: “Hot, really hot, extremely hot [melting smiley face],” it wrote Tuesday night on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter.
Authorities Friday issued their highest-level heat alert for the next three days, warning that temperatures were likely to remain above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) through Sunday. Although the heat might ease for a day or so, it is predicted to rise again next week.
Visiting the Great Wall was “like being in an oven,” said Lin Yun-chan, a Taiwanese graduate student on her first trip to Beijing.
Fellow visitors to the landmark were mostly gathered in the shade under trees eating ice cream. Even the security guards were taking turns hopping in and out of their air-conditioned hut.
And it’s not just Beijing. Seventeen weather stations, mostly in the northeast, reported record highs on Thursday.
The heat wave is almost the only thing anyone can talk about.
An article from the state-run Science and Technology Daily, not usually known for its viral content, about 2023 probably being the world’s hottest year on record was trending on Weibo.
One Beijing journalist videoed his attempt to fry an egg on the sidewalk, resulting — 40 minutes later — in a somewhat solidified yolk. Another clip from Hebei, the province neighboring Beijing, showed charred clothes that the uploader claimed suddenly combusted when left outside in a metal basin.
Much of the online discussion revolves around food. People are sharing advice about the most hydrating snacks for the hot weather: mung bean soup and sour plum drink are popular options.
“I don’t know what kind of sticky rice dumpling is best for cooling down,” musician, actor and teen idol Zhang Zhenyuan wrote to his 15 million followers on Weibo, referring to the bamboo leaf-wrapped treats eaten to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival.
Entrepreneurs looked for ways to capitalize on the heat wave: One promoted a seat-cushion fan designed to combat a sweaty butt, while tourism companies touted trips to the south of the country, which is usually hotter but currently less so.
The arrival of historic heat so early in the year has led many to fear a repeat — or worsening — of last year’s weeks-long stretch of unrelenting high temperatures that experts dubbed unprecedented in scale and duration.
Already, hospitals are reporting a rise in patients with heatstroke and at least one death.
A 68-year-old man was rushed to hospital on Sunday after being found unconscious at his home, where he hadn’t turned on the air conditioning, the Beijing Evening News reported. One capital city doctor told local media that they were seeing a frequency of heatstroke cases that normally doesn’t occur until July or August.
China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday exhorted residents to take precautions by limiting time outside and avoiding physical exertion. A music festival set to take place in Beijing’s Olympic Forest Park was canceled in deference to the baking heat.
That advice may be harder to follow for those taking part in frenetic outdoor races to mark the holidays — although, thankfully for the paddlers and the crowds of spectators, the events are most common in southern China where temperatures are, surprisingly, less severe.
Pressure is piling up on China’s electricity producers as surging power demand threatens to overload the grid. Authorities earlier this month conducted drills in how to avoid a repeat of electricity rationing last year, when extreme drought dried up reservoirs and left hydropower stations idle in the southwest.
The frequency of extreme weather events in recent years has fueled growing awareness of climate change in China.
Once rarely reported on in official media, the dangers of a rapidly warming atmosphere are now commonly discussed. That shift came after scenes like the huge downpour that flooded Zhengzhou in 2021, when people were stranded half-submerged in a subway car or died in water-clogged underpasses.
But environmental activists remain concerned that the Chinese government’s fear of power outages has slowed a transition to renewable energy sources. Beijing remains convinced that coal-fired generators — a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions — are the only way to ensure adequate energy supply.
Partly out of energy security concerns and partly as a way to boost the economy, China approved more coal-fired power plants in the first three months of this year than any year since 2015, even as most of the rest of the world is winding down its use of the polluting fossil fuel.
Critics of that trend argue that China should tackle distorted incentives and a lack of flexibility in the power grid, which, if resolved, would make wind and solar power sufficient to avoid shortages and a more cost-effective solution than coal.
Vic Chiang in Taipei and Theodora Yu in Hong Kong contributed to this report.