I don’t remember if I commented before on this topic, and I am sure many others have done so, but I feel I cannot pass by this point without doing so myself.
As a Westerner who thinks the standard of public toilets in the UK is bad (I avoid using them unless absolutely necessary), I am not sure whether I would say China’s are worse, but I think they have some different areas where they could be improved. The standard does vary, both in England and China, but as a Westerner, China’s toilets can be extra problematic.
The issue of sitting or squatting, of course, is one of the most talked-about subjects. Planes and trains always have western style “potty” toilets, for fairly obvious reasons. Train stations, airports, and shopping malls don’t always, though newer facilities normally have a choice, and have pictures on the doors to show the type of toilet. However, where sitting style toilets are not available as a choice, the tip is to use the disabled toilet. Most places provide disabled facilities, but of course, as in the UK, few people actually use them. Some older style bars/restaurants, and again older style toilets in tourist places, don’t seem to always provide these, however – and even if they do, they are often pretty foul and to be avoided.
The reason for this post now is because I have found that train stations are often the worst, and should be avoided if possible. It is often better to wait to go on the train if you can. Airports are usually better, but not always. Planes are better than trains, because if there is something missing (such as hand-towels) there is always a steward/stewardess (who will speak reasonable English) to ask, whereas it might not always be possible to find one nearby on a train, and then their English might not be so good, so definitely not easy if you don’t know or struggle with Chinese.
The cleanest places I have found are hotels (obviously) or the newer shopping malls. However, in the malls, if something is missing or broken, it’s not always easy to explain to an attendant, even if one is available. Tourist sites or restaurants out in the sticks generally seem to be the worst places. Try to avoid needing to go at all!
The final thing to mention is toilet paper. As anyone with any experience of China knows, some places don’t provide any toilet paper at all. Others have a “communal” roll outside of the cubicles, or even outside of the toilet room, between the male and female toilets. Check as you are going in; if there is no roll provided in the cubicle, it might be outside somewhere. However, even when this is provided it has often run out. The idea of a “communal” roll, I think, is to try to reduce the amount of paper used. As far as I can tell, though, it actually increases how much is used, because no one knows how much they might need so they take much more, just in case, and the single roll tends to run out a lot more quickly. Sometimes people might leave their left-over paper somewhere in the cubicle, but would you use the toilet paper that some random person has left behind? The key here is to always make sure you have some packs of tissues with you. You might also need these for drying your hands as there are sometimes no towels either!