Meet the Million Migrant Workers Living Beneath Beijing’s Streets
Every morning, a metamorphosis takes place below the ground of China’s capital. In a world without sun or fresh air, people roll out of bed in windowless rooms, empty bedpans into communal toilets, pay 50 cents for a five-minute shower, ascend concrete stairways to the outside world and transform themselves from residents of the city’s most despised housing to strivers, hungry for a piece of the Chinese dream.These new Beijingers, who number about 1 million, are known as members of the “rat tribe,” or shuzu, because they make their homes underground in warrens of small, often-dank rooms that are cheaper than almost anything they can find above ground. Most of the units are technically illegal because the government has decreed that basements and former air-raid bunkers shouldn’t be rented out, but like many things in China, they occupy a gray area. A huge market exists for the basement dwellings — roughly half the price of comparable units above ground — which often causes local officials to turn a blind eye.