As the world this weekend recognises the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, so too will many a Chinese man ponder over the historical significance, but perhaps only when paying a visit to a public toilet.
The Chinese have a big thing for civilisation. Partly on account of the country being one of the world’s oldest civilisations, but also as a means of instilling preconceived ideas of publicly-acceptable behaviour in her citizens.
Thus, in the bulk of Chinese public lavatories, above each urinal can be found the following charming and poetic exhortation for men to move a little closer, one that is also a play on words of Neil’s Armstrong’s historic quote, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”.
Rendered in Chinese as, “这是个人的一小步，却是人类的一大步”, and after a little fiddling around, linguists in the Middle Kingdom’s Bureau of Sanitation came up with, “上前一小步 文明一大步”, which translates as, “One small step forward [for man], one giant leap for civilisation”.
Of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and various other English translations of the phrase are to be found all over China. In-depth research of Chinese public facilities nationwide has revealed the two next most widely employed to be, “Please aim carefully”, together with the inspired and much under appreciated, “A step closer helps keep it cleaner”.
While it is true that great civilisations are based on access to the urinals; the Romans knew this when they built the aqueducts; on 20 July, 1969, Armstrong himself would have had no clue as to the future impact of his words on the urinary habits of half a billion Chinese men.