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Homelessness in China


Homelessness is not a social problem normally associated with China; however, it appears to be growing, particularly among the population of migrants who have moved into China's cities.

On December 7, the English language newspaper China Daily reported on a woman who has lived in a well in Beijing for nearly 20 years:

Every day for the past 20 years, Quan Youzhi, 66, has lifted a well lid weighing at least 10 kilograms and climbed down 3 meters to spend the night underground.

The woman from Shangqiu, Henan province, does not work on underground facilities. Instead, she calls the deserted underground compartment home. The compartment is near Lido Park in Beijing's Chaoyang district.

It measures 3 meters by 3 meters and is about 2 meters high. It is filled with rusty pipes that crowd the already small space. Inside are simple furnishings: a few quilts on a thin mat, some candles, two coats and a broken umbrella. A washroom in Lido Park offers Quan a place to wash herself and to use the toilet.

"Twenty years," Quan answered when asked the obvious question. "I don't have money".

The space is a good place to live in winter, she said because it's warm. In the summer, however, she stays aboveground because it gets too hot. During heavy rain, Quan moves to a nearby pavilion because her home will be flooded.

Quan said chengguan, urban patrol officers, frequently block off access to her home by welding the lid shut.

"I bought a metal saw and sawed the weld off after they went away," she said. "I don't want to go back home," Quan said. She has two sons, one in his 40s and single, the other married with two children and in his 30s.

The house she had inhabited in her hometown collapsed, Quan said, adding that her biggest wish is to get enough money to rebuild it.

But Quan makes only about 20 yuan ($3.3) per day collecting bottles. "One hundred bottles can be sold for eight yuan," she said.

"I buy food, which is usually steamed bread, and medicine. So I can save very little," she said that she has high blood pressure and gallstones.

She was once taken to a rescue center but left after only a few days.

Quan's husband, Liu Wancang, 68, lives in a similar compartment nearby, but they seldom communicate. "He often quarrels with me," Quan said.

On Friday the underground utility compartments were blocked with cement by the local Jiangtai community authority.

The website Caixin Online recently ran a slideshow on "the changing geography of homelessness in China."

It's a potent reminder of an underreported social problem in China. Pray for Christians and the Church to reach out and minister to China's homeless.

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio