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Flush with pride, China hosts toilet summit

A Chinese cleaner emerges from a beetle-shaped toilet at a park in Beijing
A Chinese cleaner emerges from a beetle-shaped toilet at a park in Beijing on Wednesday.  Claro Cortes Iv / Reuters
/ Source: NBC News

While Beijing’s success in winning the rights to host 2008 Olympics has gained considerable media attention, it also has added impetus to a slew of other developments in the Chinese capital, including the hosting this week of the fourth annual World Toilet Summit.

The three-day conference is expected to add to the growing toilet-awareness in Beijing.

In addition to the development of stadiums, subway stations, and roads, toilet reconstruction is also being added to the growing Olympic tab.

In fact, the Chinese government has already spent over $24 million since the toilet reconstruction project in Beijing started three years ago, in anticipation of a bid for the games.

This week’s summit will host delegates from around the world who will discuss and implement plans to clean up the toilets in the Chinese capital. Academics, environmentalists, sanitation authorities, and toilet designers are among the attendees.

Fixing up fixtures
The challenge of improving the Beijing bathroom break is formidable, according to experts and visitors.

As a first step, the restrooms across from Tiananmen Square, an inevitable tourist hotspot in 2008, are now staffed by two attendants who clean throughout the day.

And although the facility still has the noticeable stench consistent in most of the city’s public restrooms, cleanliness and hygiene are becoming larger concerns.

The Olympics will give China a chance to show the rest of the world that it has caught up with the times and having clean toilets is part of the country’s appearance.

“Toilets represent the level of development of a country, a region,” the deputy director of Beijing's Municipal Bureau of Tourism, Yu Debin, told a local newspaper.  

Zhang Wei Guang, who moved to Beijing from Lian Yun Gong in Jiangsu province, agrees that China’s image to the outside world is connected to a foreigner’s bathroom experience.

“Some people might think it is a little thing, but it gives a visitor an impression of the city,” Zhang said. “When I got in from the train station I found the smell from the toilets to be unbearable.”

The Beijing Tourism Administration reports that one-third of all tourist complaints are about bathroom conditions.

A foreign exchange?
According to Steve Bielinski and Jerilin Buzzetta, two American students studying at Peking University in Northwest Beijing, frequenting the city’s toilets has added to a unique study-abroad experience.

Bielinski noted that users have to buy a roll of toilet paper off of a vendor in the basement of a Beijing department store for approximately $1.27. “For a supposedly Communist country, when it comes to toilet paper, it is every man for himself,” Bielinski said. 

Buzzetta has had similar adventures in the Beijing bathrooms and is happy that the city is taking steps to improve its facilities before the Olympic Games.

“I think it’s a good idea because if a student such as myself who has lived in Beijing for three months has yet to conquer the hole in the ground, then I highly doubt that an athlete or fan, who would only be in Beijing for two weeks could get used to Chinese-style toilets,” she said.

Zhongxie Jintao, a Beijing-based investment company has recently pledged to work toward modernizing China’s toilets.

The company will invest approximately $193 million to develop 2,000 new public restrooms and hopes other private investors will also add to the reconstruction project.

In an effort to clean up existing toilets, the Beijing Tourism Administration has even implemented a bathroom rating system that ranges from a four-star restroom down to a one-star facility.

Three and four-star toilets will be equipped with changing tables, various sized urinals in the men’s bathrooms, and may even have hand lotions and hot towels. One-star and two-star restrooms will not have these extras, but all facilities will accommodate the handicap.