Meet China's Morlocks: 1 Million Beijing Residents Live Undeground

Tyler Durden's picture

For an estimated 1 million Beijing residents, dubbed the "rat tribe", living above ground (or in ghost cities) is a luxury they simply cannot afford. As NPR reports, with even the tiniest apartment costing a fortune (and 21 million people fighting for space), there has emerged a new 'affordable' housing option... below the city's bustling streets. Thanks to building codes that force the creation of basements and bomb shelters under new residences, there's a lot of underground space (1 - 3 floors down) that is illegally - but affordably - used for habitation. With the Shanghai Composite stock index up over 40% year-to-date, creating wealth and trickling down, how can this be possible?



As NPR reports,

[In Beijing] it is possible to find more affordable housing. You'll just have to join an estimated 1 million of the city's residents, and look underground.


Below the city's bustling streets, bomb shelters and storage basements are turned into illegal — but affordable — apartments.




Annette Kim, a professor at the University of Southern California who researches urbanization, spent last year in China's capital city studying the underground housing market.



"Part of why there's so much underground space is because it's the official building code to continue to build bomb shelters and basements," Kim says. "That's a lot of new, underground space that's increasing in supply all the time. They're everywhere."


She says apartments go one to three stories below ground. Residents have communal bathrooms and shared kitchens. The tiny, windowless rooms have just enough space to fit a bed.


"It's tight," Kim says. "But I also lived in Beijing for a year and the city, in general, is tight."


With an average rent of $70 per month, she says, this is an affordable option for city-dwellers.


But living underground is illegal, Kim says, since housing laws changed in 2010.



Read more here...

And, in addition, there's a stigma to living in basements and bomb shelters, as Kim found when she interviewed residents above-ground about their neighbors directly below.

"They weren't sure who was down there," Kim says. "There is actually very little contact between above-ground and below-ground, and so there's this fear of security."


In reality, she says, the underground residents are mostly young migrants who moved from the countryside looking for work in Beijing.


"They're all the service people in the city," she says. "They're your waitresses, store clerks, interior designers, tech workers, who just can't afford a place in the city."

But it's rare to get a glimpse below. Property owners can be strict about whom they let in. But Beijing-based photographer Chi Yin Sim found a way. She's documented life under the city in a collection called China's "Rat Tribe."


"I started to try and find ways to get down there because I was fascinated by the fact that there was a universe beneath our feet," Sim says.


The first basement-dweller she met was a young woman, a pedicurist at a salon, who lived with her boyfriend.


"I was just like, 'Can I come and visit?' And she was like, 'Sure, come and visit us,' " Sim says.


The couple lived two floors below a posh Beijing apartment complex.



Sim's photos show just how tiny these units really are. The couple sits on their bed, surrounded by clothes, boxes and a giant teddy bear. There's hardly any room to move around.


"The air is not so good, ventilation is not so good," Sim says. "And the main complaint that people have is not that they can't see the sun: It's that it's very humid in the summer. So everything that they put out in their rooms gets a bit moldy, because it's just very damp and dank underground."





But despite the laws against living underground, and the discomfort and shame associated with it, Kim says it's still a very active market. For hundreds of thousands of people, it's the only viable option for living in, or under, Beijing.



See more image here...

Source: NPR

*  *  *

So much for that urbanization route to responsible growth... it's too late. Global hot money has squeezed an entire generation of service workers out from ever achieving the American/Chinese dream.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
darteaus's picture

Not every broke young person is in the US or Europe.

Stackers's picture

Progress: When everyone strives to live in a college dorm room

Anusocracy's picture

Bring those chicks to the surface and put Hillary and Yellen in the holes.

Morlocks are supposed to be ugly.

NoDebt's picture

That little Chinaman is still curling more weight than Obama did in those godawful photos from last year.  And his girlfriend is hotter than the Wookie, too.  By a ton.


Anusocracy's picture

Isn't that Han from 2 Broke Girls and One Broke Restaurateur?

Jam Akin's picture

Greetings from Beijing all.  The air in the underground photos actually looks cleaner than above ground here.

Raymond_K_Hessel's picture

Also, Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.

NoDebt's picture

The Chinese spent a LOT of time underground in California and other points west in American history ~150 years ago working for railroads and such.  And during that time they were referred to as "Chinamen" as well as other things far worse than that.

