How long have you been in there?! A popular tourist destination in China has installed toilet timers. Reactions are mixed

Boasting 51,000 statues carved into 252 caves and niches some 1,500 years ago, China’s Yungang Buddhist Grottoes is irrefutably a spectacular attraction.

But in recent days, the restrooms in this UNESCO-listed World Heritage site have been earning more attention than the views.

A video recently shared on various Chinese news and social media sites shows a set of timers installed above a row of toilet cubicles in a female washroom, with each stall getting its own digital counter.

When a stall is unoccupied, the pixelated LED screen displays the word “empty” in green. If in use, it shows the number of minutes and seconds the door has been locked.

‘We won’t kick people out midway’

The original video was reportedly taken by a visitor who sent it to the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald, a state-run local newspaper.

“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 staff member at the attraction reportedly told the Xioxiang Morning Herald that the timers were installed to cope with an increase in visitors to the attraction – and that includes the facilities inside the tourist site.

“They aren’t there to control the durations you could use the bathrooms,” the staff member was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

“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.”

China’s Yungang Buddhist Grottoes features 51,000 statues carved into 252 caves and niches. - Emeric Fohlen/NurPhoto/Getty Images
China’s Yungang Buddhist Grottoes features 51,000 statues carved into 252 caves and niches. - Emeric Fohlen/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Nanchang Evening News, a state-run newspaper, quoted a staff member of the park as saying the timer has been in operation since May 1 of this year and is primarily a safety measure, “ensuring the well-being of all guests, in case some guests use the toilet for an extended period and an emergency occurs.”

The news has stirred up plenty of debate on China’s social media sites.

Some netizens on popular micro-blogging platform Weibo supported the new timers, saying they would discourage visitors from sitting and scrolling on their mobile phones while in the stalls.

“A tourist site isn’t an office – who would spend their time in the toilets? Is it really necessary?” said one netizen.

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

Others said that it would help those who have actual medical emergencies and may not be able to call for assistance.

Record-breaking visitor numbers

Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, Yungang Buddhist Grottoes is one of the biggest attractions in northern China’s Shanxi province.

The ticketed scenic area received 3 million visitors in 2023, a record high for the tourist site and a significant increase from its second busiest year, in 2019 (with 1.98 million visits).

And Yungang Buddhist Grottoes has been upgrading more than just its washrooms. In recent years, officials have introduced new shows and added new mini-attractions within the area to boost its appeal.

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