Photos of Chinese micro-apartments reveal the terrifying scope of a housing crisis

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Aly Song/Reuters

China’s population is exploding: Government data predict some 3.4 billion people will occupy the country by 2030.

All those people will need somewhere to live.

Over the past several years, Chinese developers have coped with a shortage of affordable housing by downsizing many units to a couple hundred square feet at maximum.

In these micro-apartments, a cramped lifestyle becomes the norm. People have just enough room to sleep and eat. And without a viable income to buy more space, some people live out their remaining years there.

Here’s what life is like on the inside.


Micro-apartments have become a booming business for developers. They can divide an entire building into hundreds of units knowing there is no shortage of demand for cheap housing.

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Reuters

The country’s largest developer, China Vanke, often showcases its line of micro-apartments at the Pearl River Delta Real Estate Fair, in the city of Guangzhou.

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Reuters

As in all tiny apartments, efficient storage keeps the room from feeling too constricting.

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Reuters

Programmers at the N-Wei Technology Company, in Beijing, often share rooms at their factory micro-apartments. The lifestyle prepares many young workers for a cramped middle-age.

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Jason Lee/Reuters

It’s also common for recent graduates to live in “youth housing,” 200-square-foot units developed by China Vanke. With little money from their jobs, new tenants resign themselves to live in sparse, one-room units.

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Bobby Yip/Reuters

Some apartments are spacious enough for a personal kitchen and laundry service. But many still rely on communal toilets down the hall.

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Bobby Yip/Reutersz

The most creative youth apartment tenants maximize their space through clever design.

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Bobby Yip/Reuters

By old age, little may have changed. In Hefei, patients who can’t afford a bed at the local hospital receive treatment in one of the 86-square-foot rooms in a nearby apartment building.

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Jianan Yu/Reuters

The lucky ones retain at least some of their autonomy. Wang Cunchun, 92, lives with his 62-year-old son in a 107-square-foot apartment in Shanghai, China. In housing-poor China, the unit may become the most valuable heirloom.

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Aly Song/Reuters