A trip to China might include a glimpse of the Great Wall, but it may also contain an unsavory trip to the bathroom. Westerners are often bemused by the country’s squat latrines, communal toilet troughs and lack of toilet paper. But China’s water closet woes may soon be coming to an end—and all because it wants more Western tourists. As Mike Ives and Ryan McMorrow report for The New York Times, the country is in the midst of a loo revolution that promises the refurbishment of 100,000 toilets and the construction of over 50,000 more.
The China National Tourism Administration has been urging the country to lead what it calls a “nationwide toilet revolution” aimed at building more toilets and ensuring that they are “clean and odorless, user-friendly and for free.” As Ives and McMorrow note, officials worry that complaints about China’s bathroom situation will compromise the country’s reputation—and the billions of dollars of tourist money international visitors bring in each year.
Despite promises of everything from Wi-Fi to scented soap in newfangled bathrooms, though, China faces barriers in its quest to revamp the nation’s bathrooms. According to the World Health Organization, 14 million Chinese people practice open defecation. The World Toilet Organization, a non-profit dedicated to improving global sanitation, notes that the number of toilets in the country does not meet demand and that in 2013, only 51 percent of Chinese people living in urban areas had access to sanitation facilities.
Though state censors have historically been nervous about allowing people to publicize the country’s sanitation situation, the new initiative means that China’s open bathroom behavior is no longer an open secret. Officials have cracked down on rude behavior inside public restrooms. Toilet paper use is on the rise. And the country is encouraging innovation in a bid to prove their facilities are just as futuristic as those to be found in Japan, which is well known for its high-tech thrones. State officials are even rewarding great places to go with a listing of high-ranking toilet tourist spots, Ives and McMorrow report.
Will China’s toilet revolution flush away the country’s reputation as an outmoded place to powder your nose? Perhaps. The proof, perhaps, will be in the pooing.