Some people love to complain about the toilet situation in China. While it is true that many of the toilets outside first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai are smelly at best and look like a horror novel come true at worst, and it may be the case that some of the toilets in even the best of cities can still make your toes curl in passing from the smell, we have also experienced some of the best facilities in the world right here in China. Japanese toilets with heated seats and bidet? Check! Neck and shoulder massage while washing my hands? No problem! L’Occitane hand soap? Absolutely! Choice of cloth hand towels, paper towels, or hand dryer? Please, ma’am, use all three!
We’ve noticed that China is tackling the toilet problem in both private and public sectors. This is an ongoing campaign — and one that correlates quite closely to the 2008 Summer Olympics and the upcoming Winter Olympics in 2022. There have been campaigns stipulating the amount of flies allowed (two at most, if you must know), and even free wi-fi so you can browse your WeChat while doing your business. Recently, the government announced a five-year plan to add thousands of “modern” public restrooms throughout the country; more on China’s “tourist toilet revolution” here.
There have been campaigns stipulating the amount of flies allowed, and even free wi-fi so you can browse your WeChat while doing your business
Now, if you are out and about and need to go, the key to a grade-A, top toilet experience is location, location, location. We prefer five-star hotel lobbies as the obvious first choice. Luxury hotels are a dime a dozen in Shanghai and Beijing, and nearly all of them have a delightfully luxurious bathroom open for business in the lobby. You can just walk right in like you own the place (feel free to even ask the concierge for directions!) and experience the luxury of a five-star bathroom at a five-finger discount.
Large brand-name shopping areas are only one step down from hotels. If there are no hotels around, shopping areas offer a clean and friendly bathroom experience, complete with soap and sometimes even toilet paper! Never mind the occasional smoker in the stall, these places usually have multiple bathroom stalls and an attendant to clean up any messes or clogs. Many of these restrooms even offer the choice of “Western” sitting toilets AND squatty potties.
When we talk with Westerners, the biggest complaint about the toilet situation in China seems to be the squatty potty. And we’re really not sure why.
Firstly, as females, we hate sitting on toilet seats directly. When faced with the choice, we take the opportunity to get in a nice thigh workout hovering above the seat rather than risk placing the bare butt on the seat where dozens or even hundreds of other bare butts have been. If we’re feeling particularly lazy and environmentally unfriendly, we might opt to use a toilet seat cover if available (this is very rare) or if not, three pieces of toilet paper to make a trifecta of a cleanliness across the seat.
A squat toilet solves these problems and more. No need to waste paper, no need to exhaust your thighs or worry about bottom diseases — you just squat and go. Environmentally friendly, with a pelvic floor exercise included for free! Also, we now know that the squat toilet method of emptying ones’ bowels is actually healthier for you than sitting and straining on a Western toilet. Just say no to hemorrhoids! When there is a choice between squatty and sitty toilets, we will pick the squatty every time.
[For the record, Sophia’s favorite Beijing public toilet is just off of Niujie. It comes complete with scented air freshener dispensed every minute, soap, and toilet paper! Krista prefers the traditional hutong public toilet experience.]
Regardless of personal preferences, China’s toilet situation has drastically improved in the ten years since we first arrived, and if municipal policy changes, influx of tourism, and luxury hotels have anything to say about it, it’s on the up and up. We’re positive about the future of toilets here, and expect toilet-goers to have a top-notch experience whenever nature calls.
Cover image: Plumbing Connection