Miner digs underground home

By Chen Xin (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-09-03 13:16
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Miner digs underground home
Chen Xinnian on Tuesday shows how he managed to build the underground apartment.

Man says he cannot afford a better apartment, so he hit upon unusual plan to get a bigger living space

ZHENGZHOU - Chen Xinnian, a 64-year-old former miner in Central China's Henan province, is now anxiously awaiting the results of a government investigation into the underground apartment that he has been digging for about four years.

Chen's dream for years has been to improve housing for his family, but because he cannot afford the high housing prices, he has been trying to built a home underground. He successfully dug an 50-square-meter space six meters below the ground in his own yard in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan.

"It is the first case of its kind in the city, and we are investigating," an official surnamed Wu from the Zhengzhou bureau of urban and rural planning, told China Daily.

Zhao Liang, an official from the policy department of the local property management bureau, said building an underground storage area in rural areas is permitted, but in urban areas, this is forbidden because it might cause safety problems to neighboring buildings.

Miner digs underground home
Chen Xinnian (left) and his wife Liu Shula dance in their underground apartment in Zhengzhou, Henan province, on Tuesday. Photos by Yan Huazhuang / for China Daily

Living in a shantytown about seven kilometers away from downtown Zhengzhou, Chen owns a comparatively big yard in front of his 20-sq-m room.

"It's quite hot in the summer to live in the bunkhouse and the roof leaks. I just wanted my daughters to live in a better place," Chen told China Daily.

A former mineworker, Chen said he came up with the idea four years ago.

"At the beginning, I told my wife about the idea, but she disagreed and said it's too dangerous," he said.

But Chen bought all the necessary tools, safety lamp and helmet, and started the project.

"Seeing that I was so dedicated to the construction, my wife began to assist me," he said.

After nearly two years' effort, a 50-sq-m space was dug out, including an entrance hall, corridors and an 8-sq-m decorated bedroom.

Chen poured cement steps into the underground area, and an electrical line from his above-ground home runs into the underground area.

In the bedroom, walls are painted white, a bookcase and a loudspeaker are placed in front of a bed on which bedclothes are tidily piled, according to a China Daily reporter's observation.

Along the corridors, some scooped-out holes hold fresh vegetables and fruits.

"The temperature underground is only a little above 20 C in summer. It's very cool," Chen said.

Chen is father to two daughters. The elder one got married and moved out. The younger one who works as a migrant worker comes back home sometimes and lives in the underground bedroom.

"Two years ago, I heard the news from the local government that my (above-ground) house would be demolished and we would have to move out from here. So I almost stopped the underground construction," he said.

But since then, he has not heard anything further from local officials about the proposed demolition.

Liu Shula, Chen's wife, said the underground apartment has cost them only a bit more than 1,000 yuan ($147). "Most of the materials were given by others, or recycled waste materials," she said.

Chen said a new apartment nearby sells at about 5,000 yuan per square meter, and the couple receive only 2,300 yuan a month in pensions.

"There's no way that we can buy an apartment," he said.

After the exposure of Chen's underground apartment by local media, Zhang Xiling, director of the low-rent housing work office of Zhongyuan district, on Thursday visited Chen and asked him to apply for a low-rent apartment.

"After handing in all the required files, we'll see whether Chen's family is qualified to enjoy low-rent housing," Zhang said.

Chen said if he qualifies, he will not continue the underground construction.

"I would be glad as long as my family has enough room to live in," he said.

Yan Xizhong, one of Chen's neighbors, told local media that residents in the community do not worry about the potential safety risk the underground construction might bring to them because their houses are located comparatively far away.

"I have visited Chen's underground apartment many times. It is great," Yan said.

Sheng Jundong and Yang Dongwei contributed to this story.

China Daily