The “Fire Bucket” (Hua Tong) – Life in China: A Westerner’s Perspective

 In China, south of the Yangtze River, many homes do not have heat despite temperatures that dip down into the 20s and 30s in the Winter.
I am in a small village in the Yellow Mountains and so far none of the homes I have visited have heat. The temperature on my arrival was 35 degrees and it has since dipped to 28 degrees. Four inches of snow fell and the main water line to this part of the village froze.

Life here is pretty cold. But there is one object that is in many homes that gives you a little relief from the cold. In Chinese it is called a Huo Tong. Loosely translated “Fire Bucket”. Quite literally it is a large wooden bucket. At the bottom they place a pan with hot coals covered with a layer of ash. Then a wire grate is placed over the pan and a blanket or heavy towel is placed over the top of the bucket to keep the heat in.

 This bucket serves several purposes. First, a pot of tea is often found in the bucket. This keeps the tea hot and ready for drinking throughout the day. Food in pots is also placed in the bucket  to keep the food hot until it is ready to eat.

 The fire bucket is not so hot that it cooks food. The coals just provide warmth that lasts for many hours before they need to be replenished.

But when your feet
become numb from the cold and you are chilled to the bone you can sit beside the bucket, place your legs inside and cover up with the blanket. The warmth is truly comforting. Very much like sitting beside a fireplace on a cold winter day. On really cold days you might see 2 or 3 people sitting together with their legs in the bucket enjoying the warmth a good conversation.

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