Travel Adventures: The Poop on China – And the Pee

A symbol in the lavatory of Shanghai airport indicating a Western-style sit-down toilet. Photo by BF Newhall

Spotted outside a Shanghai airport lavatory — accomodating the Western toileting style. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I’ve been contemplating writing this little photo essay on the toilets – public and really public — of China ever since Jon and I traveled there last September. My mid-century Midwestern upbringing was getting in the way — nice people don’t talk about poop and pee in public. Or in private, for that matter.

My nose for news finally prevailed over my Midwestern need to be nice, however, when a Mainland Chinese couple allowed their toddler to urinate publicly on the streets of Hong Kong.

In Suchow, this little boy was set out on the doorstep of his house to pee, To expedite things, his pants were open at the crotch. I have preserved his dignity by retouching the photo to close up his fly. Photo by BF Newhall

In Suchow, this little boy was set out on the doorstep of his house to pee, To expedite things, his pants were open at the crotch. I preserved his dignty by retouching the photo to close up his fly. Photo by BF Newhall

A fracas ensued, with Hong Kong natives videotaping what they considered a violation of civilized Hong Kong norms. Babies and toddlers are free to pee in the streets on the mainland, apparently, but not in the former British colony of Hong Kong

Mainland China is a land – a really big one – of extremes. Subarctic temperatures in the north, and muggy tropical weather to the south. Farm villages still parked in the 19th century in the countryside, and brand-new, dizzyingly high skyscrapers in the cities and suburbs.

The same goes for the toileting customs of China; they run the gamut of extremes, from the quaintly pre-modern to the mind-bogglingly futuristic, including:

  • People, kids mostly, relieving themselves in the street.
  • Adults squatting acrobatically over traditional toilets flush with the floor.
  • Foreigners seated on the occasional Western-style toilet with seat.
  • Rich folks aboard state-of-the-art toilet-bidet combos that spray warm water to designated body parts at the press of a button. Sounds over-the top luxurious, but a healthy way to go, some say.

Right now millions of private bathrooms are being built into the millions of high rise condominiums going up in cities all over China.

Not so long ago, neighbors had to share a common toilet facility with others on the block. According to our Chinese guide, long lines to use the not-very-private facilities were common. So was reading the morning paper or chatting with a neighbor while squatting.

And now you’ve got the poop on China.

For more China travel adventures, go to “China’s One-Child Families — They’re for Real for Now,”  “Shanghai Chic: Where a Woman’s Style Starts With Her Shoes”  and  “For China’s Young Fashionistas, the Cultural Revolution Is So Over.”

Excrement on the bridge leading to Shibaozhai Temple on the Yangzte River. Photo by BF Newhall

Kids pee in public in China and sometimes poop. This greeted us as we crossed the bridge to the Shibaozhai Temple on the Yangzte.  Photo by BF Newhall

Boardwalk bridge with red railings approaching the Shibaozhai Temple on the Yangtze River. Photo by BF Newhall

The Xitangzi-hutong in downtown Beijing showing shops, entryways and street vendors. Photo by BF Newhall

 A toilet stall in a lavatory in Xian, China, has a white porcelain toilet that is flush with the floor and a basket for used toilet paper. Photo by BF NewhallAbove, Xitangzi Hutong in downtown Beijing. Neighbors in a traditional Chinese hutong share shops, courtyards — and a common lavatory. Left, a Chinese squat toilet, this one in a museum. You roll up your pant legs, roll down your pant tops, and stand on those little platforms on either side of the bowl. Then you squat and hope for the best. But which way do you face? Bring your own tissue and throw it  in the basket when you’re done. Photo by BF Newhall



An aerial view of Shanghai and Pudong from a skyscraper in Pudong showing mile after mile of highrises. Photo by BF Newhall

Shanghai from the upscale business district of Pudong. Photo by BF Newhall

A white porcelain toilet in Pudong district of Shanghai with bidet-like features of warm water spray. Photo by BF Newhall

A white porcelain toilet for the use of the rich and super-rich who work and shop in the Pudong financial district.

Controls for a toilet in Pudong district of Shanghai that can spray warm water like a bidet. Photo by BF Newhall

Guests can use these controls to direct a bidet-like spray of warm water to the front or rear — or both. Photos by BF Newhall

A sign for toilet in chinese characters and English letters at the Ming Tombs, Beijing. Photo by BF Newhall

21st-century amenites at the 15th-century Ming Tombs. Photo by BF Newhall



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