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The term "ant tribe" was coined by Lian Si, the author of a book about China's post-80s generation, to refer to recent graduates who crowd into slums in the country's big cities in search of work. The high cost of living and skyrocketing rents have left them struggling on the margins of society.
According to a survey in the Blue Book about the country's talents, which was released by the Social Sciences Academy Press, more than 1 million such 'ants' live in the big cities of China.
Beijing has the largest number with more than 100,000, and numbers not far short of this can be found in Guangzhou, Xi'an, Chongqing, Taiyuan, Zhengzhou and Nanjing.
The areas around the shabby houses inhabited by the "ant tribe" are usually crowded with tiny restaurants, Internet bars, hair salons and clinics.
The "ants" often don't have stable jobs and their average salary is below 2,000 yuan (US$301.07) per month.
"They have all the characteristics of ants," Lian said. "They live in colonies in cramped spaces; they're intelligent, hardworking, yet anonymous and underpaid."