On the outskirts Yan’an, a bustling city of over 2 million in China’s Shaanxi province, one of the hottest properties on the market is an energy-efficient, 750-square-foot abode with three bedrooms and a bathroom. The price? $46,000. The cozy historic home is located in a desirable, close-knit community and boasts great potential. However, interested parties should note that the home receives little natural light because, well, it’s located inside of a manmade cave.
While many Westerners — and not just doomsday preppers and Batman fanboys — spend a fair amount of time daydreaming about hiding out in a well-appointed converted cave/lair for a spell (I’m mighty smitten with this charming troglodyte dwelling in France’s Loire Valley), for more than 30 million Chinese homeowners and renters, most in the Shaanxi province, cave life has long been a way of life.
The Los Angeles Times recently published an eye-opening real estate trend piece on traditional — and increasingly desirable — cave housing in China. Most of Shaanxi’s cave dwellings are carved into loess cliffs (again, to be clear, the cave homes are excavated by humans and usually not inside of natural caves) and can range from bare bones (one room, no plumbing or electricity) to larger living arrangements with electricity, full plumbing, multiple rooms, brick masonry reinforcement, and a host of modern amenities. There's an underground home for every taste and budget, I suppose.
The Times describes typical decorating habits of Chinese cave dwellers: “Each of the province's caves, yaodong, in Chinese, typically has a long vaulted room dug into the side of a mountain with a semicircular entrance covered with rice paper or colorful quilts. People hang decorations on the walls, often a portrait of Mao Tse-tung or a photograph of a movie star torn out of a glossy magazine.”
Homey! And Mao Tse-tung you say? Let's not forget that Yan'an was, once upon a time, China's "Red Capital" and that Chairman Mao lived in a yaodong himself during the city's communist heyday from 1937 to 1948.
Mao-themed decorating aside, thanks to year-round natural insulation and the fact that they’re built into the landscape without needing a plethora of additional building materials, Chinese cave homes boast significant eco-appeal. Remarks cave housing expert Liu Jiaping of the Green Architecture Research Center in the Shaanxi capital city of Xi'an: "It is energy efficient. The farmers can save their arable land for planting if they build their houses in the slope. It doesn't take much money or skill to build.” One thing yaodongs are not? Earthquake-proof as the super-deadly 1556 Shaanxi Earthquake proved.
While some cave homes in Shaanxi do enter the market for rent or sale, a majority are passed down from generation to generation. Ren Shouhua, a 46-year-old driver living in Xi'an, was proudly born and raised in a yaodong community. Eventually, in his 20s, he moved to the big city — and by big, I mean real big as Xi'an has a population of over 8 million — for work where he lives in a non-subterranean concrete block house. But once a yaodong dweller always a yaodong dweller — Ren is actively plotting to move back into a cave home when he retires. “It's cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It's quiet and safe. When I get old, I'd like to go back to my roots." Adds Ren: “Most [cave homes] aren't so fancy, but I've seen some really beautiful caves: high ceilings and spacious with a nice yard out front where you can exercise and sit in the sun.”
Sounds lovely actually once you get around the communism, potential lack of indoor plumbing, and the earthquake thing. Anyone out there stepped foot in a yaodong while traveling through the Shaanxi province?
Via [Los Angeles Times]
MNN tease photo via Cancan Chu/Getty Images