Chinese girl grows up in secret cellar as poor family hides illegal expansion to tiny home
A cupboard in small bicycle garage reveals door to hidden underworld undiscovered for a decade until a tip-off to housing authorities
A mother and daughter in eastern China have been living for the past decade in an illegally excavated basement without windows or ventilation, in the same city district that has garnered large-sum investment from real estate developers in recent years.
Local media reported that the woman and her young daughter, now 18, were sleeping in the secret cellar, while her husband and one of her parents, 70, occupied the ground floor of their home in an 8 square metres (86 sq ft) bicycle garage in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.
The family dug out the illegal basement two years after buying the space in 2006, after finding the garage too small for them to live in and store their belongings.
“Top floors can be expanded upwards, but we live in a ground floor garage. There’s no choice but to expand downwards,” the woman, surnamed Tang, told the Yangtze Evening News, which described her as the dwelling’s owner.
The family home is located in the same Suzhou district of Gusu that has received large-scale investment from national developers in recent years, raising housing prices across the second-tier city west of Shanghai.
The investigations that brought the clandestine cellar to light were part of a Gusu district initiative to document residences and identify housing violations.
Several neighbours interviewed by local media professed to be unaware of the living space dug out underneath the garage’s cement floor, but local authorities received a tip-off during the housing inspection campaign.
Although authorities reportedly inspected the garage on two separate occasions, they were unable to find evidence of the cellar or detect any hint of apprehension from the family.
“We carefully inspected the whole ground area but we didn’t find any underground passages,” Gao Xiaojing, secretary of the Xintiandi Homeland North Community, where the garage was located, told Yangtze Evening News. “We were puzzled.”
Last week, authorities received an additional tip that the entrance was located not on the floor, but inside a cupboard. On this third inspection, authorities opened the cupboard and discovered an opening with a ladder leaning up against it – the entrance to the hidden room.
The family has been evicted for the time being as the cellar is filled in, and they are staying with relatives, according to the newspaper.
Residents and authorities are working together to create a new set of residential regulations for the area.