Living Underground

Published on Author bednart15

china basement apartment

Along with China’s rapid urbanization has come a rush for housing in Chinese cities. While construction struggles to keep up with demand (although certain housing projects sit empty), existing housing prices have skyrocketed. One side effect of this price effect has been to drive rural migrants into the ground or, more accurately, underground.

Until 2010, Chinese residential building policy required the construction of bomb shelters and storage basements with apartments and homes. As cities become densely populated and prices surged, many landlords turned these basements and shelters into underground apartments. The apartments, which are relatively cheap and often of poor quality, represent a sharp divide in the citizenry of cities. Those who live underground are looked down upon (puns aside) by residents who live on the surface. Many individuals who live underground are embarrassed by their lodging and express hopes that their children and grandchildren can live on the surface.

This unique situation is indicative of the urbanization, population density, rural migration, and changing housing market in China. As China continues to grow in both size and quality of life, hopefully these poor-quality housing situations will shrink and eventually disappear as access to surface-level abodes expands. But, as incomes grow and demand increases, so will prices, perpetuating a cycle of inaccessible surface housing.


3 Responses to Living Underground

  1. It is not surprising that these underground living areas are stigmatized. I would be curious to know how these underground houses compare to living in the countryside when it comes to status.

  2. As China’s migration continues for the next few decades, I feel underground living areas may actually become more popular. The migrants from rural villages struggle to pay for housing when they move to urban areas. Although certainly sad and indicative of issues with China’s Hukou system, is this the only option poor migrants can turn to for housing?

  3. I lived in Queens for a year in an half-underground basement apartment that may well have been illegal. The price was right, the location good, I didn’t have much money, and I wasn’t home much anyway….but light is indeed nice, and unless a place is designed with underground living in mind, humidity and vermin and noise may all be factors that make them less desirable. Remember that air conditioning may not be available if you’re underground, and security may be poorer, too — windows easy to get at unless they’re barred. In Japan the direction in which windows face is always in real estate ads (really, how useful is a window that faces due north?). In China “feng shui” geomancy may be a factor.
    All that said, some specific rural areas in China have long used cave dwellings, places with soft rock where digging into a hillside is easy, and high ground temperatures give year-round comfort. I have a painting at my house of one such rural vista. Or think Hobbits?!