China’s costly ‘toilet revolution’ is over the top

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s attention called for “a toilet revolution” to combat the embarrassing issue. (Wu Hong/Pool Photo via AP)

China has spent up to 21 billion yuan ($3 billion) renovating its public bathrooms. Since the project’s start in April 2015, the money has helped lavishly remodel 68,000 public bathrooms in many tourist destinations. People around the world will look at China as a remarkably clean and sanitary country, overlooking the terrible air pollution in the country’s major cities.

The public bathrooms in China have been a horrifying sight to behold; as journalist Yuhan Xu describes, “Filthy, stinky, scarce and hard to find.” The problem was severe enough to draw Chinese President Xi Jinping’s attention; he called for “a toilet revolution” to combat the embarrassing issue. This revolution meant spending a huge amount of dough on toilets. If anything, I believe a “squatter revolution” would’ve been a more fitting name. The bathrooms aren’t to blame but the users; it wouldn’t hurt to develop enough decency, remember to aim accurately and flush after each use.

For three years the toilets have been remodeled and cleaned, some with a standard scrubbing, while others seem to have made use of every dime spent. Some of China’s cities merely had toilets cleaned and sanitized, while other areas took remodeling a step further. Inspiration for a tacky new style of bathrooms came from a Linfen, China, a coal mining city. Linfen has been constructing elegant and eccentric bathrooms since 2008 to make up for its atmosphere that could take years from your life.

What do I mean by this? Bathrooms have been decked out for not just efficiency’s sake, but for luxury and entertainment. The city of Linfen has installed 40 five-star bathrooms, as well as 12 four-star bathrooms that have their breakrooms looking like palaces, libraries, a person’s very own home and...human faces. The latter theme I wouldn’t know how to react to, especially if caught in a bathroom emergency. I guess it would be better than the shuddering aroma of old or fresh human excrement. However, if one’s not a fan of human faces, there are 60 standard clean bathrooms to use. Whew, but why not have all the bathrooms this way?

The starred buildings (the ones with the creative touches to their bathrooms) have been assigned by the China National Tourism Bureau specifically for tourists’ pleasure. The bureau wants to insure tourists’ trip to China will be something they never forget.  And, still reflecting on the human faces, there's not a doubt in my mind many would forget. Linfen has been named by China as “The Excellent City for toilet revolution.”

This toilet trend is spreading throughout the country. Other cities, specifically ones that draw the most tourism like Beijing and Nanjing, are developing their share of over-the top toilet facilities. Face scanners are currently being installed to combat toilet paper theft and messiness in the stalls. The devices will scan one’s face before they’re able to roll out some TP. All of this comes in bathroom facilities already providing pleasant sound systems, fine wooden paneling and marble walls.

While many appreciate the use of technology and the effort, others are furious with the additions and renovations. Citizens just want their bathroom experiences simple and quick without the expense of having their face scanned to, ahem, finish their business. The government isn’t really appreciating this revolution either, as Chinese authorities are ranting to local governments to cease these costly applications. The revolution unheeded persists, and who can say how long it might continue. It’s disappointing to watch China’s funds go down the toilet.


Joseph Frare is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joseph.frare@uconn.edu