When did people start using time zones?
Why China doesn't have daylight saving time
In China you can set the clock after the evening news. Every evening at seven o'clock sharp, China's state television reports for 30 minutes. The first ten minutes are about the chaos in the world, ten more the moderator lists the successes of the party. For some time now, another ten minutes have followed about this or that supposedly subtle campaign by President Xi Jinping.
In some parts of the fourth largest country in the world it is already dark, in some still light. But everywhere it is seven o'clock in the evening. Although there are around 5,200 kilometers between the westernmost and easternmost parts of the country, the country only has one time zone. And neither in summer nor in winter do China's residents set the clock forwards or backwards. But how is that possible when we are already busy turning the hands twice a year in comparatively tiny Germany?
Beijing has tried the annual changeover. When the last Chinese dynasty came to an end in 1912, the newly proclaimed Republic of China decided to create five time zones in the country. It was a time of new beginnings, you should be able to read it on the clocks. The new time zones, like the republic itself, never got through. In 1949, state founder Mao Zedong unified the country after years of civil war and continued to insist on a uniform time. A country needs a time, according to Mao.
This is not without consequences. Foreigners, who otherwise rely on their gut feeling when it comes to the time, according to the formula daylight minus darkness equals time, sometimes lose their bearings in China. The difference is particularly strong in the westernmost province of the country. In Xinjiang, the sun doesn't set until midnight in summer, while in winter it doesn't set until ten in the morning. The province is also the only one defending some kind of unofficial time zone against Beijing. The Uighur ethnic minority, for example, uses a time that is two hours behind Beijing's official Chinese time.
However, this is not so much an attempt to save electricity. Large parts of the Uighur minority are demanding independence from China. The Muslim population has long been fighting against the overwhelming power of Beijing. It is a silent resistance to the central state that has been running, controlling and monitoring the people there for years.
The consequences of different time zones can be seen in the USA. With 4,506 kilometers between the east and west coasts, the country is less extensive horizontally than China, but has had four time zones since 1883. This leads to the fact that in New York you watch the Friday night blockbuster in front of the television, while people in San Francisco are still sitting in the office. The eight o'clock news is already out of date in Washington, so it didn't even start in Berkeley. Several time zones even run through some states. And Pierre, the capital of South Dakota, is in the Central time zone - but only the part east of the Missouri River. If you cross this, you end up on the other side in the so-called mountain time zone. Time difference: one hour.
To this end, Americans have been setting their watches forwards in summer and back again in winter, as in Germany - and almost 80 other countries around the world - since the 1970s. At that time, a study by the state Department of Transportation had shown that 100,000 barrels of oil per day could be saved by changing over every six months. So Washington decided to switch over regularly.
In China, they let themselves be infected by the summer time hype for a short time. In 1986 the government tried to introduce no time zones, but at least to introduce daylight saving time. A study by Beijing University had shown that the country could save around two billion kilowatt hours a year. And what was apparently successful in the West should also give the emerging nation a boost?
However, the attempt was reversed after five years. Beijing had left out the provinces in the west of the country, including Xinjiang, Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet, from the start. Without the time zones they are already three hours behind. But not only the coordination between these provinces - with several hundred million inhabitants - and the rest of the country caused chaos. In many parts of the country the new era could never really be enforced. For example, the southern Chinese province of Guangzhou on the border with Hong Kong refused to consistently implement the changeover. The complaints by the workers are too massive and the people are too tired, according to the authorities. Due to its location, the region did not benefit from summer time and therefore more sun - the people were simply more tired. In 1992 Beijing stopped the attempt again. Conclusion: Summertime is simply "nonsense".
Criticism is also great in other countries today. Proponents argued in favor of the switch because it promises more sun. And more light means lower power consumption. However, studies show that changing the clock inhibits people in their productivity. The biorhythm gets mixed up, which increases the risk of illnesses and heart attacks. In addition, the coordination between the time zones and the half-yearly back and forth costs a lot of money. According to the American Air Transport Association, the American airlines alone complain of additional costs of around 147 million dollars per year due to the changeover to daylight saving time alone.
The evidence seems so overwhelming that the EU Commission is now examining an end to summer time, which has been in force in the EU since 1996. In Germany, this could put an end to the regular dark circles under the eyes in the coming years - and China's handling of summer time could become a model. Because there they turn to the opening times instead of the clocks. This prevents a lack of sleep and high costs and simplifies coordination. And when it comes to saving electricity, the Chinese are more pragmatic anyway. For example, they like to drive on public roads without lighting. What costs many people's lives each year, but no electricity.
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