30 Million Chinese People Live In Caves

By Mike Devlin on Monday, November 18, 2013
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“Democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it.” —Isaac Asimov

In A Nutshell

When we think of China, we often consider hopelessly overcrowded cities like Beijing and Hong Kong, but in more remote areas of the country, some people live like hobbits—in caves dug from hillsides. This is not a rare phenomenon; over 30 million Chinese live in caves, nearly as many people as live in all of Canada.

The Whole Bushel

China has far and away more people than any other country in the world, but much of the nation is sparsely populated, with the vast majority of residents living near the major cities of the east like Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. But outside these urban areas, some Chinese have taken to living in caves called yaodong. One area that hosts many such cave dwellers is the Shaanxi province, where the soil is conducive to digging. Neighborhoods can resemble Tolkien’s Hobbiton, with burrowed entrances winding up a hillside in terraced levels. It has been estimated that over 30 million Chinese live in such a fashion.

Of course, the major benefit of cave dwelling is cost. Rents in China’s biggest cities can be enormous, thousands of dollars a month. A cave on the other hand, can be had for $30 a month or so. Yet this is hardly the only advantage to this seemingly prehistoric lifestyle. For the environmentally conscious, one can be assured that living embedded in the hillside leaves a relatively small carbon footprint. The caves are also well-insulated; cool in the summer and warm in the winter months, and are surprisingly resilient to natural disasters like earthquakes.

While the majority of these abodes are as humble as they sound—earthen walls and cloth hung over the entrances—others can be quite elaborate. Some caves have brick walls, electricity, running water, and multiple bedrooms. Many people sleep on stone beds called kang, which are cool in the summer but have hollows beneath them that can be heated with fire on chilly evenings. Not surprisingly, this rural lifestyle does not resonate with China’s youth, the majority of whom move away from the caves and into more modern apartments when they become adults.

Show Me The Proof

BBC Travel: The cave dwellers of 21st-century China
NY Daily News: More than 30 million people in China live underground in caves

  • Marozia

    Do they pay state rates and taxes for living in these caves?

    • Hadeskabir

      Apparently yes.

    • leeo268

      Government own every hills and mountains.

  • cheese chisel

    amazing – people here in the US should try this

    • lotusplague

      Yes. Especially in So Cal. I would happily pay $30 a month rather than $1400! And the climate’s so nice…

  • Cid_Artanis

    The earthquake that has had the largest loss of life was in Shaanxi Province in China…it is estimated that 800,000 people died….mostly in these caves.

  • Timothy53

    I can see where this could become a real lifestyle. Rather than building up, we begin to dig in. Just a different way of thinking. Though I am pretty sure these poor people did it just to make shelter when nothing else was available.

  • Jimmy

    If I remember correctly, I think China’s current leader was born in a cave.

    • Jimmy

      Nope. I just looked it up. He was born in Beijing nearly 700 miles away. I was wrong on a spectacular level.

      • Hadeskabir

        At least you made me chuckle when I read your first comment.

        • Lino

          And the second one is funny aswell 😛

    • leeo268

      He had lived in a cave in early part of his life due to exile.

  • Passin’ Through

    This is a loose definition of cave. The way I understand it is caves are natural and these are holes dug in the dirt or into sides of mountains.

  • Exiled Phoenix

    *shrugging* So what.

  • Hadeskabir

    Wow, they weren’t kidding when they said that Chinese people live in every hole they can find.

  • Nomsheep

    Would be impressive to see.

  • JustPassingThrough

    I’d love to see a documentary on this…it’d be fascinating to learn about, although probably just everyday life to them.

  • Errkism

    Honestly sounds like an awesome place to live, of course I’d want the whole package though. Electricity, internet, television, plumbing etc.

  • Lino

    Your saying that “China has far and away more people than any other country” when they have 1.3 billion. India have 1.1. Im not saying that 0.2 billion isnt much, but its pretty close.

  • Happy Merryl

    Oh no, not dwarves again…