Howell fired a career-best 9-under 63 on Friday to take the lead after two rounds at the TCL Classic. His 17-under-par 127 total broke the 36-hole record of 130 set by Alex Quiroz last year.
That's not all.
Howell also matched the second-lowest 36-hole total in European Tour history, and his 11 birdies were one shy of the tour record for one round. His day would have been even better had the European Ryder Cupper not bogeyed his 17th hole and missed a five-foot birdie putt on his last.
'I'm delighted really,' said Howell, who leads by two strokes over Australian Andrew Buckle. 'My caddie just gave me a telling off as I was a little disappointed to finish five, five. But I have just had my joint best score and my best score two days in a row, so I have got to be happy.'
Buckle shot a 6-under 66 in his second round to get to 15-under-par 129.
Edward Loar, who shared the overnight lead with Liang Wen-Chong after both fired course-record 62s in the first round, leads a group of four players tied for third place at 13-under-par 131.
Loar bogeyed three of his final four holes, following his 62 with a 69. He is joined by Daniel Alfredo Vancsik (65), Ariel Canete (66) and Warren Abery (68) at minus-13.
The cut line fell at minus-5, with 69 players in a field of 154 moving on to the weekend. Scoring conditions were good for a second straight day, as 116 players were even-par or better at round's end.
For a while it seemed as though a round of 59 was not out of question for Howell, who won the only other time he has played in China, at the HSBC Champions tournament in November.
Beginning his round on the 10th tee, Howell opened with birdies on six of his first eight holes. He was 8-under through 11 holes after two more birdies at holes 1 and 2 on the front nine.
It was all working for the Englishman. He needed only 23 putts to finish the round, at one point making 12 in a row. Poor chips at the par-3 third and par-4 eighth led to his only bogeys of the round.
'I did start to think about a 59, a bit too early probably,' admitted Howell, whose missed birdie putt on No. 9 left him a stroke short of tying Loar and Liang's course record.
Defending champion Paul Casey shot a 68 and is tied for 13th place at 11- under. Nick Dougherty is also there after s second-round 67.
Liang struggled to a two-over 74, falling into a tied for 32nd place at minus-eight.