China Rolls Out ‘Toilet Timers’ For Tourists, And Travellers Are Outraged

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China Rolls Out ‘Toilet Timers’ For Tourists, And Travellers Are Outraged

Image: Weibo

China installs digital toilet timers at Yungang Buddhist Grottoes, sparking outrage and debate among tourists and social media users.

China can be relied on for a pretty out-there travel headline. Just take the self-proclaimed “time traveller” who grounded a flight last year or the waterfall that turned out to be a fake as prime examples. This story, however, might just be the strangest one yet…

China’s world-famous Yungang Buddhist Grottoes, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site, is drawing attention for a wholly unexpected and pretty dystopic reason: its restrooms. Specifically, a recent viral video shared on China’s most popular social media site, Weibo, highlighted the installation of digital timers above toilet cubicles, sparking outrage among tourists and locals in equal measure.

The Timers

The video, which you won’t be surprised to hear was shared widely on Chinese social media, showed the timers in a women’s restroom, each displaying “empty” in green when unoccupied and counting the minutes and seconds when in use. The visitor who filmed the video sent it to the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald, who went on to describe the technology as impressively advanced but also somewhat intrusive.

The site’s staff explained that the timers were introduced to manage the increasing number of visitors, ensuring smooth restroom usage without setting time limits or ejecting users. According to a staff member quoted by the state-run Nanchang Evening News, the primary purpose is safety, to ensure no emergencies occur if someone spends an unexpectedly extended time in a stall.

Image: Weibo

Mixed Reactions

The introduction of these timers has sparked a heated debate on social media platforms like. Some users support the initiative, suggesting it would deter people from using the stalls to scroll through their phones, arguing that a tourist site isn’t a place for long restroom breaks. Others, however, criticise the move as unnecessary and an invasion of privacy, suggesting the funds could be better spent…

“Why don’t they just spend the money on building more washrooms?”

Annonymous Commenter

Despite the controversy, some believe the timers could be beneficial, particularly for those who might face medical emergencies and need assistance in short order. The debate rages on, highlighting differing and surprisingly contentious perspectives on privacy and efficiency in public restrooms.

The Bigger Picture

The Yungang Buddhist Grottoes, featuring 51,000 statues carved into 252 caves and niches, remains a hugely significant cultural attraction in northern China’s Shanxi province. In 2023, the site saw a record 3 million visitors, up from 1.98 million in 2019.

Image: China Discovery

In response to the surge in tourism, the grottoes have not only upgraded their restrooms but also added new shows and mini-attractions to enhance the visitor experience. However, the addition of restroom timers has overshadowed these developments, drawing global attention and sparking conversations about privacy and the visitor experience in public spaces.

As the debate rages on, the Yungang Buddhist Grottoes continue to balance the delicate preservation of its historical significance with modernising to meet the needs of an ever-growing number of visitors… but don’t fret, they promise “not to disturb anyone midway”.