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Luxury public bathrooms create controversy in SW

A popular tourism attraction in Southwest China's Sichuan province will spend heavily to renovate four public restrooms despite widespread complaints.

One of seven public restrooms at the Du Fu Thatched Cottage, also known as the former residence of prominent Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu, in the provincial capital of Chengdu will receive renovations in compliance with "five-star" standards, while another three will be upgraded to "star-rated" status, a spokesman from the Du Fu Thatched Cottage Museum told Xinhua Friday.
"The 'five-star' bathroom project will kick off first. We just finished the bidding process and the refurbishment work is expected to be completed by the end of this year," said the spokesman, adding that the renovation of the other three will be conducted successively later on.
The total investment required for the project is estimated to be 5.23 million yuan ($821,600), with 1.5 million yuan contributed by the city government and the rest raised by the museum, according to a statement issued by the city's development and reform commission.
A preliminary design shows that the "five-star" bathroom will be designed to resemble an ancient courtyard. The upgraded facilities will include more toilets for the disabled and elderly, a room for nursing mothers and a lounge equipped with chairs, a tea table, a TV set, a fish tank and WiFi access.
In addition, the "five-star" public toilet will have two full-time maintainance workers.
The spokesman said the "five-star" restroom can be used free of charge and the entrance fee for the tourism attraction will not be raised.
A poll launched by Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like microblogging service, showed that 90 percent of over 700 respondents oppose the renovations, seeing them as a "waste of money," while 8 percent said the project will improve the urban environment and the public image of scenic areas.
"Being clean and bright is not enough for a toilet? A toilet is just a toilet," netizen "beicui" wrote on an opinion-collecting page on the city government's website.
The netizen urged the government to spend money on those in need, such as people who are living in poverty.
However, the renovations have also drawn some support.
"I agree with upgrading the bathroom. Restrooms in Chinese scenic spots are generally terrible," said a Weibo user nicknamed "Mumudemuxushizi."
The city tourism bureau previously stated that Chengdu will renovate or build 20 "five-star" public restrooms in a number of scenic spots this year.
In July, another tourism attraction in Chengdu, the Martial Marquis Memorial Temple, plans to renovate a public restroom to meet "five-star" standards.
A 200-square-meter toilet at the temple will be equipped with two automatic perfume sprayers and its indoor temperature will be kept between 23 and 26 degrees Celsius.
Public restrooms, which are generally scarce, shabby and dirty, remain a problem for tourism in China, Gu Zhaoxi, deputy director of the National Tourism Administration, said at the World Toilet Summit held in Beijing in 2004.
A survey of foreign tourists conducted by the administration in the early 1990s showed that 60 percent of respondents had a poor opinion of public restrooms at Chinese scenic spots.
In recent years, "toilet renovations" have been launched across the country, with the establishment of a star-rating system for restrooms.
However, debates have persisted over the necessity of luxury restrooms, with critics believing the bathrooms represent an abuse of public funds.