Flights and trains were canceled, and major highways and elementary schools were shut in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province in northeastern China, amid the first heavy snowfall of the northern hemisphere's winter.
Heavy snow covered large parts of northern China, in Heilongjiang and the neighboring provinces of Liaoning and Inner Mongolia.
China issues weather warning
China's National Meteorological Center said snow from the cold snap, which it expects to endure for a few more days, was likely to "break through historical records" for the same time of the year.
Chinese authorities have issued an orange weather alert for the region, the second highest on a four color scale used by Beijing.
People were advised to avoid unnecessary travel and to stay indoors where possible.
Harbin hard hit, gymnasium collapse appeared snow-related
In Harbin, a city of more than 5 million people with a metropolitan area that's home to around twice that, long queues of cars and trucks were visible on TV footage. Dozens of flights and hundreds of trains were canceled.
The "China Daily" newspaper reported that 24,000 people had been tasked with taking to the city's streets to shovel and clear the snow.
CCTV also reported the partial collapse of a gymnasium in Jiamusi city in Heilongjiang, with three people trapped inside. However, the cause of that incident was not entirely clear, with no government statement about it issued.
China also responded to the impending cold snap by changing its heating rules for residents. Typically there is a start date before which most people are not allowed to use power to heat their homes. This date was adjusted to let people turn the radiators on a week earlier in anticipation of the bad weather.
Several herders killed in Mongolia
The cold front has also hit Mongolia to the north of China. Authorities said on Monday that six women, one man, and a 12-year-old boy had died on Sunday in the snows as they ventured out to try to find their lost livestock.
Many people in the remote country between Russia and China, one of the most sparsely populated on earth, are livestock herders.
msh/jcg (AFP, Reuters, dpa)