We often come across many mainland Chinese tourists squatting on the streets and at MTR stations in Hong Kong. We are amazed by how Chinese people could sit in a squatting position for a lengthy amount of time without exhausting their legs. Most people wonder whether the Chinese have gone through some sort of endurance training or is it due to a long history of them having to use squat toilets in China?
According to an article by Dai Wangyun on Sixthtone.com, when the Chinese began integrating toilets into their homes, northerners usually opted for the squat variety. North China suffers from frequent water shortages, so squat toilets were useful for storing night soil, which would then be used to fertilize crops.
Pit toilets and wooden matong were widely used in China as recently as the early 1990s. Even today, pit toilets in many rural areas in the north have yet to be replaced by flushing toilets, largely due to unresolved water scarcity issues.
Flushing toilets only appeared in China in the second half of the 19th century and were initially used by residents of colonial treaty ports, where foreign-run municipal authorities installed gas-lit public bathrooms with running water. However, these projects were restricted to the country’s foreign concessions, and did not catch on among the wider Chinese populace.
There were two reasons for this. First, Chinese cities were key links in the supply chain for the manure industry: Night soil collectors would collect human waste from public toilets and sell it to farmers in the countryside, who then would spread it on their crops. In addition, modern flushing toilets rely on extensive sewage systems, which were a rarity in China at that time.
It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the government began exercising its administrative authority over toilets. In 1943, the Kuomintang government announced a plan to build public restrooms across areas under its control and began to penalize those who urinated or defecated in public spaces. From the outset, public sanitation was bound up with the idea of creating a modern nation-state, alongside other concepts such as modern health care, physical education, and even resisting foreign imperialism.
Today, a majority of public toilets in China — both in the north and in the south — are squat toilets. This is mainly because squatting toilets cost less to build and maintain than seated ones. Squatting toilets are also considered more hygienic: Not only do they minimize bodily contact with the pan, they also prevent unhealthy practices in a country with only partial awareness of good sanitary practices. Many Chinese are unaccustomed to flushing after using the bathroom, while others do not proactively clean up after themselves. The ghastly state of some public restrooms means that some people, especially women, insist on perching on top of the seat when using sitting toilets.
China’s so-called toilet revolution will eventually flush out the country’s remaining substandard lavatories, but the provision of public toilets remains patchy. Generally, squat toilets are a fixture of China’s countryside, while sitting toilets are generally seen in urban areas. Unfortunately, this rural-urban dividemeans that the latter kind are frequently misused. After all, if someone grows up in a rural village where there are only squat toilets, how can you expect them to instinctively know how to use a sitting toilet once they move to the city?
Squatting is a Communist trait
A reader of Quora.com offered his alternative insight into this myth. He thinks that squatting is not a cultural factor, it is a Communist trait as witnessed amongst Russians who like to squat too.
People must understand, not everybody can squat comfortably, only people with flat feet, who comprise an estimated 20–30% of the general population can squat comfortably.
Arches allow the foot to support the weight of the body in the erect posture with the least weight. People with flat feet can withstand more body weight when standing but they also get tired easily, so they are more likely to squat.
Most Northern Chinese have flatter feet, unlike the Southern Chinese which allow them to squat comfortably.
He thinks that squatting is not a cultural factor but a regional genetic factor.
If somebody argues that “well, flat feet people from other regions don’t squat at the street.” Then I will say “Communism doesn’t give a damn about what other people think, so what if it’s not pleasant, we’re tired so we squat!”