February 16, 2005

Not For All The Pee In China


Ever since I saw this image in the exhibition catalogue for Kid Size, I'd wondered if it was still common for Chinese kids to not wear diapers. [The show began in the late 90's, and a lot can change in China in that amount of time.] So far, I've only been able to come up with a couple of messageboard reports of a Chinese parent holding her kid folded in half, butt-down, off a curb or over the sink in a restaurant.

Anyone know 1) do Chinese parents still not use diapers in significant numbers, and 2) how do they do it? Spidey sense? I mean, there are definitely a few times--2 out of 10, say--when we'll be chatting with the kid, and she'll suddenly freeze as a look of strained panic takes over her face, and I'll be all, "Would you like a magazine?"

But that's pretty unreliable pee-dar. So what's the ancient Chinese secret?

Kid Size: The Exhibition, last year at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford
Buy Kid Size: The Material World of Childhood
Chinese Diapermaker tries to trademark 'Bush'


Diapers are still VERY MUCH frowned upon by older generations; they consider you a neglectful and lazy parent if you put your kids in diapers. Sadly for China's landfills the convenience and status of the Decadent Western Diaper is starting to win some converts, and US companies are spending a ton of money to make this happen. The standard Chinese method has the child potty trained at anywhere from 6 months to a year...some even earlier than six months. No magic to the training, it usually just involves periodically holding the baby over a toilet (or sink, or gutter, or train aisle...) and whistling. Eventually the baby learns to go when the hear the whistle, and then to simply go on command. Of course, WHERE the child goes on command is another issue (careful where you step) I've always wanted to do an infomercial for "Potty Training the Chinese Way" - anybody want to invest?

There are thousands of cultures around the world that don't use diapers. Basically, if you pay attention to the baby's signals from the get-go, it's the same as knowing when your kid is hungry. If you help them go when they have to, eventually they'll give you deliberate signals (some cultures say something like "pss-pss" when the kid pees, and eventually the kid will say "pss-pss" when s/he has to pee).

People in the U.S. do this too. Google "elimination communication" when you have a few hours to waste. Apparently it works differently from the Chinese method, though, in that the parent follows the kid's signal instead of training the kid to go when the parent whistles.

I have a friend in Turkmenistan with the Peace Corp and she was telling me that they don't use them there, but that Pampers can be bought at the local market.

Diaper related story, we have a friend with 4 kids and between her first and her last she notices a lot of differences. Where for her first kid (he's 16ish) there was one kind of diaper per brand, there are now millions. To whit, she took her youngest to a swimming lesson and she wasn't wearing the Authorized Baby Swiming˘ diapers and everyone spent the lesson giving her dirty looks.

I lived in Kazakhstan, many moons ago. I worked with street children and children living in orphanages etc. Also, I worked as a teacher which is basically the same thing as social worker in the FSU.

The method for most institutions, and for that matter, the general population, as daycare is VERY common, is to put the baby on a pot, sometimes for hours and hours, after every meal, the pot. After play time with juice, on the pot. Just hours and hours in some cases. There are cloth diapers, but training happens very early. You just need to feel very bad for the kids with 'issues'!

Our company does a lot of business in China and to our eyes no one uses diapers. However, I have never seen any sort of potty training happening. It is not uncommon to walk down the street and see a child eliminating on the sidewalk or find the evidence on the floor in a store.

I was doing some diaper-related research the other day, and came upon the following site called Diaper Free! Pretty crazy stuff. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that I think diapers are actually an advance in society. I spend enough time stumbling around in my baby's spit-up -- I'm glad that most of the other bodily substances are relatively well-contained.

My wife is Chinese and was trained this way. I don't think disposable diapers were widely available when she was growing up. Cloth diapers would have been a huge nuisance since her parents had no washing machine and had to walk to a river to wash clothes. She is pregnant and wants to raise our baby the traditional Chinese method. I'm pretty open minded so I think we'll give it a try. Her mom says kids will learn to use the toilet after about 6 months.

I hear that not using diapers is rapidly becoming frowned upon by posh types in the more urban areas of China.

I think the whistling has a similiar effect to the bladder as listening to running water.

My wife and I have been living in Qingdao, China for the past three years. It is a growing city and most things we are used to from the States are available, including diapers, though probably not in all the shapes and sizes as back home. It is still very common to see the split pants even in cold weather (poor little bums). When the average salary is still around $125 dollars a month, most people can't afford diapers. Many people don't have hot water and their houses are cold.

I'm an American who is ECing, or using this less traditional (for us) method with my dd, and it is awesome!! I have four other children who were traditionally or Western potty trained. I sure wish I had heard about it earlier.
It's not all about the end result of having an early "trained" kid(though at 14 months, she is in training pants, and has been for months),it's more about the journey. While it's nice that I don't have to deal with poopy diapers, what I really appreciate more is the respect/bonding/communication aspect of it. It's hard to put into words why this is such a better, gentle way, but if you try it, you'll understand. :o) There are books, yahoo groups, and web sites to help you get started -- keep an open mind and give it a try!

Catherine - your child eliminating all over the place is a "journey" for you? Sounds like you need a hobby and some bleach.

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