XI'AN, Feb. 2 -- Despite the wintry weather in China's revolutionary base of Yan'an, Wang Yuhong visits his cave house every morning to check whether it has collapsed.
"It's my birthplace and the roots of my life," the 55-year-old said.
It has been more than 30 years since Wang saw his mother for the last time in the house, where she was found dead due to starvation. "I clearly remember. I will never forget it," he said tearfully.
Living in cave homes and suffering from starvation were common 1960s rural China.
Wang is a villager in Liulin Town of Yan'an City, known as the "red cradle" of the Chinese revolution before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
The city, in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, is known through the writings of Edgar Snow (1905-1972), an American journalist who came here in the 1930s and met with Mao Zedong, which he wrote about in "Red Star Over China". The book offers an insight into China's revolutionary struggle and the legendary 12,500-km Long March of the Chinese Red Army.
Wang, the youngest of seven brothers and sisters, like many rural residents living in cave houses on northwest China's Loess Plateau, never considered abandoning their homes. But continuous downpours left more than 70,000 cave houses destroyed and over 220,000 people homeless in July.
"The city government has long considered relocating the 200,000-plus people living in the hills along the mountain-sandwiched city," said Cao Jingbo, vice head of the city's urban renewal department.
"We have been living in cave houses for generations and never thought they would collapse. People prefer to live in caves, which are warm in winter and cool in summer," Wang added.
The municipal government of Yan'an plans to relocate cave house residents to safer places over the next five to eight years, particularly those living in hills that are vulnerable to landslides.
Nearly 140,000 Yan'an residents, nearly one quarter of the city's population, still live in cave houses, according to the department.
"We still believe the cave house is the safest, as the subsoil of newly-developed apartments is far from solid," said Hou Qiang, 40, who owns three cave houses in a hill along the city center.
"I can rent out two of my cave houses with an annual income of about 7,000 yuan (1,115 U.S. dollars)," Hou said, adding that he could hardly afford the property costs if he has to relocate to a modern building.
Many also argue that relocation will mean a loss of the region's deep-rooted cave culture.
"People recall our ancestors who made great sacrifices in China's revolutionary times when talking about cave houses," said local He Jinliang, 64.
Cao Jingbo said some cave houses that can withstand moderate natural disasters such as mudslides and earthquakes will be retained for sightseeing, but city authorities have not decided how many.