stove coal

Kang bed-stove

The Kang (Manchu: nahan) is a long (2 meters or more) sleeping platform made of bricks or other forms of fired clay. Its interior cavity, leading to a flue, channels the exhaust from a wood or coal stove. The heat of the cooking fire could be used for maintaining comfort when the weather became cool.

Like the European ceramic stove, the heat-retaining capacity of a massive block of masonry is tremendous. So while it might take several daytime hours of heating to reach its desired surface temperature, the bed would remain warm throughout the night even though nobody arose to feed the fire.


The concept of heated bed floor started in China in the Neolithic period, according to the archeological excavations of neolithic building remains in Banpo Xi'an. The bed is made of 10cm pounded clay on the floor. Historically, the bed is called 'huoqiang' and is heated by 'zhidi' which is by means of placing open fire on the bed floor and cleared before sleeping. It is mentioned by Tang poet Meng Jiao in his poem titled Handi Baixing Yin. 'No fuel to heat the floor to sleep, standing and crying with cold at midnight instead'. The repeated burning has turned the bed surface hard and moisture resistant.

The first type of heated platform appeared in China is using the single flue system. This type of heated platform is unearthed in the 1st-century building remains in the Heilongjiang Province. Its single flue is 'L' shaped, built from adobe and cobblestones and covered with stone slabs.

Heated walls with double flue system is found in the 4th century ancient palace building in the Jilin Province. It has an 'L' shaped adobe bench with double flue system. It is structurally more complex than single flue system and has the functionallity close to the Kang.

The word Kang means 'to dry', first documented in the Chinese dictionary in AD121. The earliest Kang remains have been discovered at Ninghai, Heilongjing Province in the Longquanfu Palace (699-926).

Outside China, the concept of a "masonry heater" - a large stove made of brick, and keeping a house warm for a long time - has been known in various forms throughout northern and eastern Europe. In particular, Russians have traditionally used a similar sort of stove/bed, known as the 'Russian stove'; it is unknown whether this was introduced from the East during the period of the "Tatar yoke".


Traditional Chinese Dwellings (Zhongguo chuantong minju) (a bilingual text) has a few line drawings of Kangs. It says that the Kang is used to cook meals and heat the room, making full use of the heat-retaining capacity of the loess [soil used to make adobe]. The Kang uses radiant heat the amount of which should be two degrees higher than that of the ambient air and should come from most surfaces of the room.

The Kang was also an important feature of traditional dwellings in the often frigid northeastern region of Manchuria, where it was known as nahan in the native language of the local Manchus. It plays an important role in Manchu's mourning customs. The deceased is placed beside the Kang instead of the normal chinese practice which is in the central hall. The height of the board on which the body is placed indicates the family status or age of the deceased.

In this picture of a room in a Chinese inn, reproduced from Wandering in Northern China, by Harry A. Franck (Copyright 1923 by the Century Company of New York and London), one can see a man who may be the author sitting at a short-legged table that has been placed on the Kang. Behind the Kang is a fine window that lets much light into the room. The window appears to be closed by a paper-covered lattice, not a pane of glass


  • Alan,Kam (2002). Historical Perspectives on East Asian Science, Technology and Medicine. World Scientific
  • Robert,Stuart (1845). On the History and Art of Warming and Ventilating Rooms and Buildings. G. Bell

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