China places timers above toilets at key tourist site

The digital display indicates when a cubicle is occupied and for how long
The digital display indicates when a cubicle is occupied and for how long - AsiaWire

A Chinese city has placed timers above toilets at a key tourist site to ensure the “safety” of its users.

Video posted by local media shows a row of cubicles, each with a timer outside the door. The digital display indicates when a cubicle is occupied and for how long.

The displays were spotted at toilets in the Yungang Buddhist Grottoes in the city of Datong, Shanxi Province.

But according to a longtime China expat, the timers have also appeared in Shanghai.

Christian Petersen-Clausen, a documentary maker, said: “First time I’ve seen these digital clocks that announce how long each of these bathroom stalls have been occupied. Seen in a park in Shanghai.”

While many have decried the timers as yet another example of overreach by the government into people’s private lives, others say they might stop the nuisance of people hogging public toilets to scroll on their phones.

The Yungang Buddhist Grottoes is a Unesco-heritage site, boasting tens of thousands of huge statues cut into caves in the mid-fifth century to early-sixth century AD. Last year it received 3 million people, according to official data.

‘Embarrassing’

The toilet timers there were flagged to the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald by a visitor who said they found them embarrassing.

“I found it quite advanced technologically so you don’t have to queue outside or knock on a bathroom door,” the paper quoted the visitor as saying.

“But I also found it a little bit embarrassing. It felt like I was being monitored.”

A buddha from the Yungang caves, a Unesco-heritage site
A buddha from the Yungang caves, a Unesco-heritage site - NurPhoto

A staff member at the attraction told the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald that the timers had been installed to cope with an increase in the number of visitors, but stressed they were not imposing a limit.

“They aren’t there to control the durations you could use the bathrooms,” they said.

“It’s impossible that we would kick someone out [of the bathroom stall] midway. And we aren’t setting a time limit, such as five or 10 minutes, of how long one could use the toilets.”

Another staff member was quoted by the Nanchang Evening News as saying the timers had been installed on May 1 for safety, and to make it known if a guest had been in there for a long time due to an emergency.