China’s cavemen, the living evidence of the country’s great inequality

Davey Meelker

Many people think of China as the country of skyscrapers, modern apartments buildings, picturesque hutongs and modernized traditional villages. But there is also another side of China’s housing: millions of people in China live in caves. Yes that is right, they are cave dwellers without any running water or other ‘modern’ inventions as sewers.

China is characterised by great inequality, the cave dwellers in the Shanxi province are the living evidence. Nevertheless, it is only a matter of time China will become the biggest economy in the world. Some say this will happen in 2020 others say 2030. In any case, there will be many people who miss out. What will happen if the Chinese economy keeps growing, but great numbers will not benefit? It seems a matter of time until great social unrest will break out.

On the other hand, the people living in the cave will not lead the protest. Although they didn’t keep up with the fastest modernization process ever recorded in history, they seem content with their simple life. With an abundance of fruits, corn and other vegetables in the fields, they live a satisfied life. The caves are not only cool in the heating summers – when we entered, after walking through the burning sun, it was like walking into an air-conditioned room – they protect the inhabitants against the cold winter too. They are sound proof, cheap to build and even environmentally friendly. Who doesn’t want to life here? Well… the young people.

Most people living in caves are the elderly and some disabled people who were left behind. It is a matter of time until this generation dies out, with its children and grandchildren already fully participating in modern China. This way the modernization process will be adopted to over time.

However, many people who grew up in the caves and trying their luck in the cities living packed in high rise buildings. Sometimes three or more families occupy one apartment. As most of them are cheap labourers they are not able to provide reasonable education for their children. Are they truly having a better life than their ancestors? Are they really climbing the social latter? Is modernization really reducing the persistent inequality embedded in the divide between rural and urban life? Or is this divide living on, only now within the city?

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  1. China’s inequality in visuals « - October 22, 2012
  2. Chinese inequality « - October 22, 2012

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