Welcome to China’s city of bathing

Bath house town looks to clean up

Welcome to China’s city of bathing

As far as rebranding efforts go, Maanshan’s announcement that it would like to be known forthwith as China’s “City of Bathing” has been both a success and a disappointment. The city, in the eastern province of Anhui, has pushed itself into the national spotlight for a few days. But, unfortunately for the municipal authorities, much of China seems to be amused, rather than inspired, by the town’s new moniker.

It’s common practice for China’s cities to award themselves a tag line for the characteristic for which they are best known. The problem for Maanshan is that it has been a town mostly associated with the steel industry, which is not an especially unique or glamorous image at all.

So the branding consultants were called in. Their shortlist ranged from the ambitious (“Poem City of China”) to the more functional (“New Recreational City East of Songhuajiang River”) but it was Bathing City of China that caught the official eye.

And why not? Surveys in neighbouring provinces revealed that Maanshan was already well known for its ‘bathing industry’ which employs more than 10,000 staff and generates more than Rmb100 million in revenues annually.

Locals claim competitive advantage too, according to the Modern Express. Tang Yongjun, manager of Blue Sea and Sky – a bathing facility – highlighted the low prices and high levels of service on offer. For Rmb40 ($5.84), a guest can spend up to a day on the premises enjoying a haircut, a shoe polish and an ear clean, amongst many other benefits.

The problem for Maanshan is a cynical general public. Bathhouses in China, as various newspapers report, can have a seedier reputation. It does not help that the Chinese character for ‘bathing’ is pronounced similarly to the one for ‘desire’.

The local Bathing Association has been shocked by such imputations, insisting that “dirty and filthy” services have no place within municipal boundaries. And it keeps a keen eye on local standards, emphasising that not one of its 90 registered establishments have needed to be punished for rule-breaking.

In fact, Maanshan says it is common for local people to take their families for trips out to the baths.

The conviviality of a day spent relaxing in healthy surroundings is a key factor, marking the city out as different to Yangzhou, another town in pursuit of the ‘national capital of bathing’ title. Professor Yuan Xiaoquan, a local tourism expert, points out that Yangzhou’s bathing establishments trade more on their skills with the knife in cutting out foot fungus. Not a relaxing image.

Because of the bad publicity, the Maanshan municipal government is having a rethink. Although it has not ruled out sticking with its new title, it does wonder if it is worth putting up with all the innuendo.

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