A television drama called Snail House has become very popular in China thanks to its main storyline of following two sisters who have borrowed a lot of money to buy user rights to property, as all land is owned by the state. The younger sister is so desperate to help her older sibling out that she even conducts an affair with a wealthy corrupt official who gives her the money.
The series is so popular because the audience relates to the plight of the sisters trying to buy a home. Everyone seems to be bemoaning the trajectory rise of property prices, making even shoebox-sized apartments out of reach of many. A few years ago flats in Beijing and Shanghai were around 10,000RMB ($1,464) per square meter, but now have doubled. People have to scrape their money together to buy something, and become "mortgage slaves". However, those living in big cities can't even afford to be mortgage slaves, making an average of 3,000RMB ($439) a month.
The traditional Chinese belief of owning a piece of property has led to people changing their values. Some young women insist that their boyfriends buy an apartment as a precondition to tying the knot, resulting in many dumping otherwise solid suitors to marry rich men. A colleague of mine, a fresh graduate, remarked that while she wanted to have her own home, having to pay it off in 70 years was not something she was interested in doing. She said she'd rather travel.
People complain that the wealthy are the property developers, who seem to be designing projects solely for the super rich and there is not enough housing for everyone else. Apparently, as another coworker explained to me, there are two kinds of developers -- private and state-owned. The privately-owned developers believe they are entitled to build homes for the uber wealthy, and say the state-run ones should be making homes for the low-income families... which are mostly located in suburban areas where public transportation is spotty or non-existent. However, state-run developers think they are also entitled to a piece of the big rich pie too.
But what about the ones in between? Like the young people who have university degrees, decent salaries and want to at least own a decent home?
The provincial and municipal governments win big on the taxes they earn from selling the land to developers, but with a growing middle class, why edge them out? In the long run the government can earn other taxes from them too... like consumption... if these people had enough money to spend on things other than their mortgages.
So it seems the finger pointing should end at the government, which should really be regulating which land should be developed for what... and in fact city planning seems to be a weak, if only very short-sighted exercise. It only makes the rich-poor gap wider through geographic location.
Nevertheless, while people continue to moan and groan about the system, it will probably not change anytime soon. But if the government really wants to create a harmonious society, it should have more foresight in planning for an ever-growing middle class that only wants to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labours.