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Live like a hermit

By Erik Nilsson (China Daily)

08:23, September 14, 2012

Zhang Dehua insists on living in his old cavern, which he says is warm in winter and cool in summer. (China Daily/Erik Nilsson)

While China has seen an exodus of people moving to the cities, Zhang Dehua prefers living in a cave in Datong. Erik Nilsson visits his sanctuary to file this story.

The caves that pock the mountains of Shanxi province's Datong were inhabited for millennia until they were cleared out half a century ago - except for one person.

Zhang Dehua is Datong's last cave dweller.

The 79-year-old was the only resident who didn't move out of his grotto in Donggetuopu village when the government built a road and new houses for locals in 1952.

"I like my cave home," Zhang says.

"It's warm in winter and cool in summer. I don't have a family. So, when everyone left, I stayed."

He believes his ancestors have inhabited his cavern for five centuries. His parents told him his great-great-great grandfather expanded it to include the secret chamber.

Zhang's family hid in the concealed room behind a false wall when invading Japanese troops plundered homes in the village.

"We would hole up behind the wall for a few hours and come out after they were gone," he recalls.

"They never found us in our secret chamber. Most people here also had hidden rooms in their caves and would seemingly vanish when the Japanese came. The place appeared deserted to them."

Zhang largely lived off the land, growing potatoes and corn in the loess. He has no teeth and a wardrobe of a single Mao suit.

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