Beijing's tiny underground apartments that house millions

Updated Oct 12 2015
Big Rain, 21, a lounge worker, decorated his basement room with balloons. Photo courtesy Sim Chi Vin.

Did you know millions of people in Beijing live in tiny underground apartments built into subterranean apartment blocks and air raid tunnels under the city?

Sim Chi Vin's photo essay introduces a mother with an eight-month-old baby, twentysomethings saving on rent by living underground, and people who are woefully underemployed — all living in 10'x10' boxes. Have a look.

  1. I feel lucky, and yet at the same time, I can totally see doing that…just maybe without the mildew, and enough room for a minifridge and a hotplate.

  2. Should I be ashamed that the first thing I thought of were the mutants living in the sewers of Futurama?

    I mean, yes, afterwards I thought of things like how lucky I am, the stigma of having to live belowground, overpopulation & what humans will put up with to find a way to survive.

  3. I lived in Beijing in 2007, and a friend of mine took me to his friend's 10×7 basement apartment with a cinderblock bed, a ten inch tv and a disney princess hanging soft plastic armoir. After we left, he said, "Someday I'll be able to afford a place like this." He had been living in a worker's dorm that was basically the back of the kitchen in a hostel with 3 other guys (2 twin beds) for several years. Then we went back to the hostel and watched movies on my Mac, and I still feel sick about it.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.