China's centuries-old bathhouse culture is to come under new regulations to ensure the trade maintains high quality standards.
The regulations are expected to be introduced in the first half of this year, Luo Jizhen of the China National Spa Association (CSPA), said.
The health and commerce ministries will issue new operational standards while the CSPA will implement a five-star rating system.
Five-star bathhouses must have at least 20 single massage rooms and provide services such as lockers for valuables and accept bookings.
Luo said the CSPA will award a five-star rating to bathhouses that complies with the standards.
The standards require all bathhouses to display signs detailing health and hygiene procedures and rules, while cleaners must be responsible for disinfecting facilities. Tea sets, towels, washcloths, bathrobes and slippers must be replaced or disinfected before each use.
Wardrobes should be disinfected at least twice a week, and bathing pools and other equipment must be disinfected every day. Bath water must be replaced promptly.
The new rules also require operators to clearly display service items and fees, sanitation standards, business hours and safety instructions.
The rules cover all businesses providing showers, baths, pools and medicated baths, saunas, springs, spas and related services such as massages, pedicures and catering.
In June, the ministries issued a sanitary standard for bathhouses, but Luo said the new standards were more detailed.
Tian Kun, a lawyer with the CSPA, said: "False advertising and unfair competition have been creeping into the trade in the past few years."
The pursuit of profits has sometimes driven operators to ignore laws, he said.
The new standards will better regulate the industry, Tian said. The CSPA will offer operators professional training.
"We have no details of the new standards, but we always maintain high sanitation levels," a worker at the Yihai International Chamber of Commerce, said. The organization offers bathing facilities in Beijing.
An employee at the Da Lang Tao Sha company in Beijing, which runs a nationwide chain of bathhouses, declined to comment on the new standards.
China's bath culture dates back more than 3,000 years to the Shang Dynasty (16th century-11th century BC), when bathing was required before important events like enthronements and sacrifices.
In the Han (206 BC-AD 220) and Tang (AD 618-907) dynasties, steam baths, hot springs and medicated baths were popular with the upper classes as a treatment for different ailments. For most of the 20th century, many Chinese used public baths, until the development of plumbing and drainage systems brought bathrooms to most homes.
However, more than 150,000 public bathhouses, employing more than 10 million people, still exist and provide a range of social activities.
(China Daily February 15, 2008)