Very little of what I post in my comments is by accident.

Rock On Roger's picture

At least those kids aren't in mommy's basement.

They're making it.

China style.

MalteseFalcon's picture

Young adults start at the bottom everywhere.  My first home was a trailer.  It's a question of where you are going.  I scrimped and saved for 5 years and cheap housing was critical.  Got an advanced degree at night studying in my hovel, then with down payment in hand, I got my first mortgage.

Since all young adults lived similarly there was no shame, unless it was obvious that you were headed nowhere.

Would I go back?  Not exactly.  Give me my old brain in my young body and the answer is 'yes'.

PT's picture

But ... but ... but ... I thought Communist China was a Capitalist success story!

Whoops!  Sorry.  My mistake.  Hong Kong is not mainland China.  That explains why everything is made in Capitalist Hong Kong and not Communist China.

Maybe, if only the Chinese workers would allow themselves to be paid less  money then they could afford to live in one of those 64 million empty apartments.

Whoops!  Sorry again, I seem to be channeling Mises Institute.  Someone must have spiked my SSRIs.

One million living underground while 64 million apartments lie empty above ground?  Doesn't Communist China know how to solve that problem?  Can someone please send them 1.4 billion copies of Dr Zhivago?  I mean, they've already got several copies.  Maybe we just need to convince them to watch the damned thing!

Max Steel's picture

Hk is also part of china .

PT's picture

Thanks for clarifying.  I knew they were related somehow.  Either way, my main point remains.

hobopants's picture

Lol, for those of you junking this poor guy... He isn't trying to be politically correct about the use of the word Chinaman. It's from a line John Goodman delivers with perfection in The Big Lebowski. One of my favorites.

If you haven't seen the movie in awhile you should, it only gets better with age. 

NuckingFuts's picture

+1  I can not belive dude is getting junked over a Big Lebowski reference.  Come on. "Im I the only one here who cares about the rules, over the line smoky."

darteaus's picture

Not to mention one of the only two Jeff Bridges movies worth seeing.

The other: "How to lose friends and alienate everybody."

giggler321's picture

obvious why immigration works so well.  lots of unhappy people around the world look for an escape route.  even half the american dream looks from outset better than one of those underground rooms.

kubera9's picture

I think the chinaman comment really tied the thread together.  But it's a compliated case - a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.  

hobopants's picture


Haha, brilliant!

Harbanger's picture

Boss is the proper name going forward.  Get in the box and STFU whitey, you're saving the planet.

Leraconteur's picture

When they stop referring to non-Chinese as Laowai, we stop with the Chinaman.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

Alas, alas, and alas bis, please note that a facility the English grammar and sentence structure is not nearly enough good to the writing make clearness.

Do not bringing a new grammar to substitute a fabricated version of reality to reality. The grammar of reality contains factual elements, so in giving reference of Oriental Asian-American, the Chinaman terminology is betterly correct.

Caviar Emptor's picture

Those people are smart! Position yourself low to get the most trickle down you can slurp!

darteaus's picture


Tek Kinkreet's picture

Reminds me of some apartments in Manhattan.

knukles's picture

Note the new regulations that mandate the building of basements or bomb shelters.
Now I ask you, why the fuck would anybody be planning for the future with Bomb Shelters?


And lookit how good Moe... er, I mean Mao treats 'em.  That one chick has a roll of toilet paper, the couples all have computers for porn an' furry-beast games and the guys all practice KillWhityeGijin in da bazmint.
Workers paradise
Betcha every last one of the bros in Ferguson would switch places in an instant. 

Bumbu Sauce's picture

Note the new regulations that mandate the building of basements or bomb shelters.
Now I ask you, why the fuck would anybody be planning for the future with Bomb Shelters?


The brother, uncle, cousin of an elected official specializes in manufacturing bomb shelters.

COSMOS's picture

I dont know about you folks but I would much rather have those hard working folks as my neighbors than the Obama free shit army.  I would feel a lot safer with them also.

Harbanger's picture

That's a shitty either or choice.  I can come up with much better options.

strangewalk's picture

I dont know about you folks but I would much rather have those hard working folks as my neighbors than the Obama free shit army.  I would feel a lot safer with them also.

So true. While petty thievery is very rampant, one almost never need be concerned about violent crime anywhere in China. On the whole, the Chinese are a tough, hard-working and dignified group of people.

