Toilet Revolution!!

« previous post | next post »


China had a toilet reform movement already a decade or two ago. I remember reading a whole, serious book about how to improve toilet construction and behavior.  In fact, I bought a copy and studied it assiduously, but can't put my hands on the volume at this moment.

Apparently the toilet improvement campaign is still going on.  In this "Dictionary of Xi Jinping's new terms", it is number 9 out of 20 key items in the imperial lexicon extracted from President Xi's "Important speeches he made in conferences, inspections and state visits [that] set the tone for China's reform, development agenda and diplomacy."  This "dictionary" was issued by The State Council Information Office of the People's Republic of China.  Here's the entry for "Toilet revolution":

Along with agricultural modernization and new rural construction, local governments will ensure that villagers have access to hygienic toilets.

Chinese toilets can indeed be truly awful.  Much as my wife loved her homeland, she often had nightmares about Chinese toilets and was terrified of going in them when she travelled there.

The Chinese term for "toilet revolution" is "cèsuǒ gémìng 厕所革命".  Syllable by syllable, that means "lavatory-place remove-mandate [of heaven]".

To show how seriously China is taking this, here is a scientific paper on the subject:

"Research article:  Toilet revolution in China", by Shikun Cheng, Zifu Li, Sayed Mohammad Nazim Uddin, Heinz-Peter Man, Xiaoqin Zhou, Jian Zhang, Lei Zheng, Lingling Zhang, in Journal of Environmental Management, available online 21 September 2017:


The wide-spread prevalence of unimproved sanitation technologies has been a major cause of concern for the environment and public health, and China is no exception to this. Towards the sanitation issue, toilet revolution has become a buzzword in China recently. This paper elaborates the backgrounds, connotations, and actions of the toilet revolution in China. The toilet revolution aims to create sanitation infrastructure and public services that work for everyone and that turn waste into value. Opportunities for implementing the toilet revolution include: fulfilling Millennium Development Goals and new Sustainable Development Goals; government support at all levels for popularizing sanitary toilet; environmental protection to alleviate wastewater pollution; resource recovery from human waste and disease prevention for health and wellbeing improvement. Meanwhile, the challenges faced are: insufficient funding and policy support, regional imbalance and lagging approval processes, weak sanitary awareness and low acceptance of new toilets, lack of R&D and service system. The toilet revolution requires a concerted effort from many governmental departments. It needs to address not only technology implementation, but also social acceptance, economic affordability, maintenance issues and, increasingly, gender considerations. Aligned with the ecological sanitation principles, it calls for understanding issues across the entire sanitation service chain. Public-private partnership is also recommended to absorb private capital to make up the lack of funds, as well as arouse the enthusiasm of the public.

And here are some photographs of Party apparatchiks (including Chairman Xi) holding discussion meetings and promotional events to determine how best to carry out the toilet revolution:

[Thanks to Jichang Lulu]


  1. Reinhold {Rey} Aman said,

    November 26, 2017 @ 5:26 pm

    @Victor Mair:

    I remember reading a whole, serious book about how to improve toilet construction and behavior. In fact, I bought a copy and studied it assiduously, but can't put my hands on the volume at this moment.

    The Bathroom by Alexander Kira.

  2. Elizabeth said,

    November 26, 2017 @ 6:20 pm

    I commend any government for wanting all of its people to have "hygienic toilets", but as someone raised in the west, I will never comprehend why "hygienic" means enshrining a hole in the ground with a porcelain surround with depressions for your feet. And I really can't comprehend doing the same when the "hole" is a plumbing drain on the 3rd floor of a modern urban building.

    Yes, I understand why they do it, including the cultural perception that they wouldn't want to put their own naked backside where someone else's has been, but deep down, part of me just can't comprehend it. As much as I love traveling in China, even the modern toilets there still terrify me!

  3. Reinhold {Rey} Aman said,

    November 26, 2017 @ 7:04 pm

    In France, I saw a sign with this advice in a hole-in-the-ground toilet:

    Chie dur, chie mou, mais chie dans le trou !

