The Kang Bed in Northern Chinese Villages

1. What is it?

The Kang bed is a sleeping platform widely seen in the villages of Northern China. It is a rectangular construction built on the ground of the room, and is usually located by a window. As its other name—Fire Kang—suggests, it is mainly a heated bed, which is indispensable in the rural areas of China during winter.

2. What is it like?

Bricks or cheap fired clay are used to build the Kang. While the size varies, it provides enough sleeping space for a few people. The Kang generally consists of three parts: a stove for fuel, the bed itself, and a chimney. The heat from the stove is directed through flues under the bed and the smoke is released through the chimney. To capture as much heat as possible, the formation of the flues is very important. The flues can resemble a maze which allows for the maximum exposure of heat to the surface of the bed. Still, the area close to the stove is usually warmer, and becomes a reserved spot for elders.

3. Fuel sources

Wood, grass, coal, straw and corn cobs are common fuel sources for the Kang. Since bricks and fired clay take longer to heat up and cool down, fuel is burned in the stove a couple of hours before going to bed. When the Kang gets warm enough, it can take a whole night to cool down, providing enough warmth in the freezing winter.

4. Coverings

The surface of the Kang bed is fired clay and big straw matting is placed over it to lessen the heat and avoid the dirt. A thick quilt is the second layer of covering, followed by a cotton-padded blanket and a bed sheet.

The Kang table, a short-legged small table, is sometimes placed on the Kang bed. The table comes in handy for placing cups or food on it. Sometimes people eat their meals on the Kang table.

5. Other functions

The Kang bed is multifunctional. It can serve as a bed, floor, table and chair. Its stove can be used for cooking and boiling water for drinking tea. In many rural families, the Kang bed is the only source of heat and this makes it a great place for families to come together and talk, tell stories, or sing during the cold winter nights. It is quite common for parents to sleep on the same Kang bed with their children.

In some places, mourning services and marriage ceremonies are carried out on the Kang bed as well.

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