Photos: Chinese family of 3 lives in transformed public restroom

March 28, 2012Jing Gao12 Comments, , , , , , , , , ,

From NetEase

Skyrocketing housing prices and rents in Chinese cities have always been a vexing issue for urban dwellers in the past decade. Luckily, necessity is the mother of invention. Migrant workers who really have to tighten their purse strings have come up with a variety of ideas, ranging from ‘Egg House’ to ‘Capsule Inn’, from ‘Ant colonies’ to ‘Air-raid shelters’, to avoid costly rents and get havened.

If you have read all those stories about how young migrants suck it up and tough it out in order to secure a relatively better life in the city, this one probably comes across less surprising: a family of three living in a men’s public restroom after it went through a makeover.


Zeng Lijun plays a song by Michael Jackson, his idol, on his desktop computer, the most valuable asset under their roof.

The 200-square-foot place called “home” is repurposed as a living room and workshop for the current resident, Zeng Lingjun, but the urinals jutting forth from the wall and the occasional bad smell they give off are ruthless reminders of its origin.

Zeng Lingjun was born in a small rural village in northeastern China’s Jilin province. In 1999, 20-year-old Zeng Lingjun received a letter of acceptance from a community college in the neighboring Heilongjiang province after he took the national college entrance exam. However, his family was too poor to afford the annual 5,000-yuan (US$602) tuition fee. Zeng gave up the opportunity of seeking higher education and came alone to Shenyang, the largest city in Northeast China, with only 50 yuan (US$6)in his pocket.


Zeng makes a living as a shoeshiner, cobbler and locksmith. His work is never slipshod. Over time, his quality services have attracted many customers and managed to keep them coming back.


By polishing shoes and duplicating keys, Zeng now makes 2,000 yuan (US$310) a month with his own hands.


Six years ago, Zeng Lijun learned from his friend that a small inn has a rarely used restroom for rent. He borrowed some money from his friend and leased the restroom from the inn. He removed the locking doors and the barrier of two stalls and put wooden planks over the squat toilets to form a twin bed. When sewer smell comes out from the restroom downstairs through the squat toilets underneath their bed, they flush the toilet.


During the day, he mostly polishes shoes downstairs.  When customers come to him for shoe repair and locksmithing, he brings them to his little workshop. After  the night falls, he winds up his businesses and comes back to his nest.

He met his wife, also a rural migrant, in 2008. They got married in 2010. Even thought he could not scrape together enough money for a real honeymoon, he wanted his wife to have a taste of better life. He took out 500 yuan from his savings and rented a 900-square-feet apartment in a high-end neighborhood. They lived there for six days before they came back to start their new life in the little restroom.


Zeng and his wife show the reporter one of his wedding photos taken at a professional studio.

The other two stalls were turned into a wardrobe, where they store their clothes, and their framed wedding photos, which Zeng has carefully put away, “We will only display these photos after we move into a new home. If we take them out now, they can be easily broken by our son.”

Their home is so small that there is not enough storage room. They put many things on top of the stalls. Sometimes Zeng Lingjun has to climb high up to reach them.


A poster sign pasted to their door advertises services that Zeng Lijun’s little business provides, including shoe repair, shoe cleaning, key duplication, and leather repair.


Their son is 14-month-old.

Zeng Lingjung loves to dance to the music in front of his son.


A portrait of Michael Jackson drawn by Zeng Lingjun.


Zeng’s family often eats napa cabbage, potato and spinach, all of which are among the cheapest in the farmer’s market.


Having no kitchen in their home, Zeng’s wife has to cook in the aisle on a small stove.


Many people can’t imagine life in a restroom. However, Zeng has been living here for almost six years. He said this is his place of happiness, where he married his wife and got a lovely, healthy son. He said, “I am content with my lot!”