  4. Mark R. Freiermuth said,

    November 26, 2017 @ 9:13 pm

    Well, the reforms took a step backwards. Yesterday, apparently a toilet exploded from trapped methane gas leveling a building, damaging numerous vehicles parked nearby and killing two Chinese.

  5. Bathrobe said,

    November 26, 2017 @ 11:18 pm

    "Buzzword", probably because of all the flies…

  6. Mark Metcalf said,

    November 27, 2017 @ 9:28 am

    More from the SCMP:
    China’s public bathroom blitz goes nationwide as Xi Jinping rallies forces in the ‘toilet revolution’

    "…Rural toilet standards had been a major focus of Xi’s field trips across the country since coming to power in 2012, Xinhua said…Bai Lin, China project manager with the World Toilet Organisation, said the toilet revolution was driven by a desire to boost tourism, but hygienic toilets were essential to the wider public…"

  7. Victor Mair said,

    November 27, 2017 @ 9:22 pm

    "Xi wants China to spruce up toilets to boost tourism, quality of life"

    Reuters – November 27, 2017

    "China must keep up efforts to 'revolutionize its toilets until the task is completed, state media quoted Chinese President Xi Jinping as saying on Monday, amid efforts to boost the domestic tourist industry and improve the quality of life."

  8. Victor Mair said,

    November 28, 2017 @ 6:41 am

    "Xi tells nation to keep advancing 'toilet revolution'"

    China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-28 06:10

    It's the second day in a row that this is the top story in China Daily (China's official English-language newspaper).

  9. Mark Metcalf said,

    November 28, 2017 @ 7:40 am

    Here's an on-topic cartoon from today's SCMP:

  10. fred said,

    November 29, 2017 @ 6:36 am

    From what I've read elsewhere, the real keywords to note here are not making latrines into porcelain-covered latrines, but rather "environmental protection to alleviate wastewater pollution; resource recovery from human waste and disease prevention for health and wellbeing improvement." Listed companies engaged in wastewater treatment technology are being promoted, for instance.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    November 29, 2017 @ 4:58 pm

    Headline from the China Daily (11/29/17), the national English language newspaper of the PRC:

    "Call for nationwide toilet revolution more than a matter of convenience"

    The headline is funny in light of the fact that, as I've been explaining at Language Log for many years, the terms dàbiàn 大便 ("greater convenience") and xiǎobiàn 小便 ("lesser convenience") refer respectively to "defecation" and "urination". This usage arose as a euphemism from the Chinese translation, fāngbiàn 方便 ("convenient"), of Sanskrit upāya, that is to say, "skillful means" or "skill-in-means," which implies teaching at a suitable level for or with devices appropriate to one's auditor. In medieval Chinese Buddhist monasteries, fāngbiàn 方便 ("convenient") became a euphemism used by monks who wanted to go to the toilet, but it soon spread to the general populace. Still today, in colloquial parlance, fāngbiàn 方便 ("convenient") can mean "go to the toilet".

    See "Linguistic Advice in the Lavatory: Speaking Mandarin is a great convenience for everyone" (9/11/07)

    It's remarkable that, in British English,"convenience" refers to a public restroom.

  12. Alyssa said,

    November 29, 2017 @ 5:20 pm

    @fred: As an American English speaker, the term "toilet revolution" strongly carries for me the implication that it's the porcelain throne itself that's being upgraded. It's only after seeing your comment that I realized that I should be understanding "toilet" in what I think of as the British sense – referring to the facilities/plumbing/etc.

  13. B.Ma said,

    December 2, 2017 @ 12:54 am

    @Elizabeth, not sure why naked backsides come into it. It isn't like I've discussed this with any "westerners" but in my (Chinese, if it isn't obvious) family one of the things that children are taught is how to clean a public toilet seat and then line it with toilet paper so that you don't have to come into contact with where someone else's naked bum might have been. But obviously if everyone does this then nobody ever sits naked on the seat anyway….

