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A Deep Dive Into China's 'Toilet Revolutions'

A $290 billion investment aims to upgrade public restrooms in its Rust Belt region to boost tourism. But locals need it as much as visitors.
A boy uses a toilet inside a department store at a shopping district in Beijing.
A boy uses a toilet inside a department store at a shopping district in Beijing.Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

China is cleaning up its image. In what’s been dubbed the “toilet revolution,” the country is investing $290 billion into tourism over the next four years, which includes upgrading 100,000 public toilets, according to Reuters. It’s all part of a grand plan to entice more foreign visitors, who accounted for nearly 11 percent of economic growth in 2015, according to the the National Tourism Administration (NTA), but who made China’s unhygienic restrooms one of their top complaints. The hope is that by 2020, those upgrades could further that growth by 1 percent—a small change until you consider that the total tourism spending for services could reach $1 trillion by then.

Public restrooms have long been a sore point for a country that boasts modern metropolises and picturesque hutongs. And the rapidly urbanizing China has seen many of such “revolutions.” Earlier this year, the NTA released new sanitation standards, which rated facilities on an A to AAA scale and pushed for more Western-style toilets as opposed to squat toilets.