Most underdeveloped places on the Chinese mainland, especially in the vast rural areas, often have substandard toilets and public hygiene is rather poor. That is why President Xi Jinping last year instructed local governments around the mainland to continue pushing the “toilet revolution” forward.
Soon after the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China concluded, Xi chaired a meeting of the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms on Nov 20 last year in Beijing, which deliberated over and passed a three-year action plan to upgrade the rural living environment. A key objective of the plan is to continue pushing for toilet upgrades in rural areas. Local governments at various levels will step up toilet renovation in rural areas to ensure the next targets of making 85 percent of rural toilets clean by 2020, and all rural toilets safe by 2030.
In developed countries or even Hong Kong people may see the “toilet revolution” on the mainland as a part of “catching up” and be tempted to laugh about it but it really means more than public hygiene facilities to mainland residents as opposed to their counterparts in developed countries or in Hong Kong.
The “toilet revolution” means three important things to mainland residents. Firstly the mainland’s socio-economic development has begun the phase of pursuing quality life for the people. In the past few decades on the mainland and particularly rural areas, the main focus was the most basic needs – food and clothes. Today those issues have been basically resolved and it is now time to fix other problems, such as toilets, that mar people’s living standards. And local governments at various levels and in rural areas in particular must put the issue on their daily agenda.
Secondly it means the civil and moral standard of mainland residents is rising to another level. In underdeveloped regions and rural areas in particular people used to relieve themselves out in the open because there were few if any covered toilets where they lived. Some of them still do even today. Once all primitive toilets in underdeveloped rural areas are replaced with modern ones public hygiene and the level of civility in general will be raised for sure.
Thirdly the “toilet revolution” will benefit tourism. It is a common challenge to foreign tourists that some tourist attractions on the mainland still lack clean toilets, leaving them no choice but to rely on their own ingenuity. That is another reason why the “toilet revolution” was launched. The availability of clean toilets will no doubt boost tourism on the mainland.
Hong Kong does not need a “toilet revolution” as much as the mainland does but can still be inspired to be better. The special administrative region government should realize the “toilet revolution” is in response to popular demands for higher living standards and a better environment as the national economy and people’s incomes grow. Improving people’s livelihood is also a priority of the SAR government.
For example, I remember some years ago a mother from the mainland became a target of wild verbal abuse on social media in Hong Kong after she let her small child urinate in public on a busy shopping street. In hindsight that mother probably did not have other options when her child needed to answer nature’s call immediately. It is possible she did not know where the nearest toilet is, or the consequence of letting her child urinate in public.
It struck me afterwards that maybe the SAR government could do more to publicize common “do’s and don’ts” at all entry points for visitors to see as soon as they step on Hong Kong by any means of transport, as well as in shopping districts and at major tourist attractions. And I’m glad the government has already bought a number of mobile toilets to deploy at venues of large public events.
The point is there is always room for improvement as far as Hong Kong’s travel industry and tourism is concerned. Even after the government has done its bit, the industry can surely find things to work on for its own healthy development, by taking good care of customers by any means necessary.
Naturally it is best for the government to join hands with the travel industry in maintaining the high standard of service Hong Kong can offer. Tourism contributes just 5 percent of Hong Kong’s annual GDP and the city’s reputation as a “shoppers’ paradise” has lost some of its appeal in recent years but we have no reason to believe it cannot be changed for the better. After all, tourism is still a necessary boon to Hong Kong as a cosmopolitan trade hub and the consumer service industry still a leading employer for Hong Kong society.
(The author is a senior research fellow of China Everbright Holdings)
(Published on Page 8, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, January 4, 2018)