Before China came under the sway of Communist rule, many of the impoverished people of the country's southwestern Guizhou province opted to live in caves rather than face the frequent assaults by the region's criminal element. The cave complexes in Guizhou are massive, and until recently, were unknown to those who hailed from outside of the province. Its connection to the outside world is a small one. In order to enter Guizhou, visitors to the region need to navigate a narrow mountain footpath. The difficulties that getting to Guizhou poses has gifted its people with a rare commodity in our increasingly connected world: seclusion.
But of late, the region's cave dwellers have become less cloistered. Tourists eager to see cave dwellers' way of life have been making the trek to Guizhou. This is good news for Guizhou's cave dwellers: The tourists have proven happy to pay for the privilege of renting space in the caves. It's also bad news: the Chinese government has noted that some of its citizens are hiding out in caves. Because of the optics this presents, they've been encouraging the cave dwellers to move onto farm properties, complete with modest houses and a relocation payment – let's call it a bribe – of $9,500. Five of the cave dwelling families were totally into the deal. The other 18? Not so much.
From The Globe & Mail:
The remaining 18 families have held on stubbornly to their homes inside the cave. They say that the new homes are too small, that they fear losing access to their land, and that they alone, because of their historical connection to the cave, should have the right to independently control its small tourism economy.
“The residents of this cave should be the administrators of tourism here, regardless of whether or not we are paid,” said Wang Qiguo, head of the local village, who established the first hostel there.
As he spoke, his wife prepared a steaming array of dishes made from home-smoked pork and local vegetables grown in the valley.
After all, Wang noted, “The best thing about this cave is its inhabitants.”
The Globe & Mail offers a short but fascinating profile of the cave dwellers, their interactions with the Chinese government, and the difficulty of maintaining an unusual way of life in the face of modernity's demand for social conformity. If you've got a few minutes, take a read: your eyeballs and brain will thank you.