Two bricks and a hole – a decade ago it’s fair to say this was the norm for public toilets in rural China. Fast-forward to 2019 and the country’s “Toilet Revolution” is in full swing, with some municipalities going to extreme lengths in ‘beautifying’ their lavatories: for instance there are public loos that feature a cash machine, Wi-Fi and sofa.
“The toilet issue is not a small issue. It is an important part of civilised construction in both urban and rural areas,” was the declaration by Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2015. That was the year when he officially launched the “Toilet Revolution” – the campaign terminology even featured in the State Council Information Office’s “Dictionary of Xi Jinping’s new terms”.
Its aim was to materially improve China’s public conveniences – especially at tourist attractions and in underserved rural areas.
Since 2015, the campaign has constructed (or refurbished) around 68,000 toilets. In 2017, it was announced an additional 64,000 were to be installed by 2020, and by 2030 there is a promise that 100% of rural toilets will have been ‘civilised’.
According to data from the United Nations, 2.3 billion people around the world still do not have access to a clean toilet today. As such, every two minutes a child under the age of five dies from diarrhoea caused by dirty water and unsanitary lavatory conditions. Every year World Toilet Day is held on November 19, the purpose of which, UNICEF has stated, is “to spread the word about the sanitation crisis and what can be done to address it”.
For those not upholding Xi’s sanitary standards, the punishments can be severe. Recently Phoenix News reported that the public toilets in the Zhushan Scenic Area in Guangxi were inspected by Li Wenchao, a senior Party official who is also deputy mayor of the city of Dongxing.
Li swiftly declared the facilities to be disgusting. As a punishment – and to set an example to others – he made all workers in the tourism department responsible for the unsanitary toilets clean up the mess themselves. He then returned to check the loos were fit for purpose.
It’s an ongoing battle: WiC reported as early as 2012 – before the “Toilet Revolution” got into top gear – that the Beijing local government said it would only tolerate a maximum of two flies per public toilet. That came after hygiene scares in Haikou, the tropical city in Hainan island.
For Xi Jinping the campaign may have been partly inspired by his own youth, when he was sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution and experienced the primitive rural toilets of Zhaojiahe in Shaanxi province. In fact, the future leader is credited with building the town’s first gender-segregated toilet.
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