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Chinese Children Go to The Bathroom in the Streets . . . and It’s OK

I was riding a train with my two and a half year old daughter, Petra, caught the attention of a young Chinese boy who was perhaps four years old. He walked over to our seats and began trying to talk with my daughter. They hung out for a while, as I relaxed and looked out [...]

I was riding a train with my two and a half year old daughter, Petra, caught the attention of a young Chinese boy who was perhaps four years old. He walked over to our seats and began trying to talk with my daughter. They hung out for a while, as I relaxed and looked out the window. Before long the kids mother squealed. I looked down and saw the little boy had his weapon fully exposed. He was holding it in pissing position, taking aim directly at my leg. Luckily, his mother was able to scoop him up and run off to the bathroom before he opened fire.

In China, it is socially acceptable for children to piss and, in many instances, shit in public. Wherever you go in this country you will see children squatting in the streets letting it rip. Little boys just take out their things and urinate just about wherever they see fit. Often, a parent will try to direct their children to go to the bathroom over sewer grates, in bushes, or in a grassy area, but this is not always the case. It is not uncommon to see a young child pissing on the floor of a supermarket, a bus — just about anywhere.

“There was this guy in the Emart today that let his kid piss right in front of the door on the floor,” my wife raged. “He was only like twenty feet from the door and could easily have went outside but he just let his kid go on the floor.”

Chinese culture is liable to take many social parameters to the extreme: if kids are permitted to go to the bathroom in public, they will be going everywhere.

“When I was walking home I saw a kid that had to be at least seven years old shitting in the street in front of the McDonalds,” my wife told me about another incident of kids liberally being allowed to use the street as a toilet. “His mother was even holding him and laid down a plastic bag for him to poop on. I couldn’t understand it, there was a bathroom that they could have used for free in the McDonalds!”

The social parameter which allows for kids to relieve themselves in public is great for children who are toilet training. It’s far easier for a parent to allow their kid to drop trow and go in the street than it is to go flying off in a manic search for a toilet multiple times each day. It also hampers the toilet training process if a kid is kept in diapers each time it’s taken out in public. Small children in China often wear pants with openings in the rear with nothing on underneath which allows them to relieve themselves whenever they wish without needing to sit in their own waste while waiting to be cleaned.

My daughter, Petra, has grown accustom to waddling over to a tree, a bush, or sewer grate, pulling down her pants and letting it go. I must say that the fact that doing this is completely socially acceptable has made out travels in China a little less frustrating. Although there are many public toilets scattered liberally around the urban areas of this country, it still makes it easier that my kid can relieve herself just about wherever she pleases.

Children in China are generally potty trained far sooner than their brethren in the diaper dependent, stricter West. It never becomes normal for kids to piss and crap themselves here — they are use to expelling their waste away from their bodies from the start. Although diapers are becoming more common in China, they are still a fringe commodity and are not nearly as depended on as much as they are in the West. A Chinese kid may sometimes wear a diaper, but the parent will remove it and allow them to go in the street whenever they feel they may need to relieve themselves. The diaper here seems to only be a contingency plan for accidents, used my some middle and upper class families.

I’ll tell you one thing: I’d rather see kids using split back pants and crapping in the streets than metric tons of plastic diapers being manufactured and disposed of in a country of millions and millions of children expelling billions of turds each year.

In all, the social leeway allowing children to go to the bathroom in public creates a society with a lot less potty training woes and bladder control issues. A kid dropping trow and letting it rip in the middle of the sidewalk is part of the daily observations a traveler will make when walking around China, and one of those things that makes you realized that, yes, you are in a different culture among people with a slightly different outlook, value system, and way of approaching the essentials of existence.

As far as I’m concerned, I see it as no more disgusting for a kid to dispose of their waste in the street than to go in their pants for two years. The Western model of training kids to crap themselves just to train them not to crap themselves is a step that the Chinese simple don’t bother with.

Filed under: China, Culture and Society

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3533 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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  • Jack June 14, 2012, 1:26 pm

    I love reading your articles and how you write such interesting insightful articles on otherwise mundane topics.

    I like this one because I have a little different insight. Where I am, children going to the bathroom in the streets happens here, but it’s not 100% ok. I have seen a parent get talked to more than once for doing it. Then there are the people walking by who point and make a comment to the person they are with. I do understand that my experience here is very different from an experience in east China, both on a cultural level as well as a socioeconomic one.

    I think this is the tapestry of modern China. China is a rich tapestry of different peoples with different subculture coming together into one China. That’s combined with the fast pace of culture change.

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    • Wade Shepard June 14, 2012, 10:09 pm

      It’s the random mundane of world travel haha. Yes, the cultural changes across China are pretty vast. It’s an incredibly interesting country — especially since all of the many peoples who live here are being churned all together in the great game of modernization. It’s incredibly fascinating to watch it all happening.

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  • Dustin April 15, 2014, 10:32 pm

    I like children’s and adults peeing in public, its really beautiful

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  • Gordae Gorgonzola November 16, 2017, 7:56 pm

    Diapers were invented for a reason!

    One reason is that parents won’t be a slave to the kids bowel-movements and need to look for a place to let the kids shit on the streets,
    the other one is to prevent disgusting shitstains on the sidewalk caused by
    EC-bullshitters!

    You know what countries do have this “diaper-free”-bullshit too?
    Countries with catastrophic hygiene-standards and rampant e-coli outbreaks!

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  • Pannolini Tortilla November 16, 2017, 8:17 pm

    Why use a stroller when mum can carry
    the baby for two years? Why use diapers when mum can follow baby
    around 24-7 with a pooper scooper? Co-sleep! Extended breastfeeding!
    Don’t even think about an epidural! Make your own
    baby food from organic pureed lentils! Whatever you do, don’t leave
    your baby’s side, and don’t even think about having fun!

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