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China’s ‘toilet revolution’

By Floro Mercene

China has long been known as the home of dirty public toilets, with many rural area people using open pits which are not connected to sewage. In old times even in cities, many people living in the old courtyard houses don’t have a private toilet. In the morning and evening you used to see people in their pajamas walking to and from the public toilets. Foreign tourists used to call the public toilet in tourist spots in rural area “Ni Hao toilet”. It is a series of un-partitioned pits in the floor with no flushes or running water and people line up squatting against wall.

Now, all these stories are a thing of the past. China is in the midst of a toilet revolution launched in 2015 by Chinese President Xi Jinping to improve basic sanitation, standard of living, as well as to increase domestic tourism. Authorities had built more than 70,000 new toilets costing upwards of US$3 billion, while another 64,000 are expected to be constructed or transformed by 2020.

Many local officials seek to improve their promotion chances with landmark schemes which often become expensive, according to Chinese media reports.

A restroom in the north-eastern city of Shenyang where visitors can charge their phones, access Wi-fi and use toilet paper via a dispenser which uses facial recognition. A pavilion-style public toilet in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing attracted attention for reportedly costing about l million yuan to build. It was styled after top-of-the-line public toilets in Singapore. Another “five-star” public toilet near downtown Chongqing featured TV, Wi-fi, phone charger, water fountain, and automatic shoe polishers.

China’s tourism chief has now ordered an end to the revolution. “We don’t need local governments trying to outdo each other with five-star toilets. We just need to build practical public facilities based on local conditions that are accessible and convenient,” he said, according to the China Daily.