Bye bye to the Chinese chamber pot

The last 144 families to usematong in theJing'ansi community have now joined the 21st century.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

One of the newly installed toilets

The last 144 families living in the Jing’ansi Community of Jing’an District are finally say- ing goodbye to matong — the unique Chinese chamber pot. 

This is thanks to a district- wide campaign. 

Matong is a typical downtown sight in traditional Shanghai dwellings like shikumen build- ings, which used to hold just one family in one building but later were partitioned into smaller flats occupied by multiple families — and that meant no room for a private toilet. 

Jing’ansi Community has many old lanes and buildings. So residents have no choice but to use a chamber pot, usually encased in a square box placed beside the bed. 

A project to overhaul the old buildings started several years ago. By the end of 2016, only 144 families weren’t equipped with proper toilets. But as of this month, all of them now have access to individual bathrooms. 

“We have different solutions,” said Ye Zhijian, chief of the Party’s Working Committee with the community. 

“We either put a toilet in their homes, spare public space to build a row of toilets, each be- longing to a family, or build a public bathroom very close to their house.” 

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Zhao Qiufang displays her new bathroom.

As a result 100 families now have modern toilets at their homes, and the remaining 44 share a new well-equipped bathroom with a neighboring family. 

Zhao Qiufang, who lives with her son, daughter-in-law and grandson and who has been liv- ing in a 12-square-meter unit for 34 years, said the change is a “liberation.” 

“We used to have a venue for us to dispose of excrement, but after it was pulled down, many just discharged to the roadside. 

It’s so smelly, and for me, it’s also embarrassing,” Zhao said. “After all, we live in downtown and it may ruin the city image,” she added. 

So, she walks five minutes to the public restroom to use the toilets. But at night, she still has to use a chamber pot. Zhao disposes of the contents at the community’s public activities room, which is equipped with a modern toilet. 

As her unit was too small to squeeze in a toilet, officials built a bathroom in an abandoned plot just in front of her house. Now, she and another family share the bathroom, which occupies about 2 square meters. 

“Many things have changed. Previously, I just kept every empty bottle for resale and my home became so dirty. 

“But after I was given a new toilet, I threw away everything old-fashioned,” she said. “environment can change a person.” 

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