Rural Game

Rural Toilet Revolution

Urban Game

Urban Upgrades

Changing Attitudes

"Dirty", "smelly" and "unhygienic."

Public toilets in China haven't always had a great reputation.

But thanks to decades of hard work, China has undergone a toilet revolution, delivering huge benefits for rural and urban communities alike.

China's status in World Bank research on "people using at least basic sanitation services" is on the rise, hitting 84.8 percent of the population in 2017 up from 56.3 percent in 2000.

Read on to find out how, and build a toilet yourself!

Use of at least basic sanitation services globally (% of population)

Source: The World Bank, 2000-2017

Toilet Revolution in Rural Areas

The problem: Untreated feces

China's rural areas have historically had many "open-pit latrines," which led to maggots and fecal–oral disease transmission.

This is an issue worldwide.

The World Health Organization research indicates there were 432,000 diarrheal deaths around the world annually, and poor sanitation is a major driver in tropical diseases including intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma.

Help reduce sickness, build a rural toilet!

The solution: Fecal treatment

Fecal treatment is central to China's plan to improve conditions and combat disease in rural areas.

The basic requirements for sanitary toilets are that they are enclosed but ventilated, have sealed and covered septic tanks, and there are no fly maggots or persistent odors.

From 2004 to 2013, the Chinese government investment totaled 8.27 billion yuan. In 2019, China invested another 7 billion yuan (1 billion U.S. dollar) in rural "toilet revolution" and it is expected that 85 percent of rural households should have access to sanitary toilets by 2020.

Basic requirements for a sanitary toilet


Septic tank





The main benefit: Decline in disease

By 2018, the rural population in China hit 565 million, accounting for 40.42 percent of the total population. More than 10 million households in rural areas had met the basic requirements for sanitary toilets.

The upgrading of toilets in rural areas has had multiple benefits, including a decline in fecal-related diseases like schistosomiasis.

"Sanitary toilets can protect people from disease so they don't get sick so easily and can go to work regularly," said Jack Sim, the founder of World Toilet Organization. "It is beneficial to the economy since they reduce expenses in hospitals and medical investment."

Dropping schistosomiasis diagnoses in southern China (2007-17)

Source: Chinese Journal of Schistosomiasis Control, 2007-2017

However, regional development is still imbalanced

The overall penetration rate of rural sanitary toilets has rapidly increased since 2007, but there remains work to do.

The uptick in northeast and northwest regions was striking, though these areas typically had low starting points. After 10 years, the penetration rate in these regions was rising, but generally remained lower than 50 percent in 2017 and some regions experienced large fluctuations.

In central China, the rate had increased slightly in the 10 years to 2017, placing it at around the average level of the country.

Regions in east China have maintained a high penetration rate and seen a particularly prominent increase. For example, rural areas in Shanghai ranked first in 2017 with a penetration rate of 99.1 percent.

The penetration rates of south China and southwest China have steadily gone up and there have been no signs of rollback.

Increasing rate of rural sanitary toilets

Hover to display detailed data

Source: Local government work report, 2007-2017

Toilet Revolution in Urban Areas

Unlike rural areas, urban public toilets in China have generally been sanitary for many years, so the focus in cities has been on making further improvements under a three-step classification system.

Perfecting sewage systems, cleanliness, convenience and even aesthetics are the main goals of the urban toilet revolution.

Let’s build an urban public toilet!

Strict classification: What to change in urban toilets?

From 2015 to 2017, the National Tourism Development Fund invested 1.64 billion yuan (232 million U.S. dollars) on the tourism toilet revolution. As of 2017, the total number of third-class and above toilets exceeded 100,000, amounting to about 75 percent of the total number of urban public toilets. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has said about 21,000 toilets will be built or renovated at tourist sites in 2019.

"Toilet Rrevolution" was originally proposed by the United Nations Children's Fund to improve the conditions of toilets in all developing countries. In 2013, the United Nations chose November 19 as World Toilet Day.

The number of third-class and above urban toilets exceeded 100,000 in 2017

Source: National Bureau of Statistics

Changing Attitudes toward Toilets

An individual uses toilets six to eight times per day and spends an average of three years in toilets throughout their entire life, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Today, Chinese attitudes toward toilets are gradually changing in both rural and urban areas. "The main obstruction is how to change people's mind, " said Jack Sim, who founded the World Toilet Organization in 2001. He thinks it's essential to foster a healthier toilet culture in China, arguing it's beneficial to the economy, health and wellness development in the long term.

Qian Jun, an entrepreneur-turned-NGO-founder, also known as China's "Mr. Toilet", teaches elementary school children about hygiene habits and toilet etiquette. He hopes to influence adult behavior by educating kids first.


Multimedia Producers: Xu Jiye, Zhou Rui. Interactive Designers: Li Yueyun, Ge Haojun*, Li Jiaqi*. Interactive Developers: Chen Xiaohan*, Zhao Bo*, Duan Huiran (Intern). Copy Editor: John Goodrich. Copywriter: Liu Ke. Data Editors & Visualization: Chen Xiaohan*, Duan Huiran (Intern). Chief Editor: Chen Ran. Project Manager: Si Nan. Supervisor: Zhang Shilei.

*Students at Communication University of China

Special thanks to Liu Jiaxin, Wang Zhe.