Beijing’ s Rat-tribe – A Future for all?

A photographic project of  SIM CHI YIN

1.Construction worker Ren Liang, 22 with his back to camera, enjoys a home-cooked dinner with two friends visiting from his hometown in Hebei, northern China. Ren has lived in this basement room for the six months he has been in Beijing for.

2. Ji Lanlan, 25, and her three-year-old daughter, Yu Qi, enjoy a game on their computer in one of the largest rooms in this basement in west Beijing. Ji, from Henan Province in central China, is an office worker and has lived in this basement room for the four years that she has been in Beijing.

3. Xie Jinghui, originally from Jiangxi, born in 1987, sometimes does some weightlifting in his basement room. He used to live in a more central location within Beijing’s 3rd Ring Road, but one year ago the house was torn down. He says: “Everybody thinks that living in the basement is only a temporary thing but then people end up staying much longer… For my generation it’s difficult to stay at home but it is also difficult to live away from home in big cities.

4. Zhang Hao, 26, an electrician, and his wife Xiang Qigui, 23, a beautician, are home in their roughly 85 square-foot basement room after another long day at work. They have a two-story house of their own back in their home province of Henan, complete with a 29-inch TV set. They have left their one-year-old son with their parents. Zhang Hao says: “We don’t want to stay here forever…but we have endured a few years in Beijing, so we have to go on, otherwise we would have come in vain

5. Ji Jia, 20, a salesgirl in a clothing store from Hebei Province, shares this room in a basement in west Beijing with a co-worker and friend. Ji Jia says it was the “most horrible” basement she had stayed in. “I do not even dare to go to the bathroom; it’s so disgusting. At first I thought our room was cool, because here we have a lot of space for two. But I think I might stay a month and no longer, then I’ll find something new.” She earns 3,500 yuan a month and likes to buy clothes and eat.

Reblogging from here:

“The evening sun sits low in the smoggy Beijing sky. Beneath a staid, maroon apartment block, Jiang Ying, 24, is stirring from her bed after having slept through the day. Day is night and night is day anyway, in the window-less world she inhabits three floors below ground.

Pint-sized and spiky-haired, Jiang Ying is among an estimated one million migrant workers who live beneath this city. Like millions of Chinese who come from across the country with dreams of making it big in the capital, she had travelled to Beijing from her native Inner Mongolia three years ago, and now works as at a hip bar in the heart of Beijing’s nightclub district. But even so, she can barely make ends meet.

Faced with sky-high property prices, living underground is often the only option for this legion of low-waged migrant workers, who make up one-third of Beijing’s estimated 20 million people.

Waiters, karaoke hostesses, hairdressers, chefs, security guards, domestic workers and kitchen helpers, these basement dwellers are the backbone of Beijing’s service industry. But they have been unkindly dubbed the “rat tribe” for making a home in Beijing’s 6,000 basements and air raid shelters — about one-third of the city’s underground space.

They pay monthly rents of 300 to 700 yuan ($50 to $110) for partitioned rooms of seven to eight square meters, or sometimes, a closet-like space barely wider than a single bed. Some 50 to 100 rooms often share a single bathroom and several toilet cubicles. A chilly draft filters through the tunnels, which are also often dank and moldy in the summers.

But it may now be a matter of time before the basement dwellers face eviction. The government, which had leased the basements out for use since the 1990s, and even liberalized rules in 2004 to make them more accessible and hugely popular as homes to migrant workers, is clamping down.

In mid-December of 2010, the authorities issued new regulations contradicting earlier ones, effectively stopping basement leases from being renewed. Over the next three years, the authorities will gradually shutter the underground homes, which are now deemed “unsafe, dirty and chaotic,” a civil defense officer said.

That might improve Beijing’s image, but doesn’t help the low-wage migrants. Sooner or later then, Jiang Ying and her counterparts will have to move out — and up, or simply go home. For now, the basements of Beijing hold the hopes and dreams of many migrants who seek their fortune in the capital.

To me, they tell the broader story of a China on the move, of the world’s biggest tide of migration, and of a generational shift to an urban income and lifestyle. Curious about this underworld, I started photographing it in 2010. If I went into it hoping to document the tough and musty lives these migrants lead, I’ve also been inspired by their spunky fighting spirit and life-affirming aspirations.

As Zhuang Qiuli, 25, a pedicurist, puts it: “There is no difference between me and the people who live in the posh condominium above. We wear the same clothes and have the same hairstyles. The only difference is we cannot see the sun. “In a few years, when I have money, I will also live upstairs.” ”

 

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