Be civilized when you urinate

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Notice in a men's room at Dunhuang, far western Gansu Province:

The sign says:

tiējǐn wénmíng  kàojìn fāngbiàn

贴紧文明 靠近方便

"adhere to civilization  get close when you urinate"

The authorities are forever enjoining men to stand close to the urinal when they relieve themself, and men are forever standing back several feet so they don't have to endure the stench.  A never ending battle, so much so that Xi Jinping has called for a "toilet revolution" (see the last item in the bibliography below).

Selected readings

The above is just a small sampling of the scores of Language Log posts on the drama of urination and defecation.


  1. DaveK said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 2:17 pm

    In American men’s rooms, the equivalent sign is usually “Gentlemen: please stand close. It’s not as long as you think”

  2. Viseguy said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 6:44 pm

    The obvious solution is a urinal designed to be straddled rather than simply aimed at, but it seems that no one is willing to strike this particular blow in favor of civilization.

  3. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 23, 2023 @ 5:47 am

    I think a sketch might help, Victor, as the mental model that I create from your description leads me to believe that one's trousers (or one's legs, if wearing shorts) might come into contact with outside of the urinal, something that most of us would surely seek to avoid ?

  4. Victor Mair said,

    July 23, 2023 @ 8:38 pm

    In the early 1980s, Beijing had a new international airport, and I was one of the first foreign passengers to use it.

    I'll never forget that, when I walked into the men's room, I came upon a man standing about four or five feet away from the urinals. Although he was aiming his stream toward the urinals, all of his pee was landing on the ground in front of them. I was outraged by his behavior and said to him (in Mandarin), "Why don't you get up closer?"

    With a dismissive wave of his hand, he said this one word: "Chòu 臭" ("stinks").

    The image of him peeing on the floor and that dismissive hand gesture bothered me for years. I can still see that picture in my mind's eye today.

    BTW, after he said "Chòu 臭" ("stinks") to me, I walked across the urine soaked floor right up to the urinals and stood right next to them before doing my business.

  5. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 24, 2023 @ 6:09 am

    But of course if everyone followed his example, the stink would expand to fill the entire toilet, then the entire airport, and finally people would end up peeing from just outside the main airport entrance !

  6. Andreas Johansson said,

    July 24, 2023 @ 6:38 am

    Are Chinese urinals, generally speaking, stinkier than western ones?

  7. Taylor, Philip said,

    July 24, 2023 @ 8:27 am

    I do not have sufficient experience of Chinese urinals to be able to answer your question, Andreas, but I can report that on a trip to Wuhan & Wudong some years ago, I encountered a Chinese toilet where the fæces of earlier users reached a height of some three feet, and one was expected to defæcate on top of these …

  8. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2023 @ 5:06 am

    From shaing tai:

    There are many interesting translations and illustrations if you google "向前一小步 文明一大步" or "上前一小步 文明一大步" and click on "images" / "图片".

  9. Neil said,

    August 3, 2023 @ 1:22 am

    China has a large population base. There are indeed some person has bad manners, and I believe what you experienced in China still existing. However, it cannot be generalized. At least in recent years. I haven't encountered the situation mentioned above. With the improvement of education level, these things will become less and less.

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