Northeastern China’s bathing culture – “Foreigners also need body scrubs”

body scrub

In October, 2014, I stay in my husband’s hometown, Siping. Siping is in Northeastern China, and temperatures can drop way below -20 degrees C in winter. Like most other apartments in China, ours doesn’t come with a bath tub. But a bath tub isn’t necessary. Northeastern China has a bathing culture and bath houses are all over the place (just look for the characters 洗浴 xǐyù).

One evening we go to a small bathhouse. I soak in the hot water of a wooden bathtub. For hygiene reasons, the bathtub is lined with a big plastic bag that gets changed for every person. After taking a bath, I get a body scrub (搓澡 cuōzǎo), which makes the skin really smooth. You can do Chinese body scrubs up to once a week.

One woman doing body scrubs says to the woman applying my body scrub:

“A foreigner!” And she laughs.

The woman giving me the body scrub replies: “Foreigners also need body scrubs.”

Have you ever been to a bathhouse in China? What was it like?

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Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!


  1. Ri

    I haven’t been to a bathhouse in china, but I have in Japan and Korea. And I had the body scrub in Korea (I just found a place where they have it near where I live in Tokyo, so I’ll give it a go there soon!), which was heavenly. It’s almost cathartic when you see how much dead skin you leave behind!

  2. Nuria

    I went to a bathhouse in a small town in Jinan province. I was told it was a middle level bathhouse, and my boyfriend rented a whole shower room for us. The first impression was that the floor was dirty and lots of items everywhere, like a mess. But outside was so cold (during Chinese New Year) and I didn’t shower for so many days that it looked like heaven to me. We just showered, no scrubbing. That room didn’t have any bathtube, just many showers. Perhaps there were more areas where there were actual bathtubes, who knows. I was told that bathhouses are different in China and in Japan: in Japan the bathtube is for after-cleansing, and in China the big baghtube may be dirty after some hours because it’s a pre-cleansing step. I have no experience in China so I can’t tell. Your bathtube was single one or more like a small swimmingpool?

    • It was a single one. My husband said that the guys share a bigger one, more like a pool.

      There are actually many different kinds of bathhouses. Some are just for showering, while others are more like a Spa. The one we went to looks more like a Spa, but it doesn’t offer as many services.

      I didn’t know the difference between Chinese and Japanese bathhouses.

  3. I’ve gone to spas but I’ve never felt like putting in the effort to take a shower somewhere other than my home or the gym. It doesn’t seem worth the trouble for me. I have learned a bit about Chinese bathing culture from the gym and from my m-i-l (she likes to try to jump in the shower with me and scrub/loofa me down–something I’m not entirely comfortable with),

  4. When I had my first body scrub in Shenzhen, the woman laughed and pointed to all the dead skin that had come off me – it was completely black! Absolutely no idea how I’d become so grimy, it was a bit embarrassing.

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