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Xi going national with his 'toilet revolution'

Initiative seen aimed at winning acclaim as a caring leader

Much to foreign visitors' relief, the public restrooms in tourist areas of China have improved greatly in recent years.

BEIJING -- Rural China should not be left behind in the push to improve public toilets, President Xi Jinping has declared in the wake of a successful campaign to bring modern restrooms to tourist areas and major cities.

Xi's instruction to take the "toilet revolution" nationwide was reported as an "important directive" on the 7:00 news Monday evening by the official China Central Television.

It is wrong to think that the state of public toilets is a minor problem, Xi argued. Progress must be made to improve the quality of life for the public not only in tourist areas and cities, but also in farming areas, he maintained.

Smelly and filthy, Chinese restrooms were once execrated by foreigners but have improved dramatically in such metropolises as Beijing and Shanghai since around the time of the 2008 Olympics in the capital. Many nevertheless remain far outside foreigners' comfort zone. Some facilities in regional cities and farming villages lack even outer walls and partitions.

Improving the quality of public restrooms has been a priority for Xi since he became China's leader in the autumn of 2012, according to the state's Xinhua News Agency. Whenever he visits rural areas, Xi goes to farming villages and asks residents whether they have access to flushing toilets, it reports.

At his behest, the China National Tourism Administration embarked in 2015 on a three-year effort to put clean toilets in tourist areas. The project had renovated or built new toilets in roughly 68,000 locations as of October's end, far exceeding its goal. Monday's call aims to expand into farming areas, many of which have trailed their urban counterparts in benefiting from the nation's economic growth.

Some see Xi's focus as fostered during his seven years as a youth in a Shaanxi Province village during the Cultural Revolution. A book containing accounts of people who knew him then tells of an episode where a young Xi demolished unisex facilities without walls and built new ones with gendered sections and private cubicles.

The focus on restrooms is viewed as an effort to polish Xi's image by depicting him as a great leader who cares about even the small details of people's lives. Some spot a parallel to Mao Zedong's Four Pests Campaign of the 1950s, where modern China's founding father took on flies, mosquitoes, rats and sparrows.

But not a few Chinese apparently find Xi's emphasis odd.

"There are many issues that I would rather see him tackle with more urgency," a 30-something woman said.

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