Sunday, September 09, 2012

China becomes sensitive over its crap toilets

Late last year the World Toilet Organization gave China the rather undignified label as having the worst toilets in Asia. It is something that anyone having visited China might have suspected. There are certainly very clean and modern facilities to be found, but there still remains a huge number of unsanitary public lavatories across the country.

But there is not just a problem with China's toilets. There exists the problem of the state and media acknowledging the issue and being open and unembarrassed about discussing what has become a rather sensitive topic.

Public toilets are perhaps best avoided in any part of the world, though in some countries they're hard to find at all. And while you're never far from a public toilet in China, many tourists and expats try to seek out a McDonalds or KFC whose toilets are generally clean and hygienic.

The China Daily in an editorial published in May this year, some months after the World Toilet Organization handed out its verdict, acknowledged that something needed to be done in order to "restore the country's tarnished image in the provision of public toilets".

"While for tourists, who only have to follow their nose to find the nearest public toilet, visiting one is an act of desperation taken in only the direst emergency," the China Daily opines. "We should value our public toilets. Not only are clean public toilets the symbol of a civilized society, they can also help in the competition to attract tourists."

The report by the World Toilet Organization was released in November following a conference on Hainan island in southern China [Jakarta Post].

However, despite some praise from the organisation acknowledging China's efforts in improving some facilities, the report was not widely publicised in Chinese state media with most articles published only in English language editions

Xinhua published an article shortly after the conference, though it glossed over the fact that China had been singled out as having the worst public lavatories.

Of course, it is nothing to be proud of, but should a similar organisation label Britain as having the worst toilets in Europe one can just imagine the tabloid press emblazoning the front pages with all sorts of lurid headlines without any concern of worrying the sensitivities of either Britain's leaders or the general public.

But China's leaders are particularly sensitive. Not just on issues of Tibet, Taiwan or Tiananmen. It appears that even the tackling the issue of toilets is a sensitive topic as a BBC correspondent recently found out.

Justin Rowlatt has travelled some 5,000 km across China with the BBC's Anita Rani to make a documentary about the country but was recently warned off inserting even a light hearted commentary on China's toilets [BBC]. It seems that part of the clean up campaign concerning China's toilets is to wipe away any mention of them and to disinfect the truth.

[Pictured: A toilet at a petrol station on the outskirts of Beijing, China]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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