Colors of China: Spider-Man cleaner

Colors of China

With almost 20 years’ experience as a window cleaner, Zhang Shimin has witnessed the astounding urban growth of the Chinese capital. “There was nothing outside the Third Ring Road when I first came to Beijing,” he said, perched on the roof of a 31-story building overlooking the ring road.

Since Zhang’s arrival in 1993 as a migrant laborer from a rural area of Sichuan Province, many of the traditional bungalows that housed most of the Beijing residents have given way to tall apartment blocks catering to the city’s growing middle class.

With the boom has come heavy demands for exterior cleaning as residents can no longer reach the exterior of their windows. A few daring migrant workers like Zhang chose to take the risk and dangle down on ropes in pursuit of higher wages.

Beijing’s Top 10 Skyscrapers


The most demanding periods of the year are from the middle of March to the end of May; then from the end of September until the bitter cold stops them from working.

The contrast between the humble dwellings of the migrant worker cleaners as compared to the homes they look into everyday could not be greater, but Zhang says he seldom looks into the windows while working. “I won’t compare myself with them while working, we are totally different groups.”

City expanding

In spite of the ever-expanding buildings, business is not all that it should be. Zhang explains that China’s strict anti-corruption campaign has affected their window cleaning business this year.

“People who were taking rebates in the cleaning projects are holding back now, so there is really not as much as normal,” Zhang says.



As the thriving business center of Beijing, Chaoyang district, where Zhang’s high rise career started, was enjoying the soaring property opportunities in the first ten years of the 21th century. Construction work has now expanded around the major axis of the city. From the Third Ring Road, to the Fourth and now the Fifth and Sixth are seeing rising apartment buildings and with them, new opportunities for Zhang and his team emerge.


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