21st-Century Cavemen – 30 Million Chinese Live in Caves

This title might seem a bit shocking, but considering China’s total population, 30 million really isn’t very much. Still, millions of people living in caves in this modern era is kind of strange, wouldn’t you say?

According to a report by The Los Angeles Times, millions of Chinese people have gone underground, to live in caves. So I guess calling someone a caveman in China really shouldn’t be taken as an insult, especially if you consider many of these burrowed dwellings have all the facilities of modern homes. Because they take advantage of the existing landscape, China’s cave houses don’t require too many other building materials, and since the hills and mountains they are dug into act as natural insulation all year round, they are more energy efficient than most conventional family homes.

Photo: taikuncio

But don’t imagine you can see this kind of cave dwellings all around China. Most of them are found in the Shanxi province, where the porous yellow soil is relatively easy to dig into. Called “yaodong” these inhabited caves have semicircular entrances covered with rice paper or hanging rugs which act as makeshift doors. Most of them aren’t very fancy, but modern amenities like plumbing, electricity and phone service can be set up if the inhabitants have enough money to spend. The majority of China’s cave dwellers can do without all these expensive features, though, and prefer to enjoy their homes’ natural bonuses – high ceilings and lots of space with a nice yard out front where you can exercise and sit in the sun.

Photo: Tour Beijing

A 2007 report showed most of China’s cave houses were inhabited by the elderly, while the young population migrated toward the big city and moved into concrete homes, but there are some young people who dream of going back to their childhood caves, at some point. “When I get old, I’d like to go back to my roots,” says Ren Shouhua, who grew up in a cave, but moved to the city in his 20s.  As for the older cave dwellers, they wouldn’t dream of abandoning their ancestral homes for the comfort of modern residences. “Life is easy and comfortable here. I’ve lived all my life in caves, and I can’t imagine anything different,” says 76-year-old Ma Liangshui, who lives in a one-room cave with a bed, a fire pit for cooking, and electricity to power a single light bulb.

Photo: James L. Wright

Believe it or not, China’s cave homes are actually in high demand. A lot of people come here looking to rent our caves, but nobody wants to move out,” says one owner. The ones that are for sale cost around $46,000, and for people who just want to experience life as a modern caveman, burrowed dwellings are rented for about $30 a month. It’s no Ritz-Carlton, but you definitely won’t forget the experience.