At the start of last year, China announced a new revolution. A toilet revolution. The plan was to bring the country's bathroom facilities, long the butt of tourists' jokes, up to the standards of the international traveller. Tens of thousands of new public toilets were to be constructed, while old toilets would be renovated; all at a total cost billed at more than 12.5 billion yuan ($1.9 billion).
Yet the problem wasn't just the facilities: Authorities think that bathroom etiquette may need to be adjusted, with punishments meted out for bad behaviour. On Wednesday, China's national tourism regulator suggested that the "toilet revolution" could see those who misbehave in public bathrooms blacklisted from the facilities.
"Many people spend a lot of time dressing themselves, but they do not spare a second to flush the toilet," Li Shihong, deputy chief of the China National Tourism Administration (NTA), was quoted as saying in China Daily. "Toilet civilisation has a long way to go in China."
A potential blacklist would target "uncivilized behavior in public conveniences," the state newspaper reports. Exactly how that would work is unclear, but the plan does sound similar to the NTA's move to publicly name and shame Chinese tourists guilty of "uncivilized behavior" while traveling outside the country. The NTA's website currently lists the names of 16 Chinese tourists who engaged in a variety of unsavory activities while abroad, including brawling on airplanes and punching store clerks.
China's public bathrooms have long proved to be an anxiety-causing destination even for seasoned expatriates. In 2005, Peter Goodman described the standard experience in a dispatch for The Washington Post:
In a public toilet - be it at the park, on a main thoroughfare, at the airport or in a train station - the air is often so foul that you limit your breathing. The smell wafts out into the surrounding neighborhood. You keep your eyes turned upward, to avoid fixing on the squalid floor. Most toilets have no toilet paper. Many lack running water. Everywhere, flushing seems optional. People with major business to attend to must typically execute it in full view of everyone else over a big gulley without privacy walls. Sit-down toilets? Rare.
Authorities in the country were aware of the problem and convened a "Toilet Association" to help address the problem. More than a decade later, things have improved, though perhaps not as much as you would hope.
New details of the construction underway in the "Toilet Revolution" suggest that remarkably ambitious changes may be afoot in China's public bathrooms. Not only will there be expected changes like Western-style toilets and deodorization technology, but a recent draft from the NTA suggests that there could be big screen televisions, free wi-fi, ATMs and sofas. It sounds luxurious - if you can get in.