(From The Globe and Mail)

When 16-year-old Xie Junwen comes home from school, he steps off the bus in an industrial corner of southern Beijing, walks through the dilapidated courtyard of an apartment building, steps around the entrance, into a murky-smelling corner, and makes his way through a narrow alley that leads to an unlit service staircase. He follows this staircase down, and down, and down.

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There, four metres below the surface, is a warren of small rooms joined by a labyrinth of hallways. I step into Junwen’s. It’s the size of a typical 16-year-old’s bedroom in the West: nine by 16 feet. Bare fluorescent bulbs augment a dim light trickling from a manhole-covered trough high above the top of the room’s outside wall.

But this is not, in fact, Junwen’s bedroom. It is his family’s entire home: He shares the airless space, that houses two beds and a desk, with his mother, father and six-year-old brother. They share a tiny kitchen and a rudimentary bathroom with three other families, 12 people in total, who live in similar murky rooms. Read More

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