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Public Baths: the intersection of history, leisure, culture, and entertainment in northeastern China

Public bathhouses have long been a part of the culture of northeastern China. The bathing culture of the northeast has its roots in both history and geology. Due to the special geographical distribution of the northeast, there are many natural hot springs. Thus, thousands of years ago people encountered these warm locations and used them to take refuge from the severe cold of the region in winter. Over time, the use of hot springs developed and evolved into a distinctive bathing culture throughout all of northeast China.

Back in the early 90's, before saunas and massage parlors became associated with public bathhouses, the original bathhouses were much more simple, offering a place for people to bathe and clean themselves. People would call their friends to take a bath together. First, they would enter a warm shower to allow their bodies to reach the temperature of the bathing tubs, and then they would submerge themselves in the hot water and soak with their friends. Adults would usually sit around the perimeter of the bathing pools and their children would play and splash water in the middle area.

In addition to being a good place to socialize and get clean, bathhouses were often arenas where men were able to show off their masculinity. When the water pipes pumped hot water into the pools, northeastern men made a point not to show reluctance or fear. Thus, the baths were like a battle field for men to display their bravery and strength. Real northeast men did not just tolerate the scalding heat; they were also able to hold animated conversations and sing songs while bathing. They would even go as far as to mock the blistering water by asserting “this water is not hot at all!” Even if the water was hot enough to burn people, they would still yell “how terrific is the hot water! It feels so nice!” As the water would get hotter, they would yell even louder, once again showing their bravery and mettle.

As for the children, they were able to play freely in the hot water pools. They could go underwater or dive, as well as chase after their friends in the water. Occasionally, the children would even bump elbows and end up fighting right in the middle of the bathhouse. Now that time has gone by, almost every northeastern Chinese man has vivid memories of their time in the bathhouse as a child. Their memo