Washed Up: Can Public Bathhouses Survive in Today’s Cities?

Once a blue-collar necessity, public bathhouses struggle to remain relevant in China’s cities today

In Hong Kong, Mr. Ning shares a 100-square-meter apartment with his wife, but his digs in Shanghai are far more impressive. In addition to several springs, and one outdoor pool, the ground floor boasts a sauna and steam room, the option of massage, a (rarely used) gym in the basement, and, upstairs, a buffet, two screening rooms, and countless cubicles for “relaxation.”

Ning is a regular at New Star, a popular Korean bathhouse chain, whose locations offer the itinerant 50-something businessman a resting place he finds far more welcoming and comfortable than the usual five-star hotel. “I come here every goddamn day, man,” he tells TWOC. “This is my second home.”

It’s not often one finds such enthusiasm for a habit often associated the blue-collar lifestyle of the frozen northeast, or Dongbei. Many of China’s best known bathhouses are located on the spring waters of Dongbei, whose bathing culture is regarded as both regionally specific and deeply out of style.

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Washed Up: Can Public Bathhouses Survive in Today’s Cities? is a story from our issue, “China Chic.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


Han Rubo is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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