Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

Great Insight Into Why Chinese Shit In Public

Posted by w_thames_the_d on December 24, 2010

Great article here, this person describes being in China and the fact that China’s ‘me first mentality’ causes many of their problems, the author uses examples of public urination and defecation to make their point. The article is insightful and well thought out.


“…Before we walked up the short mountain my parents and I had meandered through the park, watching groups of mostly old men play cards. As we had approached the steps up the mountain a man came out of the bushes and went back to his card game — he had been relieving himself in public. Apparently, the one-minute walk to the bathroom was too much for him.

Public urination and defecation in China is common among men across the entire age spectrum. A long time ago it became just a part of the scenery to me, with little astonishment attached to watching men relieve themselves anywhere they liked. I have what is — to me, at least — a classic photograph of a man taking a dump in front of the city walls of Pingyao, Shanxi Province. It’s a stark photo: a wall looming above a man squatting in the broad, bare expanse that extends in front of the wall for about twenty-five meters. There is no respect to be found in the photo — neither in the man shitting for all to see, nor in me for taking such a photo. I did not want it to be a photo of pretensions and I’ve always been happy that it lacks such things.

My parents, and especially my father, however, were shocked by having an otherwise excellent view of Yangshuo ruined by the odor and sight of shit at a mountaintop pavilion. In America, people are expected to pick up after their dogs, so the idea of a human not picking up after himself was fairly incomprehensible. My mother, though, said something that put this problem in an entirely different light: people piss and shit in public because they were never taught any better than satisfying an urge the instant that urge appears. Essentially, the moment they feel something, they do it.

So if you just drank a big bottle of water, you don’t hold it — you just unzip your pants, whip it out, and squirt. You just had a lunch? No worries, drop your pants and push. The idea of “holding it” until you find a public bathroom doesn’t appear because it has never appeared.

Every person who has traveled to or lived in China has invariably commented on many children’s crotchless pants, and on babies being held by their mother or father as they go to the bathroom right on the sidewalk. It’s all kind of cute, especially when you see tender baby photos being displayed in photographer shop windows in which the boy’s baby-maker is just hanging out there for all to see. As the boys and girls get older, some differences arise. You will almost never see women publicly urinating or defecating; the concept of “holding it” is generally adhered to, though it is slightly more flexible than what most women in the States might be used to. (I still have trouble understanding how groups of two and three schoolgirls are comfortable going together into a bathroom with only a single toilet, but having taught children for over four years now and seeing this happen repeatedly, I just take on faith that many girls are indeed comfortable with it.)

Many boys never get the “holding it” concept. The senior citizens fouling the Yangshuo Park are but one example, though this is something that I see practically every day anyways.

The lack of “holding it,” however, extends far beyond simply going to the bathroom whenever one wants to. The idea behind it is that one tries to satisfy one’s urges whenever one has them. There is no waiting for gratification, there is no planning for the future, and there is no one else valued just for their existence (though they might be valuable for what they can get you); there is nothing but me, my wants, and my moment right now.

If even the most basic of human physical urges are not restrained, how likely are things to be better higher up the urges food chain? Not likely, in my opinion. And if a human is simply a collection of his physical urges, then what on earth is moral about that? Moral behavior is based on aligning our actions against a standard of right and wrong, and that inevitably means we won’t be able to do things that we really, really want to do. Public urination and defecation might not ascend all the way to a full-blown philosophical crisis, but the seeds for such a crisis are nonetheless there.

This inability to see past your own person is something widely commented on by foreigners in China. It takes different forms: crowds that gather around accidents but do absolutely nothing to help the injured people; the prevalence of “mei you” (“don’t have;” see below) when asking for something from someone who knows perfectly well they have it or know where it is; corruption that is an in-your-face expression of selfishness; and confusing government bureaucracies which are essentially codified no-responsibility zones. All of these situations share a basic characteristic: only the very narrowly defined interests of a single person are considered.

We can go through examples of each to get a better idea of this. Yesterday (almost like manna from heaven for the purposes of this essay), there was a fire in the apartment block across the street from mine. I was walking back from buying vegetables at a nearby market and saw a gathering crowd and the unmistakable scent of ash. The fire engines hadn’t arrived yet, but I could predict what was going to happen: people would come running to stare, point, and laugh, but certainly not to help. I ran upstairs to get my camera to document it.

