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As Many As 70 Million Chinese live in caves


A teacher in China prepares dinner in the cave he calls home, near Ziyun in the country's southern Guizhou province.
Tens of million in China have gone underground — to live.
Over 30 million Chinese make their homes in caves, according to a recent report by the Los Angeles Times.
Reporting from Yanan, China, the newspaper details the varieties of cave dwellers’ experiences.
Many live in Shaanxi province, where the region’s porous soil is particularly well-suited for easy digging.
The caves, called yaodong in Chinese, are usually dug into the side of a mountain. Often rice paper or blankets hang from semicircular entrances to serve as makeshift doors.
Swankier caves have several chambers and are secured with brick masonry. Some even have electricity and running water, the newspaper reported.
“Most aren’t so fancy, but I’ve seen some really beautiful caves: high ceilings and spacious with a nice yard out front where you can exercise and sit in the sun,” said Ren Shouhua, who grew up in a cave in Yanan.  Shouhua, 46, told the Times that he moved from the cave into a concrete-block house when he got a job in the city of Xian in his 20s, but plans to return to his life as a cave dweller after retirement.
“It’s cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” he explained. “When I get old, I’d like to go back to my roots.”
A basic one-bedroom cave without plumbing rents for about $30 a month. A cave with three bedrooms and a bathroom might sell for $46,000, the Times reported.  But according to one local, many people aren’t giving up their spaces.
“A lot of people come here looking to rent our caves, but nobody wants to move out,” said Chen Wei, a 43-year-old Communist Party official who lives in a cave near Yanan.
“It’s like living in a villa,” Wei said. “Caves in our village are as comfortable as posh apartments in the city.”
Architects understand why the lifestyle can be attractive.
“It’s energy efficient,” said Liu Jiaping, director of the Green Architecture Research Center in Xian.
“The farmers can save their arable land for planting if they build their houses in the slope,” Jiaping said. “It doesn’t take much money or skill to build.
“Then again, it doesn’t suit modern complicated lifestyles very well. People want to have a fridge, washing machine, television.”
That might not matter to China’s cave dwellers, many of whom revel in a simple, affordable lifestyle.
“Life is easy and comfortable here,” said Ma Liangshui, 76, who lives in a one-room cave south of Yanan. He has a bed, a fire pit for cooking, and electricity to fuel a single light bulb.
“I’ve lived all my life in caves, and I can’t imagine anything different.”

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