On a related matter, China’s ‘toilet revolution’ seems to be gaining traction in its third year. Launched by Xi Jinping in April, 2017, it initially focused on tourist areas. And given the sheer size of China, this involved a significant amount of cash. There have even been toilet revolution conferences, with the second one held in Beijing earlier this year.

But the program has now expanded to rural areas, where – as I have experienced – a toilet is often a hole in the ground beneath two planks. Here the revolution has faced some challenges, as a story in Xinhua reports:

However, officials claim convincing rural residents to change their toilets is a challenge. “Most villagers are used to their way of using the toilet. It is hard to change,” said Wang Zhigang, Communist Party secretary in Tanggou Township in northern Jiangsu.

Farmers collect feces to be composted on their farmland. If they use flush toilets, no compost will be left behind. Dry toilets with tanks bring the extra task of regular cleaning.

“We had to build a few toilets first and take villagers to visit, and then encourage them to build new ones,” he said. Slogans such as “sanitary toilets improve lives” are painted on walls of rural homes. TV stations are told to air videos promoting the use of better toilet facilities.

Why change an age-old practice? Hygiene obviously, and disease reduction, since easily preventable diseases are still  a problem in the poorer western areas of China. Obviously, it is also part of the poverty reduction program, since health is directly related to economic and social wellbeing.

As is the way in China with such incentives, you now find people devoting their lives to the cause. An example is Qian Jun, a successful businessman who had a life-changing health scare in 2011. Since then, ‘China’s Mr Toilet‘ has given up his business and focused on improving facilities at schools and in remote rural areas, such as Tibet where below zero temperatures require specifically designed facilities.

I must say that I hope one feature of the older style toilet does not disappear – their communal nature. In some places, you can join your neighbours in the local communal toilet. There are no barriers between the squat toilets, so you can crouch, enjoy a smoke and chat with the neighbours about the day, life, and so on.

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