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Meet The 'Rat Tribe' Consisting Of People Who Live Underground

Dennis KE

Jun. 30, 2020

Despite being the second largest economy in the world, deep contradictions continue to persist in modern Ch!na.
While city skylines are being decked out with new, futuristic-looking buildings, a part of the country’s population still cannot afford the sunshine.
They are the urban underclass, the group that contributed, in a large part, to the country’s tremendous economic growth over the past decade. Yet still, they struggle to find their own place in the new Ch!na.
“Rat Tribe” is the neologism created to refer to the people who live below ground level. Many are low income migrant workers, coming from the underdeveloped areas of the country, attracted by the opportunities and promises of the big cities.
In Be!jing, the cost of renting a flat can be prohibitive. Thus, living underground becomes financially acceptable, at least in the beginning, until they save enough to afford better options.
For some of them it’s the only choice: their average income being only a few hundred dollars a month. For others, the alternative would be living outside the city in the surrounding suburbs, such as the Sixth Ring of Be!jing. But this also means more expenses and time dedicated to transportation in the overcrowded metro, every day.
In order to save time and money, they give up safety and health, living in the dark and dank spaces, measuring approximately 7 to 9 square meters. Bathrooms, most often are common spaces shared with other underground residents.
This phenomenon originated in the 60s, in the years of tensions with the Soviet Union. Fearing a forthcoming strike, Chairman Mao ordered the construction of 85 square kilometers of underground shelters. The war never came, and for some time those shelters remained empty and unused.
During the 70s, the economic reform made money appealing once again, and many Ch!nese moved to the cities in search of better opportunities. The underground shelters were then inhabited by rural migrants, who didn’t possess the urban household registration, and as a result, couldn’t access many public services in the cities.
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