CHINA-TRAVEL/RUSH

Beijing’s government has evicted more than 120,000 people living underground in the city’s sprawling network of disused bomb shelters, state media reported.

Dubbed the “rat tribe” by locals, an estimated one million people reside illegally in a warren of Cold War-era tunnels underneath¬†China’s¬†capital.

But authorities have been clearing out residents over the past three years in the first stage of a planned mass eviction, according to the Beijing News. Around 7,250 makeshift houses were found on sites spanning an area of some seven million square metres.

Many of those evacuated are Chinese migrant workers unable to afford the sky-high rents above ground in the capital.

Rents in the bomb shelters are around half the cost of typical migrant housing in Beijing, with individual rooms underground costing around 400 yuan (£42) a month with shared kitchens and bathrooms.

Many are more also centrally located than typical migrant accommodation, although the living areas are cramped, windowless spaces with room for little more than a bed.

The former bomb shelters date back to the Mao era, when in 1969 people were ordered to “dig tunnels deep” to protect against potential Soviet air raids. In Beijing around 300,000 people took part in the campaign, digging an estimated 20,000 shelters.

Previously tolerated as a by-product of rapid urbanisation, a change in housing law in 2010 made living in the subterranean network illegal.

Beijing’s population has soared from nine million in 1995 to 21 million in 2013, including around eight million migrants. Many migrants are not legally allowed to settle in the city because they lack the relevant hukou, or household registration, which prevents them applying for low-income housing, among other public services.

Beijing residents have expressed sympathy online for the plight of the shuzu, or “rat tribe”.

“The worry is where do these people who could only afford to live in the basement go?” one microblog user, dandanderenshengtlz, wrote on Sina Weibo.

“If a city wants to be habitable, the dazzling buildings are far from enough. What is needed is the attitude of embracing all. Sadly, Beijing is not this kind of city!”

The government plans to redevelop the bomb shelters into sites for public use. One recent redevelopment in Chaoyang district transformed a 2,800-square-metre warren into a luxury entertainment facility for local residents, complete with a gym, billiard room and club for Communist Party members.

 

Link to The Telegraph