Toilet revolution!, part 2

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Why China still needs one, and Chairman Xi keeps calling for a profound transformation of toilet etiquette:

The sign says:

běn cèsuǒ yǐjīng jiāqiáng qīngjié
qǐng ānxīn shǐyòng mǎtǒng zuòdiàn


This restroom has undergone enhanced cleansing;
Please feel at ease to use the toilet seat.

In other words, don't do your business on the floor / ground, which is a widespread phenomenon in China.

Another problem is that it is very common for people in China to stand on the toilet when they do their business.  That's probably because:

1. many people are used to squat toilets, so when faced with a Western style throne, they feel more comfortable climbing up on it and assuming their usual posture

2. they can't bear the thought of sitting on a filthy toilet seat

So you will often see signs of this type in Chinese restrooms:

wénmíng rú cè
fāngbiàn nǐ wǒ
kǒng fáng yìwài
qǐng wù cǎità


Being civilized* in the restroom,
Is convenient** for you and me;
To prevent an accident,
Please don't step on [the toilet].

*Appeals for civilized use of restroom facilities are typical on signage.

**Long-term readers of Language Log know well that, when it comes to toilet etiquette, fāngbiàn 方便 ("convenience") is a loaded word, so to speak (see especially the 3rd [for its Sanskrit antecedents] and 9th posts listed below).


[Thanks to Mark Swofford, Zeyao Wu, and Qing Liao]


  1. Jichang Lulu said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 11:08 pm


    “Let us go then, you and I…”

  2. Ambarish Sridharanarayanan said,

    November 22, 2018 @ 11:11 pm

    > many people are used to squat toilets, so when faced with a Western style throne, they feel more comfortable climbing up on it and assuming their usual posture

    I'm a bit confused. Why don't they install squat toilets then, if there seems to be demand for them?

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 5:37 am

    Ambarish ("Why don't they install squat toilets then, if there seems to be demand for them ?"). Almost certainly because of (at least) two factors — (a) Western toilets are perceived as being more modern and therefore more desirable; and (b) because the restaurant hopes to attract Western customers who (in the main) would find squat toilets a complete turn-off and never use the establishment again.

  4. Terry Hunt said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 12:35 pm

    When I briefly lived in West Germany (as it then was) in the late 1970s, I was told at a military (BAOR) establishment that HGV delivery drivers from Eastern Europe were prone to standing on the toilet bowl or defecating on the floor in front of it, as depicted on the Chinese signs illustrated above. We sometimes underestimate the unevenness of 'progress' and the non-universality of customs worldwide.

    The only squat toilet I remember encountering (despite living in the Far East in the 1960s) was in a (very) rural bistro in France around 1990.

  5. Ambarish Sridharanarayanan said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 12:39 pm

    Philip, you must be right, but that's sad nevertheless. Multiple studies have shown that Western toilets are far less healthy than squatting toilets. And I can't imagine customers not being completely turned off by finding poop on the toilet floor anyway.

  6. Philip Taylor said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 2:39 pm

    Well, "less healthy" is certainly a possibility, but does it in practice lead to transmission of any significant disease ? I have been using Western toilets for over 70 years and have yet to contract anything from them, but when wearing western clothing (and in particular, trousers), I find it almost impossible to use a squat toilet without either urinating or defæcating on my clothing … In a thawb, probably less of a problem, but in western clothing, I find it almost impossible. And to Terry, arabic toilets in the Gare St Lazare when I visited France in or around 1990.

  7. mg said,

    November 23, 2018 @ 4:23 pm

    Squat toilets are very difficult or impossible for many people with disabilities. I remember being in tears over one in Japan in the early 90s. It makes sense to offer people a choice between the two.

  8. Andy said,

    November 24, 2018 @ 11:48 pm

    I am Chinese American and this is how my dad used the toilet when I was little.

  9. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    November 26, 2018 @ 12:17 am

    I thought I had seen photos once of western-style toilets that had built-in footrests on the sides so people who wanted to squat could do so. China is such a huge market that I would think it could ask for such designs and get manufacturers to make them. If Squatty Potty can make a platform for squatting, why can't the side features be built in? (Having encountered one of these in a bathroom, I am less enthusiastic about the ledge in front, which put my legs out so far in front I almost lost my balance.)

    Years ago I read "The Bathroom" by Alexander Kira. His point was that many problems in the bathroom can be solved with innovative design based on human ergonomics. The toileting issue in China seems two-fold — partially cultural, but also partially a design problem. I hope Chinese planners figure out a better solution than simple nagging.

  10. 艾力·黑膠(Eric) said,

    December 1, 2018 @ 5:55 am

    How ironic. As Barbara Phillips Long mentions, more and more people are kludging their western-style toilets into squat toilets, due to being more harmonious with human physiology, as Ambarish Sridharanarayanan alludes to. What a shame if China should ape this aspect of the West as well and take a backward step in flush toilet technology.

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