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Communal Water Fountains: Before Running Water in the Home

The following is a recollection by Jiang Yuhua of the communal drinking water fountains, which were the main source of water between the 1960s and 1980s in Chengdu, translated from Chengdu River Stories, page 169:


In our daily life, there are 7 basic needs: firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy, vinegar and tea. But as we see it, the most important thing is actually water. Think for a moment: a person, or a family, as well as using it to eat and drink, also uses it to wash. Is there any time we can be without water?


In modern homes, every household has at least two running water taps, but before the 1980s, a few streets shared a single tap.


During the 1950s, people living on Changshunzhong Street had to go to a well for water, and brought their clothes to Erdao river to wash. By the 1960s, communal drinking water fountains had become common. There was one installed at the junction between Changshunzhong Street and Huaishu Street. It was made of concrete, 1m high, 35cm in diameter, with a round top. A 5cm thick water pipe was attached to the outside of the concrete tap. In order to avoid the water pressure being too high, people attached an old bike tyre’s inner-tube to the tap.


Water distributers were unemployed, responsible people selected from the neighbourhood committee, who worked 7 days a week distributing water.


Every day, residents could get water between 6am and 10am, and then from 4pm to 7pm. One fen (0.01 yuan) could buy two large buckets of water or four small buckets. One fountain would supply water to a few streets. Every day, when the fountain was open, the streets would be very busy, particularly during the afternoon when schools finished. Before the fountains opened, people would line their buckets up outside the station to form a queue. Sometimes, when there were many people and not much water, people would have to queue for twenty or thirty minutes before they could get water.


Generally, it was the job of the older children in the family to get the water, but when they had to go to work, or were sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, you could see small children helping their families collect water.


It was a few hundred meters from the tap on Huaishu Street to home, and you had to stop and rest a few times before arriving back. Later on, a new tap was installed a lot closer to home.


By the 1980s, running water was installed in almost every household, bringing the end to these public water fountains.


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Communal Water Fountains: Before Running Water in the Home