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Audra Ang ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER on Tuesday, September 16
BEIJING -- With a look of intense concentration on his face, 21-month-old Zhang Xueyang explores the playground, ducking under swings and slides as fast as his legs can carry him.
His head is shaved. His red-and-yellow T-shirt proclaims "Cute Girl!" His loose, white-cotton shorts are grimy with dirt. Suddenly, he stops in mid-stride and squats, the seam of his pants parting smoothly to allow a stream of urine to pool onto the concrete.
"Good boy!" his 25-year-old mother, Wu Chunhua, shouts encouragingly as he speeds back to play.
The startlingly revealing "kaidangku" (literally "open-crotch pants") have made such posterior peek-a-boo a common sight in China for decades -- rain, shine or, in a specially padded form, snow.
The principle is clear: no-fuss waste disposal. They're split down the middle -- in front and back -- and provide what many parents say is maximum convenience with minimum coverage.
But in recent years, with China's experiment in capitalism creating a growing middle class, rising incomes and more sophisticated lifestyles have pushed many parents, particularly those in big cities, toward disposable diapers.
While the origins of the slit pants are murky, they have been around at least since the establishment of communist China in 1949. In the late 1970s, when Mao-suit grays and dark blues were the norm for adults, children's vividly hued kaidangku were the only splashes of color on Beijing's drab streets.
But in Beijing these days, bare baby bottoms are an increasingly rare sight -- even on sultry summer afternoons, when kaidangku used to be almost a uniform for toddlers.
"They're so uncivilized," says Su Shaojuan, who has a 2 year-old son. "People nowadays have more money, so they use diapers. It's more convenient and healthier for the child and parents."
Part of it is undoubtedly purely hygienic, a byproduct of the Chinese government's yearslong effort to spruce up its urban areas and, it says, steer people away from unclean practices.
Many cities have outlawed indiscriminate garbage dumping, public urination by adults and street spitting. And a country that's inviting the world in for the Olympics in 2008 hardly wants visitors to see public spaces used as toilets.