Beijing officials hate marginalized people living in wells, seal them off with concrete


Chinese Society  Updated:Sat, Dec 7, 2013 02:08 AM   By Bernd Chang


Impoverished Beijing dwellers living in wells for years had expected for improvement of their living conditions after media reports, only to find they lose the last shelters overnight as officials rushed to seal them up with concrete.

We all know there are a great number of "rat people" cramming in underground windowless rooms in Beijing and many people across the country live in extremely small apartments or snail houses as called by Chinese netizens, but actually they are all lucky if compared to these only recently disclosed well dwellers in Beijing, the prosperous Chinese capital.

A report by Beijing Morning News on Thursday that several wells in downtown Beijing have been used as home by some old couples and migrant workers for years has caused sensation in China with all major online news portals putting up the story as headline.

A passer-by was surprised to find some people living in a well of the city central heating system on Lidu Garden Road in Chaoyang district and wrote a post about his findings in a forum, which drew the attention of a reporter from Beijing Morning News.

The reporter rushed to the spot and found at least two wells had been used as homes by some people. In one well, a couple in their seventies that make a living by begging had lived there for five to six years. In another well, a 53-year-old man with the surname Wang who earns his living by collecting scraps said he had lived there for 20 years to save the bed rent (not apartment rent of course) that normally costs 300 yuan per month in an  area where aparment price has rocked to 40 to 50 thousand yuan per square meter.

Local residents said more than 20 wells in the area had been used by poor people as homes and the well dwellers are mostly migrant workers making a living on collecting scraps or washing cars.

The "well homes" are about 3 to 4 meters deep under the ground and the bottom is an area of around 3 square meters, which is just enough for spreading out a quit.

The well dwellers use some plastic foil or paperboard to spread out on the well cover to protect their homes from dust and water.

As there is no water, electricity supply in the wells, the dwellers use wax candle to light up at night and wash their clothes and bath with water from a nearby water well.

A pair of worn-out quits, shabby clothes, and several bowls, cups, and bottles of pickled vegetables are what the dwellers have as belongings which are crammed in the gaps between the rusty heating system tubings.

Although the air in the wells smells filthy, as the wells are part of the city central heating system, it is much warmer in the wells than outside on the ground, thus providing a relatively comfortable place for the dwellers to live through the freezing cold Beijing winters.

What the dwellers worry most is rain. They use plastic foil or umbrella to cover the mouth of the well to fend off the rain, but when the rain is heavy, what they can do is just going out and sleeping out on the streets and coming back to air their wet belongs after the rain.

The Beijing Morning News report has made a stir among Chinese online citizens with many of them being unable to imagine people can live in wells with such little space in the prosperous capital city of China and others questioning whether the government has done anything to help the impoverished residents.

A city civil affairs officer of Chaoyang district told reporters that "they had taken care of the poor migrant workers since 15 years ago, persuaded them to leave the wells but they still returned to the wells in the end. "  The saying was verified by some well dwellers who said the officials had taken them to the relief stations, but since they could not make money except feeding themselves there, they chose to leave and return to the wells.

The Beijing Morning News report also aroused interest for national and even international media to cover the story. On Friday, more reporters appeared in the area in Chaoyang district where "well homes" were found. And more well dwellers were discovered. One of them is 66 years old woman Quan Youzhi, a migrant worker from Henan province. She told reporters that she makes a living by recycling to support her two sons, one of whom is mentally disabled.

New Beijing News interviewed one of the well dwellers Wang Xiuqing, 52, from Hebei province, who said she had lived in her "well home" for more than 10 years. In order to pay the family planning fine of 60,000 yuan for her third child who is now a high school student but sill not allowed to register her Hukou (residence certificate), she stays in Beijing as migrant worker and currently she earns about 2000 yuan a month by washing private cars. But washing cars in the area is ruled illegal by authority so she has to do the car cleaning job secretly.

Wang Xiuqing told New Beijing News that she was once captured by Chengguan (city management officers)  who imprisoned her in a dog cage for days.

The intensive reporting on the impoverished well dwellers has apparently put the Beijing officials on grill. Instead of helping the well dwellers to find a better shelter meanwhile letting them earn money in the city, just one day after the Beijing Morning News report, officials from Chaoyang district dispatched workers to the area and sealed off all the wells with concrete.

It appears what the Chinese officials cares most is always the city face, the superficial prosperity and affluence of their jurisdictional area and to ensure no troublesome complaints and criticism against them.

In July 2012, Guangzhou officials sparked criticism from Chinese online population after erecting dense concrete cones under viaducts to drive away homeless wanderers.

As to the livelihood of the well dwellers and other poor Chinese citizens, it is certainly not the concerns of the so-called civil servants of China.

[Images via and]

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