Many of them are migrant workers toughing it out in China’s most desirable cities, though Hukou residency quotas mean many cannot become legal city residents or partake in their low-income housing and public services. In Beijing alone, an estimated 100,000 of them live in windowless underground hovels, while elsewhere they live in buses, shipping containers, and dangerously cramped bunks. They are China’s “rat people” and “ant tribe,” a category that includes older workers priced out of above-ground apartments and, increasingly, underemployed college graduates who have to share a bedroom with six strangers to make rent (“rat people” refer to people living in underground rentals, while “ant people” refer to recent grads in cramped quarters).
The photos below show how blue and white collar migrants alike are getting shut out from the cities’ official Hukou resident system (which the government plans to reform) and priced out of the cores of cities into to the fringes and undergrounds.
A resident waits to use the communal bathroom and washing area of a basement hostel on the western outskirts of Beijing.
In the communal kitchen of a condo in western Beijing, the landlord posts a rent collection notice: “starting August, rent will be due on the first day of each month. New renters are exempt.”
Master Yan, who declined to give his full name, teaches and practices Chinese martial arts in an air-raid shelter basement with 130 rooms for rent.
Parents cook at a public kitchen of a rental building in Hefei, Anhui province.
78 year old Leung Shu shares a floor (divided by cage-like metal capsules) with 4 other roommates in Hong Kong.
Xiao Cao, a street performer, shares an eight-square-meter apartment behind a public rest room in Shanghai with his partner.
Migrant construction workers live and share dinner on a bus in Shenyang, Liaoning province. Their construction manager bought the scrapped bus for his workers at 26,000 yuan ($4,190).
A cluster of shipping container apartments on the outskirts of Shanghai. The landlord charges 500 yuan ($80) per month for each container.
A mother and her child shares a shipping container apartment outside of Shanghai.
Dai Yusheng and his wife live and work in city sanitation in the Hongkou district of Shanghai. He makes 14RMB per hour ($2.28) and lives in a windowless underground apartment.
Two Weibo users debate the phenomenon.
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