In Their Hands

Photograph by Sim Chi Yin for TIME

A bug's life Members of Beijing's low-paid or unemployed "ant tribe" kill time in their shared tenement

On a rare blue-sky day in late May, Zhang Kuan roared down the highway from Beijing to the industrial port city of Tianjin. The 32-year-old's mission? To pick up his new gunmetal-gray McLaren MP4-12C (price tag: $870,000). The founder in 2009 of the Beijing Sports Car Club, Zhang has parlayed his self-made fortune — derived, he says vaguely, from "finance businesses, like investment, real estate, insurance" — into his true passion.

On weekends, the buzz-cut-sporting Beijing native — attired in the T-shirt, sneaker and dog-tag ensemble of the global street — gathers...

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