May 11, 2018 / 8:43 AM / 3 months ago

Better off in a cave: Chinese count costs of apartments in anti-poverty campaign

LIN COUNTY, China (Reuters) - Seventy-year-old Chinese farmer Guo Jiaming has lived most of her life in a cave, shunning modernity for a home carved into a mountainside that keeps her cool in summer and warm in winter.

“A cave is convenient and it’s warmer,” said Guo, explaining why she preferred her home to alternatives such as a high-rise city apartment, despite the cold winters of China’s northern province of Shanxi.

“An apartment building is only heated when the central heating is turned on,” she said.

“Old people like me can’t stand this cold during the winter,” Guo added, pointing to a wood-burning heater that warms her cave and the bricks under her bed.

Local authorities want Guo and other cave-dwellers to swap their homes for apartments in a nationwide campaign to relocate 2.8 million people to new homes this year.

The drive is part of efforts to eliminate extreme poverty by the end of 2020 in China, where about 30 million people live on less than a dollar a day.

The relocations are voluntary, say residents of Lin county, but Guo sees no reason to abandon her cave house.

A form of shelter known as “yaodong” that dates back thousands of years, cave houses, which typically have several small rooms with earthen walls, are common in China’s hilly north, where they are carved out of slopes and cliffs.

Li Caidong, 68, who has lived in a cave his entire life in Lin county, stands outside his cave, at sunset in Lin county, Shanxi province, China March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Joseph Campbell

“IT’S TERRIBLE”

Nationally, authorities say the relocations are going well.

“Our work has been proceeding smoothly,” Liu Yongfu, an official handling poverty alleviation and development efforts, told a news conference in Beijing in March. “The common folk are very supportive.”But authorities in Lin county declined to comment on their relocation plans when contacted by Reuters.

Cave dwellers who have moved say they regret shifting, because they found bare concrete walls with no plumbing or electricity in their new blocks, instead of the finished units they had been promised, including furniture and television sets.

Zhao Yugui, a 54-year-old farmer assigned to a family-sized apartment, said he now lived 10 km (6.2 miles) from his fields.

“I can only ride a motorbike back to work in my fields and take care of old people and my wife,” Zhao said, showing a visitor round his flat, where wires protruded from bare concrete.

Hua Xiaomo, 50, recently moved into a nine-storey building in a different neighborhood.

“It’s terrible,” she said, adding that when she lived in a cave, she never had to walk upstairs.

“Sometimes it’s really inconvenient. The lights aren’t bright either. It’s dark,” she said, describing the area around her apartment block.

The cost of living in the city also chafes elderly farmers, who earn a meager 500 to 800 yuan ($80 to $126) a year. They say the government should provide an allowance.

“Those who leave need to have money. Where does that money come from?” asked 68-year-old Li Congdai.

Slideshow (16 Images)

Writing by Elias Glenn; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Clarence Fernandez

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