Why do Shanghai Disneyland Guests go Poo Poo in Public Areas?

If you had told me years ago when I first started Theme Park University that I’d be discussing pooping habits at a theme park, I would’ve said you’re crazy. Yet, here I am. We’ve covered how different the culture is at Shanghai Disneyland before the park even opened. By far the most discussed topic is guests taking a big ol’ #2 on the sidewalks and in the planters of the park. Today we talk about why it happens (yes, there is a reason!)… but first, some news.

In early February 2017, Shanghai Disneyland quietly started rolling a guest initiative called Be A Star Guest. Featuring characters from Disney’s “Zootopia,” banners have been placed around the park reminding guests to do their part in helping to keep the park clean.

For example, Officer Clawhauser reminds guests to not be a litterbug and place waste in trashcans.

Chief Bogo lets park patrons know that if they want to light up to go to a designated area. And yes, there are many smokers in mainland China.

However, it’s this banner that’s going to create the most buzz. Nick Wilde and Finnick reminding guests that if they need to go potty, that they need to hop over to the nearest toilet. Before we dig into that, proving that Disney is taking this new program seriously, Cast Members who witness guests doing any of the above behaviors are properly instructed to give a guest one of these.

That’s right, if a Shanghai Disneyland Cast Member sees a guest doing any of the behaviors listed above without prompting, they can randomly receive one of these “Be A Star Guest!” badges. Now you may be thinking: why should Disney even have to tell someone that they should be taking their dumps in a bathroom and not outside? Are these people barbarians? Heathens? Or just stupid?

Before you decide those of us in the western hemisphere are just more refined than those in the east (a very “Zootopian” viewpoint), let me remind you that we used to throw feces in the streets in the United States. The reason I know this? And this is embarrassingly true, Liberty Square in Walt Disney World.

Yes friends, that brown oddly shaped pavement in Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom supposedly represents a trail of poop. As the rumor stands, Imagineers wanted to be accurate to the colonial period before there was indoor plumbing. Small fun fact: this is the only land in the park where there are no public washrooms (not counting the restaurants).

According to most accounts, while poop running down the streets did happen in colonial times, it never appeared in the form of a small stream. However, doing your business in buckets wasn’t uncommon and sometimes during a rain storm the place to dispose of what was inside was just to throw it outside and let nature carry it away.

You must be saying, “who cares what happened hundreds of years ago! It’s 2017 and in Europe and North America we have a thing called common decency and manners!” You’re right! And most people do follow those common courtesies we have grown accustomed to in society. However if you don’t think there is a little human indecency on this side of the planet, you’ve never been to certain Wal-Marts when they open their doors on Black Friday.


Circling back to Shanghai Disneyland, let’s talk about that pooping problem. It’s important to know just who’s doing the public poo poo and it’s not adults or even teenagers. Rather, the culprits are potty training children 99 percent of the time. (If you’re looking for the other one percent, please talk to security who’s worked an event like Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival. But I digress.) The “problem” has to do with pretty much one thing: potty training.

Teaching a toddler to hold their business in until they reach a proper bathroom isn’t an instinct any of us are naturally born with. Parents take months to teach youngsters that using their training potty is a good thing and are usually rewarded if they go “pee pee like a big boy/girl.” On the other hand, if kids just can’t hold it in, there is a diaper there to hold in the mess until they can find a bathroom and clean things up.

What if you can’t afford diapers or have learned to live without them for decades? Without going into a long history lesson (sorry to use the “H” word, as I know many of you just switched off), the people of China were largely suppressed for decades. Basic things that you and I take for granted, like public sewage, fair working conditions, and even living situations were pretty bleak. Cloth diapers were considered a luxury by many Chinese people. The solution? Pants for toddlers with a slit in the back to do their business.

Save your gasps. Before you start casting stones know that this was not a choice, but rather a compromise. The other side of that coin is, when children learn to start using the bathroom by squatting when they need to go… that negative connotation goes away. Many times, potty training toddlers associate going to the bathroom as “bad” because their parents get upset that they have to stop what they are doing and clean up the mess. The slit-in-the-pants method cuts out that middle man.

Alas, it’s 2017 and the Chinese middle class has expanded by leaps and bounds. Shanghai Disneyland wouldn’t have anyone visiting if people didn’t have the money to go, right? Now it comes to a matter of civility. This is something that is commonly heard in Chinese culture these days: “Can’t we just act civil?”  By no means do the majority of citizens in modern day China approve of going potty in public. Rather, a small percentage are pissing everyone else off. Pun intended.

Most Chinese parents use diapers and those pants with the slit in the back are slowly being phased out. But these things take time. China is a country who has had a rise of middle class that has shot up like a rocket and sometimes it take a while for civility to catch up. No matter what you do, some people will be stubborn and feel that they are entitled to do whatever it is that makes their lives easier regardless of how it affects others. Even if they can afford to do the “right thing,” which is in this case, is buying diapers.

Tell me friends, do you know any people in the following categories? People who never tip regardless of the service given to them at a restaurant? Patrons at a movie theater who answer their cell phones and continue to talk during the film? People who throw their trash on the ground when there is no can in sight? People who talk to anyone in the customer service industry as if they are servants?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the above, you are in the same boat as how most mainland Chinese citizens feel about pooping in public. If you don’t know anyone personally who does those things listed above, you’ve no doubt seen it happen repeatedly nearly every time you walk out in public. No matter how much we move forward in society, there will always be a few stubborn stragglers. In the case of China, it’s a population of over 1.4 billion… so they’ve got more stragglers simply based on percentages alone.

My hope is, just like the message in “Zootopia,” that we can learn to all get along despite our differences. Yes, using the bathroom in public is gross no matter how old you are. No one is excusing that here. However, have some compassion and understanding. That’s all. You don’t have to like it. But there’s no need to make fun of other cultures because ours isn’t exactly perfect either. Your thoughts?

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Images Courtesy: Twitter (Annonymous), Theme Park University, Walt Disney Company

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