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Disposable diapers or bare bottoms? China frets over potty training

As they rapidly enter the middle class, Chinese parents are scorning traditional environmentally-friendly split pants for disposable diapers. 

By Contributor / November 29, 2012

Potty training Chinese style is also known as "elimination training," or getting Junior to "go" on command, sans diapers. More and more middle class Chinese are choosing to use disposable diapers, instead.

Courtesy of Casey Hynes



The grandmother and the toddler were huddled in the middle of the sidewalk on Gongtibeilu, not far from Beijing’s Workers Stadium. As the child squatted, a small stream of urine appeared out of a slit in the back of the child’s pants and puddled on the sidewalk while passersby barely gave them a glance. Beaming with pride, the grandmother carefully wiped the tiny bottom, and the two walked off, hand in hand.

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The spectacle of babies and children being held over trash cans, squatting in tree boxes, or using the floor of a train as an impromptu toilet is not shocking to anyone who’s lived in China for any length of time. And kaidangku, the split pants that allow this anytime/anywhere release, are as much a sign of China as Chairman Mao’s portrait looming over Tiananmen Square.

But Chinese consumers are rapidly entering the middle class – and it's affecting things as basic as potty training.

Each day, luxury stores like Michael Kors and Alexander Wang open in Beijing, while sales of BMWs and diamonds break records. McKinsey & Company, which tracks consumer spending, estimates that by 2015, China will account for about 20 percent of luxury sales around the globe.

One result is that upwardly mobile Chinese parents are increasingly scorning traditional split pants for their own children as “uncivilized” and loading up on disposable diapers, instead. To many, being wealthy enough to use and toss an item is a sign they’ve arrived.

“Chinese parents in cities have reached the income levels to afford consumer products that provide convenience and facilitate their modern lifestyle,” says Pricie Hanna, a hygiene industry expert with Pennsylvania-based Price Hanna Consultants.

China's potty parity

One young Chinese mother says she sometimes sees children using the sidewalk as a toilet. “Even though I’m a mom, I still hate that kind of behavior,” she says. She and her husband use a combination approach with their 1-year-old: cloth diapers, disposable diapers, and some toilet training.

Diaper companies in China are using the health and hygiene approach to attract parents to disposable diapers, Hanna notes. They are “aggressively educating consumers with messages that high-quality diapers maintain skin dryness and health, and help babies – and their parents – sleep longer at night.”

Pampers – China’s top diaper company – even took that approach one step further, conducting a study in 2006 that reported that babies who used Pampers fell asleep 30 percent faster and slept a half-hour longer at night. That led to its 2007 “golden sleep” campaign, in which Proctor & Gamble asked parents to send in photos of their slumbering babes – all apparently sleeping comfortably in their Pampers – and got 200,000 baby pictures.


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