Impoverished Chinese desperate enough to live underground in Beijing's pipeline system have had the entrances to their makeshift homes blocked by cement, following recent reports about the subterranean residents.
Among them was 66-year-old Quan Youzhi, who told the state-owned English-language China Daily that she has inhabited a three-metre by three-metre underground utility compartment in the capital's affluent Chaoyang district for 20 years.
Quan, from Shangqiu in Henan province, collects bottles for a living, earning about 20 yuan ($3.50) a day. Her village, where her house collapsed, is about 760 kilometres south of the capital.
Wang Xiuqing, a farmer from Luanping, Hebei province, roughly 180 kilometres northeast, also lived in an underground dwelling for 10 years in the same luxury neighbourhood, according to reports. He made about 2,000 yuan a month ($350) washing cars, but he said it was not enough to support three children and pay off a fine for violating China's one-child population control policy.
The manhole entrance to his and Quan's underground dwellings were sealed with cement on Dec. 6 by local officials, citing safety concerns.
The action followed a report in the Chinese-language Beijing Morning News about people living in what the Hug China blog described as "well homes" — essentially pipeline networks about three metres below street level and linking the Chaoyang area's heating system.
The evictions have underscored Beijing's affordable housing crisis, as more migrant workers leave their villages in hopes of finding prosperity in the big city. According to the bilingual and independent China Dialogue environmental news site, statistics from the latest census showed about seven million (35 per cent) of Beijing's 20 million residents are migrants.
As many as two million people, or a 10th of the city's population, have been forced to live underground in old bomb shelters, basements or tunnels, according to the U.S. news website Quartz.
Quartz also reported that the latest plight of Beijing's homeless migrant workers has triggered an outpouring of sympathy and anger on Chinese social media. Online comments urged citizens to help the displaced people find jobs, while others criticized officials for kicking them out of the only shelter they could find.
The attention has so far reportedly worked out in Wang's favour. He told China Daily that he has recently received a job offer at a university, along with free meals and lodging, though there were no other details given.
The number of public acts of social unrest in China grew to an estimated 180,000 protests in 2010 alone, according to estimates by Sun Liping, a professor at Tsinghua University.
Outraged Chinese netizens have also voiced anger online about corruption, environmental issues and labour rights. One object of public scorn was Yang Dacai, a former civil servant who was targeted by bloggers who circulated photos of him on the country's Sina Weibo microblog, and nicknamed him "Brother watch" for his apparent fondness for luxury timepieces.
Yang was photographed last year smiling as he assessed the damage from a road accident that killed 36 people. The photos and questions about how Yang could afford such expensive watches on a civil servant's salary led to a corruption inquiry. Yang was accused of "serious wrongdoing" and in September, he was reportedly sentenced to 14 years in jail for charges including accepting bribes.