    In rural China, the availability of toilet paper may be an issue.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2017 @ 10:08 am

    "481 toilets at tourists sites installed and renovated in Ningxia" | Updated: 2017-12-03 13:06

  15. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2017 @ 11:41 am

    "A glimpse of innovative designs that are paving way for China's ‘toilet revolution’"

    Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/3 17:50:54

    This article is especially interesting. You have to see the photographs to get an idea of what they're doing. The first one resembles the US capitol. The last photograph shows a man scanning a code to get toilet paper. What do you do if you don't have the code????

  16. Victor Mair said,

    December 3, 2017 @ 11:48 am

    Comment from a colleague:

    Clearly, if you don't have the code, you're SOL… (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

  17. Victor Mair said,

    December 4, 2017 @ 1:23 am

    "China promises extreme toilet makeover"

    CNN•December 3, 2017


  18. Victor Mair said,

    December 4, 2017 @ 6:14 pm

    "3D-printed toilet, QR codes for tissue…China's public toilets go hi-tech"

    Source: Xinhua| 2017-12-04 16:29:23|Editor: Mengjie

  19. Victor Mair said,

    December 4, 2017 @ 6:17 pm

    "China's 'toilet revolution' extends to the grasslands"

    (Xinhua) 10:24, December 04, 2017

  20. Victor Mair said,

    December 4, 2017 @ 6:53 pm

    Free toilet paper: face recognition

    Part of the toilet revolution

  21. Jichang Lulu said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 3:46 pm

    A very timely post, published around World Toilet Day. Relevant headlines included "World Toilet Day focuses on poo treatment" (The Pyongang Times).

  22. Jichang Lulu said,

    December 5, 2017 @ 3:47 pm

    That should be 'Pyongyang' of course.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    December 6, 2017 @ 3:48 pm

    "Toilets should make China flush with pride"

    By Kathleen Naday Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/6 21:08:39

  24. Victor Mair said,

    December 9, 2017 @ 10:54 pm

    "What Westerners really think about China’s ‘toilet revolution’"

    By Katrin Büchenbacher Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/7 17:33:39

    "Toilets are for the people, not for the privileged: People’s Daily"

    (People's Daily Online) 15:49, January 09, 2018

    "China launches toilet navigation system to help tourists locate nearest restrooms"

    By Sun Wenyu (People's Daily Online) 13:06, January 12, 2018

    "China cracks down on five-star restrooms as Xi’s ‘toilet revolution’ spirals out of control"

    By Neil Connor (The Telegraph) 1/9/18

    "China's 'Toilet Revolution' Is Flush With Lavish Loos"

    China Sinks $3 Billion Into 'Toilet Revolution' With Some Over-The-Top Results

    Yuhan Xu (NPR) February 3, 20187:00 AM ET

    "China Focus: 'Toilet revolution' boards trains"

    Source: Xinhua| 2018-02-04 13:14:22|Editor: Yurou

    "Deputies promise to fulfill tasks set by Xi"

    By An Baijie | China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-07 07:11

    "Zhao also called the 'toilet revolution' campaign-building and renovating toilets in tourism resorts and rural areas-a great idea. It demonstrates the government's consideration for even small things related to the people's quality of life."

    Always on the lookout for more evidence of the ongoing toilet revolution!

    The National People's Congress gets behind the toilet revolution!

    "Technology propels China’s ‘toilet revolution’ ahead"

    By Wang Hailin, Zhao Shan (People's Daily) 13:17, March 08, 2018

    Including facial recognition to dispense sheets of toilet paper.
    Building a civilized society.

    Xi Jinping's toilet revolution will never die — five star toilets and people's toilets alike.

