And Finally

The seat of power

Xi Jinping calls for a sprucing up of the nation’s lavatories


Time for an upgrade

Mao Zedong first forged the Cultural Revolution. Now Xi Jinping is promising a “Toilet Revolution”. And the case can be made that one led to the other.

During the Cultural Revolution, young people were ‘sent down’ to live in rural communities. China’s future leader Xi Jinping was one of them. He lived in a yaodong in Shaanxi – a cave-like dwelling carved into a hillside. When nature called Xi made use of an outhouse. In fact, “house” is too generous a description, Xinhua says. It was more of a ditch covered with a straw mat.

Apparently Xi was so displeased with the facilities that he took it upon himself to renovate them, laying down a proper floor, building higher walls and creating separate male and female options.

Impressed by his labours, other villagers followed suit and soon all the toilets in the village were something to be (more) proud of.

Now promoted to the Party’s highest rank, Xi has taken his toiletary campaign nationwide and last week he demanded new vigour in the battle to bolster China’s loos.

The dire state of many of the country’s public washrooms has long been cause for rebuke from outsiders, especially those unaccustomed to the squat-down style of toilet that often features. In one incident in 2006, Taiwanese-born Meng Guangmei (see WiC165) slammed China’s toilets on a talk show, angering thousands of over-sensitive mainland Chinese.

Soon dubbed “Toiletgate”, Meng’s complaints were really rather similar to Xi Jinping’s, despairing that public toilet cubicles offered too little in the way of privacy, with many lacking doors or even walls.

Many public toilets (even in hospitals) are often missing soap and toilet paper. Theft of toilet paper is another perennial problem – indeed a bathroom in Beijing now uses facial-recognition technology to dispense it and thus avoid rolls being stolen (see WiC361).

The idea of a “Toilet Revolution” is not new: it was first floated in 2015, when the government released a plan to improve facilities across the country in three years. So far Rmb20 billion ($3 billion) has been spent on the scheme, giving a facelift to at least 68,000 toilets.

Last year a prototype ‘ideal loo’ was unveiled that delighted some but was viewed as over-engineered by others. It was equipped with WiFi and TV screens in each cubicle, as well as plush chairs, an ATM and even vending machines. Nice, WiC reckons, but beyond most city’s budgets. Most people would settle for a clean, private cubicle…

The primary purpose of the campaign is to boost the tourism industry. Out in the villages, residents may still have to copy Xi’s earlier example and do a spot of DIY.

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