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Student Secretly Lives Under Mall Staircase for Six Months, Prepares for Exams

The secret dwelling has sparked discussions on housing affordability and rent hikes in metropolises like Shanghai

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8:27 PM HKT, Fri November 17, 2023 2 mins read

A compact space measuring about 10 square meters, consisting of a tent with a mattress, a desk and an ergonomic chair — this was the six-month home for one Chinese student, who was recently found secretly living under a staircase in a Shanghai shopping mall while he prepared for China’s notoriously rigorous university entrance exam.


A viral video clip on Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese counterpart, showed the boy’s unique living quarters. Despite dwelling in a makeshift abode with limited room, he transformed the area into a functional living space, while diligently keeping it clean.


To meet his daily electricity needs, the resourceful student relied on an inverter attached to a power bank, which enabled him to power his electronic devices and a kettle for hot water, occasionally venturing into the mall to use a charging outlet.


The boy was spotted by a security guard several months ago, who turned a blind eye after the student explained that he needed a tranquil study environment in order to prepare for the approaching gaokao exams, and claimed he would leave once the exams were over. However, for reasons unknown, the boy remained until he was found again in October.


The boy’s innovative, cost-effective study zone has garnered admiration among Chinese netizens who are all too familiar with the immense pressure faced by gaokao-takers.


“People who are strong enough never complain about their circumstances,” reads one top comment on Douyin.


“He saved six months’ worth of rent in Shanghai, a city with skyrocketing rent prices,” said another user.


The viral story has once again put Shanghai’s housing rates and high cost of living under the microscope. The metropolis ranks the 12th most expensive on consulting firm Mercer’s 2023 Cost of Living survey, just ahead of Beijing.


As of October 2023, the average cost of housing in Shanghai was approximately 71,255 RMB (about $9,833) per square meter, and the average monthly rent was 109 RMB (about $15.10) per square meter, according to real estate data providers.


Families of the 2023 gaokao takers cheer them on outside the test venue.

Families of the 2023 gaokao takers cheer them on outside the test venue


Others expressed concerns about the boy’s plight, and about potential safety issues.


One user on Douyin said it may not be a big deal for the boy, who must have “no choice but to live like this.”


Another Weibo user said the mall’s only option was to eject the student, and that the shopping center would “not be off the hook” if something went wrong.


“Where are his parents?” another user asked.


The boy’s claims of preparing for the gaokao have sparked renewed attention towards China’s most crucial exam.


According to China’s Ministry of Education, in 2022, the gaokao welcomed 11.93 million registered candidates, of whom only 4.76 million were admitted to undergraduate programs — an acceptance rate of about 40%. This year, the competition was even fiercer, with a record 12.91 million people registered.


The intense competition surrounding China’s most important exam prompts students to explore various preparation strategies, as the pivotal 2-3 day exam is regarded by many as a life-changing step towards a successful future.


Images via Weibo

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