And it all happened as I had expected. People on foot, on bike, and even on motorized bicycle came galloping to the scene. A crowd many hundreds strong surrounded the apartment and chattered away about someone else’s misfortune. Children ran across the fire hose lines, laughing as they jumped across them. It had the air of a fair or a carnival — someone else’s misfortune was cause for their merriment.

If you go to Yangshuo there is a café on West Street called the “Mei You Café.” That says it all. “Mei you” means “don’t have” in Chinese, and is a common answer when someone just doesn’t want to waste the time answering your question. The fact that a café would bank on the prevalence of the phrase to draw in customers is an unflattering commentary on the unwillingness of many Chinese to help out their fellow humans.

When I used to manage a school in the Jinzhou area of Dalian, I was once called by the guy I paid to maintain our relations with the local government. He was at lunch with the Anti-Corruption Bureau and needed my okay to pay for their food. I, needless to say, agreed. The Bureau capitalized on its “moral position” by actually being the most corrupt group of folks around. In the curious inversion of right and wrong that is so common in China, they would investigate those folks who didn’t give them money.

Those who have run businesses in China will also be familiar with the runaround local governments give with their permits. Just to open a school you need to go at least to the Public Security Bureau, the Fire Bureau, the local police department, the local education department, the Decoration Bureau, the Billboard Sign Bureau, the Tax Bureau, and the Price-Setting Bureau; and all of these have multiple branches — neighborhood, city, and province. Responsibility for anything is thus dispersed to the point of being meaningless, while at the same time a single person withholding his signature/chop in the hopes of getting more money out of you can bring the licensing process to a complete standstill. The system is specifically built to provide a responsibility-free environment in which government bureaucrats can accrue maximum personal benefit for themselves.

And that, indeed, is the crux of matters — things are so fashioned in China that often narrow-minded selfishness is the most reasonable choice. In simple terms, the culture rewards immorality.

From birth to old-age, the lesson of base selfishness is reinforced again and again. Your physical needs should be taken care of as soon as possible. If you are at a train station, screw everyone else and jump the queue because you want your train ticket now. As a government bureaucrat, steal as much as money as you can as quickly as you can because you might not have another opportunity at the trough. If you see someone else in pain, stare, amuse yourself, but never ever do something to help because if you help someone then you become responsible for that person, and that is completely against your narrow self-interests.”

15 Responses to “Great Insight Into Why Chinese Shit In Public”

  1. SherCM said

    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas! This is a great article.. thanks for sharing!!

  2. MyLaowai said

    Spot on mate, well said.

  3. yoyo said

    Fuck you foreigners!this is all a lie! China has most advanced cilization since 5000 year!cinese people not do this!foreigerns do this. foreigners dirty people!!!!!chinese is best!!!!!

  4. vanoc1 said

    Well know you guys know why I call this place the big stinky……

    • wtdevflnt said

      Anyone who has been within miles of a Chinese toilet knows why…

      • vanoc1 said

        When I lived in Cangzhou and not aclimatized myself to this failed! abortion of humanity (the Chinese)….. I opened my window trying to get some fresh air from the ciggerates my neighbors were smoking… (God not even QUEBECER smokes stunk that much, and those were strong smokes)… I hope the window, in the hazy autumn dust of Northern Chinese goo dust… well wouldn’t be goo, because goo denotes wet digusting stuff (ie like Chinese splatter from shitting), anyways, I could swear I could still smell the toliets from my apartment way in the sky…. (like I could smell the AMONIA. That’s all I smelled was amonia….

  5. PizzaSteve said

    I want so badly to believe that this post was made seriously and that somewhere in China there’s someone upset and screaming about this.

  6. westEufreedom said

    chinese are autists. i think it caused by the chemicals in the contaminated shit food they eat in mainland china. chemicals and crap has an effect on their little gray mass inside their ape skulls. married chinese females fuck in hotels with company bosses, government officials etc. for a contract and face and they think that it is stylish and acceptable. their view of life and morales is totally sickening to a human being. there is nothing more dirty and corrupt than a chinese animal. nope, they are not human.

    • You know that Chinese immigrants have more lead and cadmium in their systems than real humans? It is true. China’s land has almost as many heavy metals as its baby powder.

  7. MyLaowai said

    “You will almost never see women publicly urinating or defecating”

    Not true, to be honest. I’ve seen femsquats occur on trains, buses, streets, even in a restaurant. Even – once – whilst squatting over the handbasin in the restaurant area of a KFC.

    Christ, words do not exist that adequately describe the contempt in which I hold these animals.

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