China is taking care of a pressing need: Authorities have installed or upgraded over 50,000 lavatories in a "national toilet revolution" designed to clean up filthy public restrooms.
Relief is coming soon, and by the end of the year China expects to have added or upgraded a total of 71,000 toilets, well exceeding a target initially set in 2015. The plan to fix the country's bad reputation for grimy and smelly facilities has focused on restrooms in tourist sites. In some places, shiny new toilets have replaced unhygienic open pits that offered little privacy. More sanitation workers have also been hired.
The National Tourism Administration said in a report that almost 93 percent of the target has been reached. "At tourist sites, visitors were angered by insufficient toilets, unhygienic conditions and lack of sanitation workers," state news agency Xinhua said. A recent survey showed over 80 percent of tourists now find China's toilets satisfactory, compared to 70 percent in 2015.
Facilities tend to be worse in rural areas, where some "were little more than ramshackle shelters surrounded by bunches of cornstalk," Xinhua reported. Additionally, officials are using technological savvy to crack down on toilet paper theft and put a stop to people smuggling out entire rolls in bulging bags.
Some sites, including the Temple of Heaven and Olympic Green complexes in Beijing, have introduced facial recognition technology to foil paper bandits. Visitors must approach a machine one by one to get their faces scanned before receiving their portion of loo roll.
If caught stealing or misbehaving people could face a ban from the facilities. For years already, urinals in China have featured signs encouraging men to stand closer and aim better, advising: "One small step forward, one giant leap for civilisation".