    No Room to Rest in China's 'Toilet Revolution'

    "New campaign will map and rate nation's restrooms, as Shenzhen tops new list for best public potties"

    By Yang Ge Caixin 3/12/18

    "Qinghai to build, renovate 400 toilets for tourists"

    Source: Xinhua| 2018-03-24 02:28:25|Editor: Mengjie

    "Beijing: Grüne Toilette wird zur botanischen Landschaft"
    English translation: Beijing: Green toilet becomes a botanical landscape

    Source: 3/5/18

    "'Toilet reform' hot in Beijing"

    People's Daily Online (7/5/18)

    "'Toilet revolution' brings benefits to Dagze villagers in Lhasa"

    CRI Online 11:22, July 22, 2018

    "Castle-style toilet gives new meaning to 'throne room'"

    China Daily (9/4/18)

    "China Focus: China's 'Toilet Revolution' brings better sanitation to rural schools"

    Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-18 21:28:12|Editor: Li Xia

    "Technology key to toilet revolution in countryside"
    by Cheng Si, China Daily (12/8/18)

    "China’s public toilets have facial recognition now… thanks to Xi Jinping"
    by Masha Borak, abacus (12/19/20)

    "Chongqing to transform rural houses, toilets"
    Xinhua | Updated: 2019-02-10 10:08

    "'Toilet revolution' in China adds hope to rural tourism and prosperity"
    People's Daily Overseas New Media 16:53, March 06, 2019

    "China to spend over $1 billion on its 'toilet revolution': It's part of the government's effort to boost rural development."

    CNET by Marrian Zhou March 6, 2019 2:40 PM PST

    "China develops online toilet map for tourists"

    Source:Xinhua Published: 2019/3/21 14:31:52

    "Toilet revolution to improve farmers' lives"

    By Liu Jianna | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-16 06:59

    "Nation now flush with tourism toilets"

    By CHENG SI | China Daily | Updated: 2019-12-25 07:1

    An app to track over 98,000 toilets…every part of a PRC citizens life is being tracked…

    "Tibet advances toilet revolution"

    Source: Xinhua | 2020-01-08 20:41:13 | Editor: huaxia

    "China epidemic exposes flaws in ‘Toilet Revolution’:

    A Belt and Bathroom Initiative is needed more than 15 years after SARS and the Covid-19 outbreak"


    "Online toilet map boosts 'toilet revolution' in China: report"
    Xinhua | Updated: 2020-03-09 11:39

    "Tourism gets smarter with 5G"
    By Ma Si | | Updated: 2020-10-27 10:57

    "China’s ‘toilet revolution’ brings new look to rural areas"
    By Zhang Yiqi (People's Daily) 09:26, January 07, 2021

    "Xi stresses solid efforts to advance 'toilet revolution' in rural areas"
    Source: Xinhua| 2021-07-23 17:05:04|Editor: huaxia

    "Xi's leadership raising people's quality of life"
    By CAO DESHENG | China Daily | Updated: 2021-08-23 07:22

    "Xi leads China's 'toilet revolution'"

    (People's Daily App) 11:25, November 21, 2021

    November 19 marks World Toilet Day. On this day, let's learn about China's "toilet revolution."

    VHM: Never let up, never relax, not for a single moment!

    VHM: For additional updates, see "Waterless smart public toilet; toilet revolution!, part 3" (10/29/19) and the last comment thereto.

    "The Party’s resolve to commit far-reaching ‘toilet revolution’ in enhancing overall state of society shows human rights values: Dignity through action"

    By GT staff reporters


    Keep up with the action!


    See also "A quantum leap in the Chinese toilet revolution" (5/6/19) — with a long bibliography

    "Waterless smart public toilet; toilet revolution!, part 3" (10/29/19 –wih important bibliographical additions

    "Toilet revolution, an unfinished business: beware!" (5/25/19)

    "World's worst superhero" (10/17/20

    "Trilingual Shandong beach toilet civilization" (7/13/22) — with a very long bibliography

    2,200-year-old flush toilet — oldest ever found — unearthed at palace ruins in China

    Aspen Pflughoeft, Miami Herald / Yahoo
    Thu, February 16, 2023 at 5:37 PM EST

    Over-the-top Chinese toilet

    "Inside The Most Lavish Public Bathroom in the World" | Moss and Fog


    These are just a sampling of the riches about the ongoing toilet revolution available on Language Log.

    With thanks to James Fanell.

RSS feed for comments on this post