Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stools in China

In an earlier post I shared some details about beds in China to provide relevant context for considering the thin mattresses often found on college dormitory beds in China. Another feature of the dorm rooms I shared here that received comments from readers can be seen in the following photo from the post about a dorm room at Dalian Maritime University.

Most of the comments mentioned that the small stools looked uncomfortable.

Although some have chairs, I've seen similar stools in many of the dormitories I have visited across China. I am not going to get into the issues of why they may be so typical or what students think of them. Instead, like with the thin mattresses, I will provide some context from the non-college world.

The simplest way to sum it up is that small stools are common in a number of settings in China. To provide a taste, I will share some photos from central areas of Changsha, Hunan province. It was easy to find relevant examples just by looking through my previously taken photos.

To start, here is the inside of a restaurant with a more traditional decor.

log stools at a restaurant in Changsha, China.

In my experience, the log stools are not common, but on the left side of the photo is a glimpse of more standard square traditional-style stools. Round traditional-style stools can also be found in some restaurants and I recall seeing them more often in the city where I was previously--Guangzhou.

But more of the Changsha food-establishments I have seen use the following types of stools.

plastic stools outside at snack shop in Changsha, China
Outside a snack shop

Outside a dessert restaurant

Outside a restaurant serving steamed dishes

Inside a restaurant

Outside a restaurant serving Japanese-style food

Just to be clear, not all restaurants in Changsha use stools. Chairs can be found in many of them. But I'd argue you would miss out on some great food and experiences if you had a strong aversion to stools.

Restaurants are not the only domain of stools in Changsha. The following are just a few examples of where else they can be found.

At a market

At a park

At one of the many marriage photography studios on a pedestrian shopping street
(note: the workers sat on stools as well)

I do not claim that this sample is fully representative for Changsha, but I am confident that these are not extreme or unusual examples. Variation in stool use can be found across China. For example, stools appear to be less common at restaurants in Shanghai than they are somewhere like Changsha. Regardless, stools are a part of regular life for many in China, and this context can impact perceptions of the stools found in college dormitories.

This post has made me realize there is much more to say about stools in China, but I'll have to leave at this. In a later post, I will discuss another set of issues about college dorm life in China relating not to sleeping or sitting but to drinking and washing.


  1. Very interesting. I live close to a fairly large Asian district, and I frequently see plastic stools for sale similar to the ones in some of the pictures. Due to their size and the fact that some of them had cartoon characters painted on them, I regarded them as being mostly for younger children. Seeing them used primarily for adults, though, is quite surprising. Thank you for showing this to me!

    1. You're welcome. I'd be curious to know how the stools you have seen are actually put to use.

  2. Stools are equally common in Thailand, especially in small mom and pop noodle stores and other street food restaurants. I love them because they tend to mean great tasting food is nearby.