The Key to Electricity

In America, the story goes that Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity by flying a kite with a metal key in a thunderstorm. Well, in China, almost 300 years later, channeling electricity to your hotel room may well be in your hand – with a plastic key card. No kite, metal key, or thunderstorm required.

electric switch and key card

In an American hotel, the key card glides into the door for entrance and from there it goes on the desk, the bed, in your wallet, or wherever until you need it again to re-enter the room. At the hotels in China, once the bellman has escorted you to your room and you’ve opened the door, you should notice an illuminated device on the wall with a slot in the top. The device is probably plastic. Insert your room key into the slot and voilà! Electricity will flow into your room to power the lights and all electrical appliances.

Here’s the gist of the Chinese hotel room key: key in slot – electricity flows to the room; key out of slot – no electricity flows to the room.

This Chinese room key technology is actually how the hotel manages their energy consumption. If guests are away from their rooms, they can’t leave the lights and TV running, thus conserving electricity. Another plus is that you can’t lose your key this way – at least not while you’re in the room.


Learn more in my book Lessons from China: A Westerner’s Cultural Education