Coal Ban Forces Chinese Living in Frigid North to Burn Furniture to Keep Warm

November 22, 2018 Updated: November 22, 2018

Residents of a district of Taiyuan, the capital of northern China’s Shanxi Province, have resorted to burning timber, old furniture, and other wooden objects for winter heating because of government restrictions on the use of coal.

According to a Nov. 17 report by China’s state-run China News, the Second Ecological Protection Inspection Team of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment received many complaints that people in Taiyuan’s Kangle District were struggling to survive through the winter because of the strict, centrally mandated prohibitions on burning coal.

Kangle District, located in downtown Taiyuan, has about 400 households and 1,500 residents, with 300 people over the age of 60.

Residents said that the local Street Office of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) promoted the coal ban and promised a heater to each household. However, not all residents received heaters and many couldn’t afford the high electricity bills, so they were forced to find their own firewood.

All kinds of wooden objects are piled up in peoples’ homes.

“We take whatever can make fire and keep us warm,” said one Kangle resident. “We can start worrying about other things once we’re not freezing.”

“We have no choice but to burn this. We’re not allowed to burn coal and it costs too much to use the heaters,” another resident said.

Many don’t have enough wood, so they are forced to ration use. One resident reporting saving the wood for nighttime. “I don’t burn wood in the day because I’d run out otherwise.”

The thermostat in one well-stocked household showed a temperature of 16 degrees Celsius (about 61 degrees Fahrenheit), the warmest they could achieve by burning firewood. As temperatures dip further, a wood fire will be insufficient to heat the house.

Last year, the CCP began requiring people in northern China to replace coal with natural gas for their heating needs. Due to natural gas shortages, as well as the lack of infrastructure, people had to live in freezing homes and children had to study in frosty classrooms across the region.

Last winter, netizens reported that students in the neighboring province of Hebei were subject to subzero temperatures in their classrooms, and that the same thing is happening in Shanxi Province his year.

According to the China News report, the abruptness of the central government’s policy combined with the laziness and carelessness of local officials has put the livelihoods of many people at risk. The blanket ban on coal, intended to reduce pollution, may actually prove counterproductive, since much of the wooden waste being burned contains toxic glues.

Last December, the Hong Kong-based newspaper Singtao Daily reported that drivers of over 2,000 natural gas-powered buses in Taiyuan were lining up overnight to refill, in order to prevent shortages during peak hours.

A month earlier, a worker in Shanxi was arrested for starting three coal fires to keep himself warm at a construction site. His arrest generated angry and sarcastic comments on Weibo, China’s popular microblogging service.

One netizen from Guangdong Province wrote, “Other countries deal with pollution by upgrading their industries. We do so by freezing poor people to death.”