Split Crotch Pants: China’s Environmentally Friendly Non-Diaper

About halfway into my long sojourn here in China, I met an ebullient young man who was on his second week. He kept telling me how great everything was in China, and this in the middle of a drawn out China Blues period for me, and it took everything I had not to “destroy something beautiful” just because I could. Instead, he turned me on to the light,

“Chinese are so plucky,” he said and I knew exactly what he meant by that. He reminded me of my first days here, before I heard the bitter sermons of long-time expats and disgusted Peace Corps volunteers. Before I endured day after day of trolling in a vast chat room I could never log out of. I never forgot what that red headed curly bearded hippy said before he took off for Yunnan, and I try to remember that initial feeling of wonder whenever I get trolled out here.

So it was with great pleasure that I received a request to write about Split Crotch Pants, a pretty common phenomenon in China, and one that every foreigner points out within a few weeks of being here. For those of you who do not know, Split Crotch Pants are what babies here wear – a pair of pants with a slit in them, so their little booties hang out – in place of (or in addition to) diapers.

Open Butt Pants go at least as far back as the Qing Dynasty

Open Butt Pants go at least as far back as the Qing Dynasty

Known as Kai Dang Ku (开裆裤), Split Crotch Pants- or Open Butt Pants, or Split Butt Pants, or Crotchless Pants –  is an old style of potty training. Or just nonchalant ballz-out attire for the youngster on the go. I believe it works, both ways. There is science behind it, as well as a movement of sorts, Elimination Communication refers to the cues, or whistles, that help a baby realize that it’s time to go potty; and Diaper Free is a movement based on the idea that diapers are bad for the environment. Open Butt Pants fit into the Diaper Free movement as both an alternative to diapers, and an opportunity to practice Elimination Communication.

As a potty training device, I have seen it used thusly:

A toddler wobbles about with an older female relative hovering close by. The older relative keeps a sharp eye out for penis-tugging, butt cheek squeezing, or general finger-to-genitalia action. When spotted, the relative grabs the baby and pops a squat, with the babies chubby little legs resting on the relative’s thighs. The relative whistles. The baby squirms, whines a bit, and then pisses all over a lamp post, fire hydrant, or subway seat. Or all over Hong Kong.

Most of the time, in my observations, the relative will instigate peeing or pooping, by grabbing the toddler, popping the squat, and whistling or Ssssssing softly. It is a well-known fact all across China that whistling/Ssssssing can cause bladder convulsions, which help babies urinate. This is totally true, and I urge you to ask the nearest Chinese person for confirmation. Or better yet, whistle around your Chinese buddy, and see what happens. The tone of the whistle is actually important: high pitched, constant, slight rise.

tweeeeeet tweeeeeeeeeeeet TWEEEEEEEEEEEEEET! (repeat as necessary)

It seems to me that Split Crotch Pants and whistling go hand in hand.

Diapers are still preferable in some instances

Diapers are still preferable in some instances

The upwardly mobile are a little bit embarrassed of Split Crotch Pants, but most people in China still use them. As long as the older generation is around, we will be seeing baby butts and baby poo all over our fair city’s parks and grassy knolls. Diapers are a lot more prevalent than they used to be, but I personally think that diapers are grubby and dirty. My boys wore diapers for the first two years, and it wasn’t horrible – in fact extremely convenient and not that nasty to clean up really – but I am glad that’s over. Kids should be free balling at all times.

I am in favor of Split Crotch Pants, but with reservations.

Here are the common criticisms:

1) Dirty. Kids squat in dirt, and get mud and garbage and what not all up in their private parts. Nothing good about this that anyone can think of, especially for girls.

2) Dirty. Kids drop pee and poop pretty much wherever (and whenever) they please, because they can. Mainland Chinese are starting to sneer at this practice, but it’s still very common. Hell, my boys piss on trees and the backs of park benches all the time. They’re kids.

3) Psychologically suspect. Kids who have their genitalia bared for the world to see may develop some weird side effects mentally. I have done zero research on this idea, and I believe the people who bring this up haven’t either. It’s just adults projecting.

4) Backwards. I hear some people just grumble about the practice because it’s associated with the older generation, and all of their ideas about upbringing, which are under a bit of an assault among certain circles of society.

Balls Out Attire for the Youngster on the Go

Balls Out Attire for the Youngster on the Go

But in general, I see a lot of babies under two wearing Split Crotch Pants. It’s considered convenient and healthy for boys (free balling = good; tightey-whiteys = bad). Most Ayis will know all about the whistling and the squat position with a baby on the thighs, and I have to say, babies with Split Crotch Pants seem to understand the idea of pissing and pooping a little better than diaper babies. This is due, in my opinion, to a conscious recognition of the act, reinforced by a standard position and procedure, whereas diaper babies are encouraged in a way to just let loose whenever.

Ironic, in a way, because Split Crotch Pants detractors sometimes say that babies with their butt hanging out in the wind are encouraged to do the same thing. In my experience, babies don’t need any encouragement to drop some poop or pee.

 

 

What do you think? Are Open Butt Pants dirty or awesome? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sascha

Sascha Matuszak is a writer and commentator on domestic and international culture and politics. He's lived in Chengdu on and off for twelve years and currently makes his home in the South of Chengdu.

16 Responses to “Split Crotch Pants: China’s Environmentally Friendly Non-Diaper”

  1. Ray

    I hear in HK they ain’t so big on the split crotch mainlanders….

