A Man Was Just Arrested After Allegedly Living In A Shanghai Mall For Six Months

Published November 10, 2023

The unidentified man had reportedly converted the hidden space beneath a mall staircase into a makeshift home, complete with a mattress, a table, a computer, a kettle, and an ergonomic chair.

Shanghai Mall Apartment

Shanghai DailyA young man was found to be living underneath the stairs of a mall in Shanghai for six months before being caught.

A young man in China was arrested after it was discovered he had been living under a staircase in a Shanghai mall for six months.

The man, who has not been identified, had set up a makeshift apartment in the hidden space beneath the mall’s stairs, where he went almost entirely undetected for over half a year.

Despite the space being only 10 square meters, he managed to create a fairly cozy setup there, complete with a tent, a mattress, a table, a computer, and an ergonomic chair. Reportedly, he would come out into the central mall area periodically to charge his devices, including his laptop, mobile phone, and even an electric kettle.

The man was first discovered several months ago by a mall security guard, but the guard reportedly allowed him to stay when the young man told him he needed a quiet place to study for his university entrance exams, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

The national university entrance exams, or gaokao, are incredibly competitive. Nearly 13 million people registered for the two-day exam this year, and less than 50 percent of students are accepted.

But the entrance exams take place in June — and this student didn’t move out as he’d promised. He was arrested on Oct. 30, 2023.

Footage of the young man in the crawl space went viral on social media after it was reported in the media. Some users praised him for finding a savvy way to save on rent.

“What a good way to save rent in a city like Shanghai,” said one user on Douyin, the Chinese counterpart of the video-sharing app TikTok, according to SCMP.

“He can use free electricity, internet and water, and he has dozens of toilets to choose from,” said another.

According to SCMP, rent in Shanghai averages about $15 USD per square meter a month. That means that a 100-square-meter (328-square-foot) apartment averages about $1,500 a month — a tough ask for a young person without a college degree.

Surprisingly, this is far from the only instance where someone made a home for themselves inside a shopping mall.

In one of the most famous cases, artist Michael Townsend turned an unused space in a mall in Providence, Rhode Island into a makeshift apartment, where he lived for over four years before being caught.

As the Mirror reported, Townsend was facing eviction and homelessness after his apartment building, where he rented an apartment for just $350 a month back in the early 2000s, was bought by a developer who planned to convert it into a high-end residential complex. Today, apartments in the building go for over $2,000 a month.

So, after visiting the mall — another of the developer’s properties — Townsend decided to move in.

“[These city developers] thought that if they could find an area that was undeveloped they had a responsibility to develop it,” Townsend said in an interview with the Mirror. “Through that lens, when we went to explore the mall and looked at that ginormous building we found a space that wasn’t developed, so we thought we had a civic responsibility to develop it.”

For four years, Townsend lived in an unused 750-square-foot industrial space in the mall, decking out his new home with items like China dishware and a Playstation 2. Eventually, the space was discovered by mall security, and he was arrested and charged with trespassing.

A documentary about Townsend’s makeshift home, directed by Jeremy Workman, is currently in the works.

After reading about the man living at a Shanghai mall, read about Mehran Karimi Nasseri, the man who lived in an airport for 18 years. Then, check out these photos that capture the height of America’s mall culture in the 1980s and 1990s.

Hannah Reilly Holtz
Hannah Reilly is an editorial fellow with All That's Interesting. She holds a B.A. in journalism from Texas Tech University and was named a Texas Press Association Scholar. Previously, she has worked for KCBD NewsChannel 11 and at Texas Tech University as a multimedia specialist.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.