Ever wondered what the toilets in rural China are like?

Well, I’ve got some good news and bad news for you.

The good news is I’ve lived and traveled extensively in China, including rural areas. So, I’ve got some ‘experience’ with the old rural squat.

The bad news is I have some pretty depressing photos to share, if you’re game to keep scrolling.

Alright, hold your breath and enjoy this short, cheeky article on rural Chinese toilets.

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What are rural Chinese toilets like?

Chinese toilets come in all shapes and sizes. It’s impossible to generalize.

But one thing is for sure – public toilets in rural areas are in a class of their own, for all the wrong reasons.

There are two types of older-style squat toilets in China that will leave you gasping for fresh air.

1. Pit toilet

The pit latrine is the worst of the worst in rural China.

Here’s what you can expect:

  • Sheltered hole in the ground
  • No plumbing
  • No cubicle doors
  • Putrid floors (putrid everything, really)
  • No handwashing facilities
  • Bugs flying everywhere.

Where I’m from (Australia), we call these kinds of toilets ‘bush toilets’. This is because they’re found in remote areas in Australia’s outback, known as the bush.

But the big difference is we don’t have crap all over the ground in Australia. And we like to close the door, thank you very much.

Many of the traditional pit toilets in China’s rural areas have been replaced by modern squat toilets since the Toilet Revolution swept across the country. Amen to that!

However, there are still plenty of the old ones out there, as I experienced on a recent trip to Xinjiang in western China (which, by the way, is an insanely beautiful area).

Here’s what I came across.

rural Chinese squat toilets without doors

Rural Chinese squat toilets that are beyond filthy. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

pit toilet in rural China

Would you use this Chinese squat toilet? Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

I promise I haven’t edited or doctored my photos in any way.

2. Communal toilet

Rural China’s classic communal toilet really has to be seen to be believed.

Here’s why it’s unique:

  • Squat toilets have shared plumbing
  • Pipework is exposed
  • May or may not have cubicle doors
  • Used paper goes in a bin.

Basically, you do your business in a squat toilet which is connected to open piping. Your business flushes away but it passes through the other toilet cubicles.

So, whatever you do, don’t look down! You could get an eyeful of your neighbor’s business as it merrily floats along.

I experienced this kind of rural Chinese toilet for the first time in Xinjiang, though you can find them in lots of other areas. Fortunately, the water was on constant flush, so other people’s feces kept on moving.

I don’t know the official name of this kind of toilet. If you do, please let me know in the comments below.

As far as I’m aware, we don’t have this type of toilet in Australia. Thank God!

Avoid rural toilets in China if you can

For your own health and cleanliness, try to avoid these particular rural toilets unless you’re a bit adventurous like me.

If you’re traveling through the Chinese countryside, I recommend you:

  • Use your hotel’s toilets which are the seated Western-style toilets
  • Use the squat toilets in major restaurants (but even they can be quite foul)
  • Bring hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

Public toilets in China don’t supply toilet paper at all, so you’ll always need to carry that with you.

(Toilet tissue is one of the essential items I include in my China packing list, which I encourage you to read if you have a trip planned.)

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Even with your best endeavors, you may need to use the loo in the middle of nowhere in China.

I remember one time when I was using a rural public urinal, and I heard groans coming from behind me. As I left the bathroom, I noticed an old man squatting behind me with the toilet door left wide open.

He didn’t have a care in the world.

I thought this was a once-off, but it happened again to me just days later in a different town.

China’s Toilet Revolution

Embarrassed by their outdated and filthy public toilets, especially at tourist sites, China launched the rural Toilet Revolution in 2015.

This central government-led initiative aimed to replace traditional pit latrines in rural areas with modern toilets that are connected to sewage systems, thus improving public health and sanitation.

In case you weren’t aware, traditional pit toilets can be a breeding ground for bacteria and disease, and can contaminate local water sources.

The Chinese government set an ambitious target of building 30 million new toilets by 2020.

The reality

Tens of thousands of new toilets have been built in rural areas across China.

But there have been some challenges, including a lack of funding in certain areas and resistance from some rural residents who prefer traditional latrines because they’ve been a source of fertilizer for so long.

This means the revolution is not over yet, and there are still plenty of squat toilets in the countryside that are far from ideal.

Psst! A quick travel tip

Traveling to China soon?

You won’t be able to access major foreign websites and apps in your hotel using Wi-Fi, unless you have a virtual private network (VPN).

So, please take a read of my review of the best VPN for China. Otherwise, you can skip the review and tap on the button below for the one I recommend most.

Note: Link opens in a new window.

Just remember to download your VPN to your devices before you land in China, otherwise you won’t be able to get access.

Rural Chinese toilets: do you dare?

If you’re lucky enough to visit China, I encourage you to get out of the big cities and explore the smaller cities and villages.

You’ll find super-friendly people, ancient customs, and world heritage sites all over the country.

Just remember that parts of China are still developing, and this includes the public loos.

Get out there!

I hope you liked my article about rural Chinese toilets. Next, find out the answer to the age-old question, Why do Chinese people spit? I think you’ll learn a thing or two.

Keep discovering China

While we’re on the topic of toilets, check out these articles:

Main image credit: Supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

FAQ about rural Chinese toilets

What are the different types of toilets in China?

Public toilets in China are squat toilets, except at a few places like airports where you can find seated Western toilets. In rural China, the standard of public toilets can range from good to bad, including simple pits in remote areas.

What type of toilet is used in rural China?

You’ll only find squat toilets in rural China, unless you enter someone’s private home. Rural Chinese toilets are in the process of being upgraded, but you’ll still find some really old, disgusting ones.

What is the traditional toilet in China?

It’s the squat toilet as it’s meant to be better for excreting waste, though nowadays you’ll find seated toilets in residential homes.

What are public restrooms like in rural China?

They come in all shapes and sizes, and some are very clean while others are dirty and stinky. Most are flush toilets, though you can still find the old-fashioned type known as the pit toilet.

What are toilets like in China’s urban areas?

You’ll find squat-style toilets which vary in cleanliness. Local governments have focused on providing better public facilities in recent years, though you’ll still need to bring your own toilet paper. Some toilet facilities have their own attendant to help keep them clean.