Public sanitation an example of pursuing advanced development in the new era
Coupled with the rapid growth of its economy over the past decades, China has been striving to improve public sanitation as it upgrades infrastructure across the country.
The phrase "toilet revolution" often accompanies headlines about China's efforts to improve the state of its public restrooms as well as improving rural toilets and sanitation, and the issue is a serious matter to the country's leadership.
President Xi Jinping has been consistently working to improve people's living standards via the introduction of modern toilets, irrespective of whether some critics may think discussing such a matter is beneath his presidential status.
On his nationwide inspection tours, Xi often asks residents whether they use pit latrines or flush toilets and he stresses the importance of clean toilets. "A small toilet has big significance to people's quality of life," he said.
Analysts said that behind China's emphasis on the toilet issue and the positive measures to improve both urban and rural hygiene conditions, is the people-centered development philosophy of the Communist Party of China, which it has been upholding in governing the country. It is also an insight into Xi's leadership in pursuing high-quality development in this new era.
Zhu Yilong, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top political advisory body, said that the toilet revolution is a major issue in China that matters to people's well-being.
Improving sanitation conditions is directly related to people's health and ecological conservation. It also has great relevance to the image of a city and even the entire country, Zhu said, adding greater efforts are still needed to advance the campaign to improve people's quality of life.
The country's public toilets used to be described as unhygienic, filthy, crude, anxiety-inducing, and, they were often in short supply. Despite China's status as the world's second-largest economy, it still faces the contradiction of unbalanced and inadequate development and the people's ever-growing needs for a better life.
Toilets in poorer rural areas are often little more than makeshift shelters surrounded by trees and shrubs, while others are open pits next to pigsties, which can potentially pose health risks to villagers.
Even in urban areas, many toilets give off offensive odors that can be detected well beyond bathroom doors.
Xi's personal championing of the toilet revolution began as a campaign by the National Tourism Administration to improve public washrooms nationwide, but its scope has since been expanded to become part of the country's broader rural development strategy.
"Toilet improvement is not a trivial matter," Xi said in an instruction in November 2017. "It's key to the building of urban and rural civilization. It should not be limited to scenic spots or urban areas, but should also be extended to rural areas as part of efforts to vitalize the rural areas and improve rural living conditions."
In an instruction released on July 23 about advancing the toilet revolution in rural areas, Xi said that making clean, flushing toilets accessible to rural residents should be part of the country's plan for rural vitalization, which is the country's new goal after its victory in eliminating the absolute poverty in rural areas. He stressed that the quality of the toilets is always more important than the numbers.
More than just a singular issue of improving public bathrooms, the toilet revolution is also a way to examine how the central government takes account of public opinions and how agencies can effectively implement national policy campaigns, observers said.
"All eyes are on China as it seeks to revolutionize the toilet by increasing access to sanitation for all," Kelly Ann Naylor, associate director for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF, wrote in an article published on the organization's website. "What happens today in China has the potential to impact not just its 1.4 billion citizens, but billions of others in the world."
The toilet revolution's success in China has been due largely to strong political leadership, healthy financial investment, and prioritization at a local level, Naylor wrote.
China is one of more than 190 countries working toward achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which include the goal for everyone to have access to a "safe toilet" by 2030. According to the World Toilet Organization, a global nonprofit body committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions worldwide, 40 percent of the world's population does not have access to toilets.
Thanks to years of hard work, China's toilet revolution has delivered huge benefits for rural and urban communities alike. In 2019 alone, the central authorities set aside 7 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) for toilet projects. As of the end of last year, 68 percent of villages now have well-managed public toilets, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
Hong Guobao, a farmer of Shangdian village in Wanqiao township of Dali Bai autonomous prefecture, Yunnan province, started using the flushing toilet in his home in April thanks to the local toilet revolution program. Like him, all of his fellow villagers have clean, safe bathrooms in each household. "This is not only a toilet use issue, but also a change of lifestyle for us," Hong said.