Beijing's Rat Tribe

The Chinese Dream Goes Underground

Liu Jing, 21, sits in her basement apartment in Beijing, China, April 26, 2011. Jing moved to Beijing from the central province of Henan and now works as a pedicurist in east Beijing. Sim Chi Yin / VII

With his tidy two-piece suit and over-gelled, gravity-defying hair, Wei Kuan looks like any other young Chinese office worker coming home to a high-rise apartment compound in downtown Beijing. But rather than enter through the building’s front gate, Wei took a long flight of stairs located through an external doorway connected to an apartment block, descending two stories deep into an underground maze of cells that he calls home.

Wei, 27, is an insurance salesman by day. By night, he is a member of the so-called rat tribe, a derogatory term used to describe those who like him are unable to afford apartments in Beijing. They number one million in a city of 21 million and live deep beneath Beijing’s streets: in basements under skyscrapers, hotels, and residential blocks. Those who have never interacted with these people living underground sometimes think of them as low-lifes and criminals who dwell in

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