Glasnost's picture

I'd rather be in the country getting completely obliterated by nukes than live like this.

Harbanger's picture

You don't have to wish everyone gets obliterated to stop your personal suffering dude.  Put a chili pepper between you cheeks and hang yourself upside down by your feet.  You will feel like a new man with purpose.

Glasnost's picture

Where did I wish for that?

I said given the choice between this type of situation or being destroyed by nukes, I'd take the latter.

What's going on here in those places isn't living.  It's eking out an existence.  It's slavery.

giggler321's picture

how on earth does bog roll on a bed imply they are better off than fergisonites?

It also looks more like Falun Gong and those guys are already in jail awaiting for their end as a transplant victim to an obese, diabetic in a State near you who applied for a foreign organ transplant on Alibaba with a two week turnaround.

dalitis's picture

US and Europe are the rich (and imperial) parts of the world mate. Has been the case for a few centuries now. 


Having said that, the gap seems to be closing. 


Still, the places were they live don't seem so awful and I am guessing not too expensive either. Come here in London where people pay a fortune every months to live in a tiny room along with 5 other strangers in a "house" built for 2. 

Harbanger's picture

The west is like a teenage chick that wants to die because no one showed up for her party. She'll get over it.  If not then there's always another chick to live out the dreams.

darteaus's picture

I was there about 10 years ago when I had to do some IT work for ML.

I changed $300 at the airport, thinking that plus the credit card, would hold me for the 4 days.

Jumped into a cab at Heathrow, and headed to 'The City'.

That 45 minute cab ride was $150, and quite a SHOCK.  Micky D's after that.

The other shock was finding out that Big Ben really does sound like my wall clock.

Urban Redneck's picture

The US isn't rich, it is heavily indebted, and well on the way to HIPC status (heavily indebted poor country), with a penchant for wasting money on the most inane chicom crap. No one in the US goes to the expense of building bomb shelters anymore, unlike Europe.

However, this article did give me some ideas, since I have some time, extra furniture and electronics, and about 1000 ft2 in my US bomb shelter, the Swiss shelter just doesn't have the ft2 to live in if I want to rent out the house above...

Time to hop across the pond...

Osmium's picture

We turned some "folks" into moles.

Freddie's picture

God this is sad.  I remember seeing video and photos of Russia after the USSR fall and when Soros fellow dual citizen tribesmen were looting Russia.  The people were so poor they were living in subways and begging.  This is also going on in the USA.   Sad sad stuff.

The f**king Chinese have zillions of empty buildings.  Try moving some of these people there.  

dalitis's picture

Awarding housing according to need would be Communism. And Communism is inefficient many say. 

Freddie's picture

Yeah - believe me - I thought about that before I posted.   A real conudrum.  I bet they have tens of millions empty apartments and people living in tiny underground hovels.  The state building all that shit or the elites of the PR Army oligarchs is not capitalism that is for sure. 

Did private capital really build all those empty apartments?  I don't think so.

Harbanger's picture

No private capital.  The newly rich oligarchs of these ex-commie countries where tied to the old commies in charge.  If you made some serious $$ off of your connections within the old system, you'd GTFO of there also.

asiafinancenews's picture

"The f**king Chinese have zillions of empty buildings. Try moving some of these people there."

True enough, but there are no jobs as the empty cities have no economy.  You can't really move to a city with no economy.


Bro of the Sorrowful Figure's picture

grossly exaggerated. i live in beijing and have never heard about or seen anything to this effect. beijing home prices are sky high but rental prices are dirt cheap unless you're in the middle of the city. the idea that there is enough room for a hundred thousand people, much less an order of magnitude larger, to be living in bomb shelter-like conditions is fucking absurd.

the real problem is that due to the need to obtain a hukou, a residence permit, to live and work in beijing, many people like this are undocumented and have problems signing leases or getting jobs, for example. but like i said, the idea that there are a million people living underground is absurd.

suteibu's picture

I can't believe the down votes for your comment.  Above ground apartments in Shanghai are likely to be a room similar in size with a bathroom and kitchen area shared by 4 or 5 other apartments.  Plus the smog. The girl with the toilet paper roll on her bed is typical.  You carry your own toilet paper to the communal bathroom.

Apartments in Tokyo that young people can afford are not much bigger.