Most readers will know that paper was invented in China. But less well known is that we have the Chinese to thank for toilet paper too.
While most Asian cultures traditionally relied on water, the Chinese have always preferred to wipe.
This heritage is hardly evident in the country’s public conveniences, where loo roll is rarely to be found.
The reason usually given is that the public would just take the toilet paper home with them – and an experiment in the coastal city of Qingdao seems to have proved that to be very much the case.
The city decided to provide paper at 24 public bathrooms near popular tourist sites starting from June 15. The plan was to widen the scheme to all the city’s public bathrooms if it went well.
But go well it did not.
According to Xinhua in the last month Qingdao has spent over $230,000 on toilet paper and the lion’s share of it seems to have been appropriated by the general public. In addition to its primary function, people have been snapping up the free resource “to wash their faces and clean their feet and shoes,” Xinhua suggests.
Some bathrooms have reported consumption of up to 2 kilometres of toilet paper a day, with locals carrying off entire rolls, the news agency said.
Signage warning against such behaviour has had little effect and Qingdao is now considering whether to continue the scheme.
Aside from the cost to the public purse, the situation has also occasioned a debate about the public’s integrity.
“Chinese people are like this, they squander everything as long as it doesn’t cost them,” a Sina Weibo user commented on his account.
Another wrote: “How disappointed China makes me. Where are our morals?”
The newspapers have also pointed out that this isn’t the first time that projects like this have ended in failure. Earlier this year the Beijing metro had to stop loaning umbrellas because of the low return rate and a bike-sharing scheme set up for the Olympics had to be scrapped after all the bicycles were stolen.
“This reminds people of the famous ‘Tragedy of the Commons’,” the Xinmin Daily wrote, referring to US ecologist Garrett Hardin’s famous thesis. “If everyone works for their own personal gain and ignores the capacity of the grassland… then the cost will be borne by everyone.”
Others blamed the low standard of China’s toilets: if public loos were cleaner people would behave better when using them, they suggest.
But Guangming Daily gets the prize for the best solution. Working on the basis that an awareness campaign would prevent the same thing from happening elsewhere, it suggested showing people the proper way to use public toilets through scenes in TV dramas and movies. This would “imperceptibly create a civilised atmosphere,” it thought.
Good luck getting that one past the censors.
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