Millions of Chinese citizens come from across the country with dreams of making it big in the capital. Faced with sky-high property prices, living underground is often the only option for this legion of low-waged migrant workers, who make up one-third of Beijing’s estimated 20 million people. But they have been unkindly dubbed the “rat tribe” for making a home in Beijing’s 6,000 basements and air raid shelters — about one-third of the city’s underground space. They pay monthly rents of 300 to 700 yuan ($50 to $110) for partitioned rooms of seven to eight square meters, or sometimes, a closet-like space barely wider than a single bed.
China’s Rat Tribe was originally presented at Photoville 2012 as part of a Magnum Foundation initiative to explore the meaning and value of home through a series of photographic installations and happenings that challenge our conventional understanding of what home is and what home means to us.
Sim Chi Yin is a photographer based in Beijing and a member of VII Photo Agency’s Mentor Program for emerging talents. She was recently selected for PDN30 – Photo District News’ Top 30 “Emerging Photographers to Watch” in 2013.
When she’s not working on personal projects on social issues in the region, she shoots regularly for The New York Times. Since going freelance in 2011, she has also photographed for Le Monde, Newsweek, TIME magazine, Vogue USA, Financial Times Weekend Magazine, New York Times Sunday Magazine and Stern. In 2010, she was awarded a Magnum Foundation “Photography and Human Rights” fellowship at New York University.
A fourth-generation overseas Chinese, Chi Yin was born and grew up in Singapore. She completed history and international relations degrees at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Chi Yin was a journalist and foreign correspondent for The Straits Times, Singapore’s national English language daily, for nine years before quitting to shoot.
She sometimes dreams in mute, black-and-white mode, but in real life is fascinated by colour and light, and is at home in both English and Mandarin Chinese.