Cultural Differences: The Wonderful World of Chinese Toilets

Cultural Differences: The Wonderful World of Chinese Toilets


After more than three years in China, I found the time has come that I share my carefully developed classification system of Chinese toilets with you. Talking about Chinese toilets can fill whole nights of foreigners in China and I am sure, you will make your own great experiences with them!!!
I asked my friends, colleagues and interns what they would have liked to know before they came to China and many answered me with: What toilets are like in China – it would have been nice to know beforehand what to expect!

There are many online-guides available with well-sounding names like “Mastering the Chinese Toilet” or “Toilets in China – a Survival Guide”.  Even a “Wikihow” about using squat toilets you can find in the world wide web. From the amount of user-friendly guides about using Chinese toilets, you already can guess the significance of this topic for foreigners staying in China!

InternChina - Do's and Don'ts at Chinese Toilets
InternChina – Do’s and Don’ts at Chinese Toilets

For me personally, toilets are part of the exotic experience in another country, and I got quickly used to always carrying my little “survival package” with me when I am in public, in case I need to use a toilet (more about that later).

For now, I want to share my little personal Chinese toilet classification system with you:

For Beginners: “Beginner” toilets don’t look very different from normal Western toilets. They are about the same clean, most likely offer toilet paper and you don’t find any footprints on the toilet seat from people trying to squat on them. A cleaning lady is taking care of the toilets on a regular base. Taps are working, sinks are clean, paper towels available.
Where can you find them? In most cafès, nicer shopping-centers,  international hostels, 3*+  hotels and airports. Our shared apartments and homestays offer Western toilets!

InternChina - Good Advise!
InternChina – Good Advice!

Intermediary:  Generally, the squat toilet is predominant in China, so even in places with Western toilets they might have “squatters” available as well. I don’t understand what people don’t like about them, they are practical and hygienic if well-taken care of. I classify toilets in China as “intermediary”, when  paper towels might be available, sinks are more or less clean and most taps are working.
Where can you find them? Clean squatters you can usually find in shopping centers, fancier restaurants, some night clubs and at the airport. Most Chinese apartments still have squatters.

Advanced: After getting used to the standard squat toilet, the first toilet that I classified as “advanced” for myself was a public toilet: I was lucky for bringing my Survival package with tissues and hand-sanitizer as unfortunately, no toilet-paper was available and the taps on the sinks didn’t work. The cleaning lady was not in sight.
Where can you find them? The average Public Chinese toilet is on this standard. I later found out, that the “advanced” toilet also can be found in many other places such as little street food places or supermarkets.

InternChina - Visiting toilets in China is always an experience
InternChina – Visiting toilets in China is always an experience

Expert: I found three toilets so far, which I classified as toilets for China “experts”:  The first one was in a train station and was basically just a water channel with walls every now and then (actually nice because that way, the flushing will be ensured). The second one was in a rural area at a gas station (on the way to the Great Wall, so there was not much choice): basically just three holes in the ground, no walls in between. And the third one was in an overnight train: A squatter in a tiny little room, moving of course! How is one supposed to squat in a moving train without stepping into the toilet!? You definitely can become a China expert by trying one of these interesting places!
Where can you find them? Mainly in rural or remote areas. Temples, tea-houses or sights often just have very simple facilities.

Now, you know more about the variety of Chinese toilets – but what should you consider when using a Chinese toilet?  

General tips for using a toilet in China:

  • Bring some tissues and hand-sanitizer with you! You never know when you need them! (I always carry them in my little “Survival package”!)
  • The good thing is, that you find toilets everywhere in China, just keep your eyes open for the signs:
    • 卫生间(Wei sheng jian, washroom)
    • 洗手间 (Xishoujian, washroom)
    • 厕所(ce suo, toilet)
    • 女(nü, female)/ 男(nan, male)
    • Please follow the advising signs at most toilets to not throw anything into the toilets – they easily can get blocked.
    • Chinese seem to have a very casual relationship to toilets, please don’t expect the same hygienic standards as in your home-country.
    • Be patient:  It happens quite often, that you can hear Chinese talking on the phone for a long time (on the toilet!) or realize that they are smoking cigarettes on the toilet.
    • Bring a good portion of humor along with you: You can see the craziest things in Chinese toilets… 🙂


InternChina - toilet stories
InternChina – toilet stories

I hope, that you enjoyed reading my little toilet advisor and of course you are welcome to comment, share and like it on Social Media!

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* Source Picture “InternChina – do’s and dont’s at Chinese toilets”: