Going To The Toilet In China (And Toilet Terms You Should Know)

Chinese Squat Toilet

This is not a how-to guide to using the toilet in China (though the title might hint otherwise). But in order for a man to live properly (take note–properly and not necessarily comfortably), he needs at least 3 things: food, bed, and toilet.

In any place I go to, I always make it a point to check out the toilet; because toilets are, after all, a necessity of life. And I guess for foreigners visiting China for the first time, one of the most important Chinese terms to learn is 洗手间 (xishoujian) which stands for “washroom”.

Another Chinese term to learn is 厕所 (cesuo) which means “toilet”. However, a tour guide shared with me that the word itself is not exactly the most proper term to use. I guess what she means is for a girl like me to enunciate. How ironic, as I have been using that term since forever with my Chinese teachers in grade school up until high school.

I learned recently that there is another more polite toilet phrase to use. 我要唱歌 (wo yao changge). I want to sing a song.

At first I thought she was pulling my leg, as tour guides normally do. But even people in the Internet are talking about it, so I guess there should be some truth to it.

The story goes  like this–

A little boy and his grandmother are going to a formal dinner party somewhere. In order for the grandson not to embarrass himself, the grandmother taught him to tell her “I want to sing” instead of “I want to pee” if he needs to go. The grandchild behaved as he was told to do so and earned the praise of his grandmother. That same day, in the middle of the night, the little boy suddenly felt the urge to use the toilet. He went to his grandmother and informed her, “Grandma, I want to sing, I want to sing.” Still groggy from her sleep and could not understand why her grandson would want to sing in the middle of the night, she told him, “Ok, well then just do it ever so softly in my ear.”

And well, we all know what happens next.

Another story goes like this–

Way, way before in the mountainous areas, the toilet system is very simple. They just dug a pit with wooden frames above for squatting purposes. There is a curtain covering the area, but of course there is no lock. Since both men and women share the toilet, people using it sing to inform those waiting outside that there is somebody inside. And I guess you could say the tradition stuck.

As the forumer noted, the words 唱歌 (changge) “sing a song” and 歌厅 (geting) “karaoke hall” came from the Yunnan; Guangxi; and Xiangxi provinces. [The tour guide who told me this story came from Guangxi.]

This is interesting as China is a very big country, and I think there are different ways of saying you want to go to the toilet wherever you are in the Mainland. At least in colloquial terms. I have never encountered the phrase in Beijing nor in Shanghai.

But one thing is for sure–another toilet speak I can say everyone in China is familiar with is 拉肚子 (laduzi) or “diarrhea”. I first used this term in Shanghai during my language study. [Ok, not use as in "use". But darn it, everyone dishes this out freely.]

I guess you could say there is something comforting with the term laduzi. The slang isn’t as horrible as it sounds in the English language. I mean, just the thought of saying you have diarrhea out loud is embarrassing enough as it is. However, if you announce to your friends and colleagues you have laduzi, they seem to even sympathize you. It actually sounds…funny, cute, or silly. Now I am left wondering which I like more–”singing a song” or laduzi. With a country that has 5000 years of squatting history, both of them sounds just right.

Do you know of any other useful local toilet slang in China?

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