    • The other day I saw a Hong Konger friend update her Instagram with a photo of her shoes, along with “These look like Mainland shoes :( #fashion #fail”. The level of vitriol for Mainland culture is really palpable, from what I can tell as a non-resident but frequent visitor of Hong Kong. Things like mainland kids pissing in the street is commonly interpreted as a symbol of the breakdown of modern Hong Kong culture and civilization.

  2. Although I don’t like having human feces scattered on the street, I can see the practicality of the split pants.

    Sometimes we all want to let that region breathe… am I right, am I right?

    If there was an ethic about cleaning up after your child defecates publicly, my support for the garment would be even stronger.

    • I feel there’s a parallel with littering here. Littering really bugs me but at least in Chengdu, the streets remain clean because an army of people in orange garb are constantly cleaning them up.

      As long as I don’t see it, it’s out of my mind and I don’t consider it a problem. I don’t think I’ve ever seen identifiable excrement or urine in the street. I feel like I would remember that.

      One thing that I see sometimes is grannies and mothers holding their small kids over drainage grates in the street when they do this.

  3. fluffy for sure, but feels good to be back …

    I like baby butts. the more the better. and eli yes, some ethics would make it even more adorable.

  4. Zak

    Baby butts, for me, act as a unofficial thermometer. When the buns are out, spring has dawned. A bare derrier means t-shirt weather.

    I also think one of the weirdest parts is how parents/grandparents hold the kid’s parts. There is a fair amount of cupping involved, which I get is a courtesy but it, to me, factors into the psychologically suspect aspect of the split crotch pants phenomenon.

  5. Well, I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said. It has its advantages as well as its disadvantages.

    My favorites are the environmentally sound aspects. No one wants to slip in a pile of poo on your way anywhere, but somewhere there is a mountain of pampers the size of Gong Ga Shan and just because it’s not on our way to work doesnt mean it’s not finding a way to get into our water supply.

    For us, having twins without family around is impossible. There is the Gengis Khan method but we dont want to be scrubbing the walls all day and eating rats. Our daughter mostly used washable diapers which is hard without a washing machine and a dryer, but we managed. In the end it’s about improving on the past rather than trying to leave it behind altogether. Being naked is fine. Getting back to nature is cool too. But nobody likes eating a nice meal on a patio restaurant riddled with fecal matter. Peace.

  6. Thank you, Sascha, taking the interest and time with this rather typically Chinese subject. It has puzzled my curiosity on all prior visits. Being a mother of two I preferred cloth diapers, fresh air and no dryers. I could be a grandmother now, yet I am not quite certain if I would adopt this simply “earthy” potty training.

    Nevertheless, you answered my question with an excellent article.
    I appreciate you!

  7. You surely have to be a White dude to be enjoying posting pics of baby boys’ willies so casually and have other friendly White folks happily gather around to rejoice.

  8. Maybe this lack of hygiene is part of the reason that a Chinese village has the black plague.

    To many foreigners, it seems like this was an accident waiting to happen. link https://destructivedragon.wordpress.com/

  9. I see piles of poop in Nanchong. It does stand out a bit.I don’t mind the “just go anywhere” method so much… but I saw a lady let her grandson go inside KFC too and I thought that was sort of crazy. Is human waste that ok for health reasons, it might not poison the earth but it could make people sick…

  10. Civilised Oriental of the British Empire Reply August 29, 2014 at 4:05 am

    It’s a disgusting habit that has to go. The barbaric mainlanders are welcome to soil their own land, but damn them when it comes to going overseas and soiling the land of others. These people dirty the name of other considerably more civilised Chinese peoples. I don’t pull my trousers down and poo all over the tube floor when I feel like it. I don’t piss on someone’s tyres when there’s a loo ten steps away. Why can’t these beastly people do the same and learn to use a loo, and learn how to do it without soaking the damned floor in their bloody piss? What happened to 5,000 years of culture?

  11. Never having been to China, I am an American who does “elimination communication” with my baby. I found this article while researching Chinese “open pants.”
    Just because I do this doesn’t mean that I let my baby poop all over the street and in restaurants… I carry around a container to use in areas where I can’t let her go over grass or bushes (if people’s dogs can go there then so can my baby, her messes are pretty small compared to some dogs’. I suppose that people who are more culturally comfortable with it might let their babies go all over sidewalks and in food places… that’s up to them. Personally, I am not gonna’ panic at the sight of baby waste, or even getting a little bit of it on me now and then (most parents do, anyway) but I’m not gonna’ paint the town with it either.

    I do this method of “potty training” because I feel it is healthier for my child, more time and cost effective, less wasteful/better for the environment and just… makes sense. Most people in modern western society prolly can’t enjoy this as easily, what with mothers going back to work at 6wks postpartum and other little cultural and societal things, but I am glad that I can. My baby doesn’t get diaper rash, doesn’t sit in her waste, won’t have to go through potty training after already having been “diaper trained,” it can help curb bedwetting before it starts, it utilizes natural instincts/seems natural to me and, I believe, will help her feel more confident about herself and her body.
    In the end though, we all do what we can for our children… people who use diapers love their children no less, and people who do this simply do so because they feel it is best for their family, children or environment (or even their wallet with the cost of diapers).
    Also, I wouldn’t personally let my child crawl all over mountains of garbage anyway, so it’s not likely that she’ll get a bunch of “junk” up in there… in fact, that area prolly stays cleaner/healthier getting plenty of air and not getting frequently covered in poo.

    Personally, I think I like the sound of split pants.

  12. PS, if my baby poos in a public place where people might have to work/walk around it often, I usually cover it up by kicking a little dirt or something over it. I live in a rural area… so places to go are maybe easier to find than they are in cities. But often, in parks and such, there may also be trash cans that could work, if all else fails, or, of course, public toilets…

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