Faced with sky-high property prices, living underground is often the only option for this legion of low-waged migrant workers, who make up one-third of Beijing’s estimated 20 million people.
But it may now be a matter of time before the basement dwellers face eviction.
In mid-December of 2010, the authorities issued new regulations contradicting earlier ones, effectively stopping basement leases from being renewed.
These images tell the broader story of a China on the move, of the world’s biggest tide of migration, and of a generational shift to an urban income and lifestyle. Curious about this underworld, Sim Chi Yin started photographing it in 2010. If she went into it hoping to document the tough and musty lives these migrants lead, she also been inspired by their spunky fighting spirit and life-affirming aspirations.
Waiters, karaoke hostesses, hairdressers, chefs, security guards, domestic workers and kitchen helpers, these basement dwellers are the backbone of Beijing’s service industry. But they have been unkindly dubbed the “rat tribe” for making a home in Beijing’s 6,000 basements and air raid shelters — about one-third of the city’s underground space.
Sim Chi Yin is a photographer based in Beijing, a member of VII Photo Agency.
Chi Yin was a finalist in W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography with a personal project on Chinese gold miners in 2013.
She is on the British Journal of Photography’s Ones to Watch list of photographers in 2014. She was also among the PDN30 – Photo District News’ top 30 emerging photographers – in 2013.
She works on projects on social issues in the region, and since going freelance in 2011 has also done photo, multimedia and video commissions for TIME, the New York Times, The New Yorker, National Geographic, Le Monde, Newsweek, Vogue USA, GQ France, Financial Times Weekend Magazine, New York Times Sunday Magazine and Stern.
This is a digital presentation.