Selected comments on NetEase

网易山东省济南市网友 ip:124.128.*.*2012-03-14 21:09:48 发表
Some people, while living in luxury villas, have hearts as filthy as toilets. Some people, while living in restrooms, have clean and pure hearts. Whether one’s life is happy or not depends on one’s attitude!

喜欢周星星 [网易上海市嘉定区网友]:2012-03-14 21:18:47 发表
A man with dreams, a man who loves his wife and son, a great man who live by the sweat of his face and work hard!! Your hats off to MJ, my hats off to you!!

网易广东省深圳市网友 ip:58.60.*.*2012-03-14 21:11:17 发表
This deserves people’s respect and admiration from the bottom of their hearts.

This man’s life is not easy. But his woman deserves even more respect. A typical Chinese woman with traditional values: faithful to him regardless of all circumstances. Having such a wife must be a great reward to this good man.

Look at that wedding photo. His wife actually looks quite pretty after getting well-groomed. I found that his wife have an attitude that values simplicity and purity, unlike some women who look homelier than her but cry for the moon and are full of finicky airs.

月夜咏叹曲 [网易广西贵港市网友]:2012-03-15 00:26:47 发表
Both of them are great persons. They are simple and yet not plain. Great happiness exists in their trivial life.

路人辛 [网易江苏省南京市网友]:2012-03-14 21:11:41 发表
No matter what you live in is a snail house, a restroom, or a presidential suite, to live is to be happy.

vchome [网易河北省石家庄市网友]:2012-03-15 06:48:25 发表
A very real life or an ordinary person. A good man. A great reporter who discovered real life. Thanks for sharing with us the happiness in mundane life.

力挺标哥 [网易四川省成都市网友]:2012-03-15 15:38:41 发表
It is actually very easy to achieve happiness. Happiness lives right inside our hearts.

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12 comments to “Photos: Chinese family of 3 lives in transformed public restroom”

  1. Guy In China | March 16, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    The guy looks happy enough, and it looks cleaner than a lot of flats that I’ve been to.

  2. [...] Family of three living in converted public bathroom. [Ministry of Tofu] [...]

  3. Jimmy Chen | March 18, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    Has the chinese housing situation gone so bad that people have resorted to living in restrooms? :(

    • GX | April 8, 2012 | Permalink Reply

      Jimmy- It is because they are migrant workers. In China, they have a age old system of residency cards for each city and region, a lot of the time if you don’t have those cards, it is hard to find rent and usually rent is way too expensive.

  4. queenkat | March 22, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    Congratulations to him and his family. He made something out of nothing and most importantly he is happy.

    Meanwhile in the US most people discuss online which is better Iphone or Droid?First world problems….

  5. John | March 28, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    Mmm… what a pleasure… This must be what they call “communism”… I love Chine… I want to live in this communist paradise…

  6. F0x | March 28, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    I came here to write how awful live chinese people but after read all I envy their happiness. Shame on me.

  7. Roger | March 29, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    Chinesse people are Brave heart, from México congratulations Zeng Lijun, your son will be bery proud of you write me.

    • Rodrigo de la Garza | March 30, 2012 | Permalink Reply

      Ponte a jalar cabron, y no estes navegando desde pemex, ya que nosotros los mexicanos te pagamos tu sueldo y tu pinche internet, pendejo!

  8. Cleo | May 25, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    This is probably why Chinese girls are demanding that prospective husbands “man up” and have money in the bank and home ownership before considering marriage – this makes it easier for other girls to require the same bare minimum which to a chivalrous man is a matter of course but for self centered men, they just need to find a woman in worse straits who will be willing to live this way. It’s not a love story when your baby is inhaling feces smell constantly.

  9. Cleo | May 25, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    not every impoverished man expects to marry young so he can have a sexual companion and home cooking while he attempts to scale the Gold Mountain – some men believe in self deprivation so that their future family wants for nothing and they are willing to be lonely and sense that they may never marry.

  10. Buy Phen375 | January 1, 2013 | Permalink Reply

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