19 March 2019
A free public toilet in Beijing equipped with the latest technical solutions and environment-friendly features. Authorities plan to build more such facilities all across China. Photo: Xinhua
A free public toilet in Beijing equipped with the latest technical solutions and environment-friendly features. Authorities plan to build more such facilities all across China. Photo: Xinhua

China’s ‘toilet revolution’ to gather speed

Local governments in China have set up taskforces to drive the so-called toilet revolution. The move is aimed at upgrading the general hygiene standards and giving a lift to the nation’s tourism sector.

President Xi Jinping said during an inspection tour in Jiangsu province in December 2014 that local governments should push through the “toilet revolution” in order to improve service standards in the rural regions.

Undoubtedly, both local citizens and foreign tourists had been befuddled or disgusted by the public toilets in China in the past. The facilities usually comprised rows of squat toilets on the floor, often with little separation or privacy. There is always bad smell and long queues in these toilets.

In order to fix the embarrassing problem, Beijing had overhauled public toilets ahead of the 1990 Asian Games.

In fact, the toilet situation has improved significantly since 2000. China’s public toilet coverage ratio has jumped to 76.1 percent in 2014 from 7.5 percent in 1993.

Nevertheless, toilets remain a weak point in China’s infrastructure facilities. In fact, toilet construction has yet to be included into city planning in many mainland cities.

Many of the Chinese toilets still involve outdated technical solutions, which waste a lot of water and electricity. A total of 8.27 billion yuan has been spent in upgrading toilets in rural areas between 2004 and 2013.

Also, the citizen awareness of using toilets properly still needs to be improved. That has already become a big embarrassment given the negative reports of Chinese tourist behavior overseas.

As early as in 2002, the State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a document that urges local governments to focus on upgrading water and toilet facilities in rural areas.

In 2009, upgrading rural toilets was again included in the nation’s public healthcare service projects. The following year, China launched a campaign to improve sanitation all over the country, helping pave way for a surge in the public toilet coverage ratio.

Upgrading toilets, a key to improving the lives of rural residents, has won great public support. The project has been recognized as a major task by local governments, prompting them to deploy massive resources amid a target of 85 percent toilet coverage by 2020.

In recent years, China has emerged as a key player in the world in the tourism sector, both in terms of inbound and outbound tourism. Improvement of public facilities is critical if the nation wants to enhance its position.

President Xi, during a visit to Yanbian in northeast Jilin province in July last year, found some villagers still use traditional aqua privies. He urged the local government to push ahead the toilet revolution and help local residents use flush toilets soon.

Authorities intend to build or upgrade public toilets at 57,000 public sites by 2017. Also, they are promoting use of flush toilets in rural areas.

The toilet revolution has attracted attention from global media. Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported on April 8 that many public toilets in China have no separation and people can see one another. Also, some Chinese parents would let their children relieve themselves on the street.

Chinese authorities have underlined clean, practical and environmentally-friendly features as the main guidelines in building public toilets.

In the future, they’ll focus on increasing the number of women’s toilets, adding separate compartments and improving the ventilation system.

The government will install automatic flush toilets at popular tourist sites. In Beijing, there are 2,400 public toilets available for tourists at present.

The toilet revolution is set to benefit downstream industries. Hence, investors should consider placing some bets on related companies.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 11.

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Senior investment banker

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