Chinese records on bathing date back more than 3,000 years and illustrate the ritual's cultural importance. The habits have evolved over the years, becoming less ritualistic but often still divided by class, and continue to change in this period of strong economic growth for China. (reference 1)
From 1100 B.C., bathing was an elaborate ritual in China with religious significance. Emperors and Buddhist and Taoist priests bathed to clean the body and soul. They performed strictly regimented procedures before religious rites. Throughout the centuries, customs changed into habits, such as guests bathing before receiving a meal and children heating up water for parents as a sign of respect. Royal families built elaborate baths and took enjoyment from them. In the Song Dynasty, 960-1271 A.D., public baths in cities with rubdown helpers were popular. Public bathhouses for all walks of life thrived into the early 20th century.
Despite the long history of bathing in Chinese society, those who live in rural areas do not bathe very often. Some poor farmers in Western Chinese villages have never bathed due to a lack of facilities. Other estimates show that 200 million of 800 million rural people bathe just once a month, causing diseases due to poor hygiene. Heating water using gas stoves is inefficient and pollutes the environment, so bathhouses using solar energy are being built in some parts of rural China so that all people can enjoy a bath.
Modern city dwellers in China bathe more than their rural counterparts but are busy and often do not make a habit of visiting a bathhouse in the evening. A Nara Women's University study found that in the city of Xi'An, the overwhelming majority -- 90 percent -- use their own bathrooms to bathe. A shower in the morning for the purposes of getting clean is the primary form of bathing, but city dwellers also show interest in bathing for relaxation and recreational purposes.
Specialized Forms of Bathing
Residents of cities in China have the choice of different types of bathing other than getting clean. Medicinal bathing has a long history in China, and some of the ancient recipes are revived for modern times by adding ingredients such as roots, chrysanthemums, peppers and ginger to bath water. Saunas made their way into Chinese bathhouses in the 1980s. City dwellers also can choose from luxurious baths, such as Thai and Japanese style, tea and oil massage.
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