‘Toilet chiefs’ in, luxury loos out as China’s public bathroom revolution rolls on

Head of tourism calls on local authorities to appoint officials to keep an eye on hygiene at the country’s growing number of restrooms

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 7:36pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 9:58pm

China’s tourism supremo has called for “toilet chiefs” to keep tabs on hygiene at public bathrooms but warned against construction of more “five-star” facilities as the country rolls on with its national “toilet revolution”.

Li Jinzao, head of the China National Tourism Administration, said lower-level authorities should follow the lead of Xian, in Shaanxi province, and appoint official monitors to keep an eye on standards in public toilets.

In Xian, the hygiene of the facilities overseen by each toilet chief is a factor in their political performance and promotion opportunities. A similar system has been adopted for the country’s waterways.

China is in the midst of a toilet revolution launched in 2015 by Chinese President Xi Jinping to improve sanitation at tourist sites.

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By the end of last year, authorities had built more than 70,000 new toilets, overshooting the three-year target of 57,000 set at the start of the campaign.

But some of the new facilities have become so well appointed that they have become destinations in their own right.

Last year, a pavilion-style public toilet in Xiuhu Park in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing attracted attention for reportedly costing about 1 million yuan (US$154,000) to build. It was styled on top-of-the-line public toilets in Singapore.

Another “five-star” public toilet near downtown Chongqing featured TV, Wi-fi, phone chargers, water fountains, and automatic shoe polishers, according to Chinese media reports.

At the administration’s annual policy meeting on Friday, Li said that construction of such fancy toilets needed to stop and the focus should be on convenience and durability instead.

To deter such construction, China ditched its five-tier star system on tourism toilets in 2016, replacing it with a three-tier A system. It is also shifting the focus of the overall campaign from hardware to management.

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Bai Lin, China project manager with the World Toilet Organisation and an adviser to local governments during the campaign, said appointing “toilet chiefs” could help local governments focus more on the management of public toilets rather than their architectural style.

“China’s toilet revolution still has a long way to go,” Bai said.

Public toilets in many second and third-tier cities in China’s central and western regions are not connected to sewage systems and waste is left to seep into the ground.

Beijing also plans to promote the “Toilet Open Alliance”, an initiative to increase public access to toilets inside government buildings, state-owned companies, and restaurants, among others. Any entities that join the alliance will put a special tag on their doors.