There is a conversation that I have had so many times in China that I cant even venture a guess at the number. It starts of me talking to a Chinese male, between the age of 18 and 25. After exchanging names, where we are both from, me telling him how tall I am, and the other pleasantries he slips the question “so how much does a house cost in America?” Easy enough question to answer. “It depends, on location, size of house or apt etc.” I then ball park the price rage for apartments in bigger cities like SF or NYC , and then for houses in suburbs and other cheaper locations. Chinese guy doesn’t really care; he wants to talk about housing prices in China and what that means for him.
Housing prices in China are more or less on par with those in major US cities ($1million for apt in SF probably 1$million for apt in Beijing) the problem is that the average graduate in China makes far less than the average US graduate. While a US graduate might make $4,000-5,000 a month a Chinese University graduate will only make RMB4,000-5,000 or $680-850 a month. As many many many Chinese people have explained to me, with this kind of salary you either save up for many years and deny your self other luxuries (car, dinners out, travel) to eventually buy a house, or you rent and live a comfortable life, but forgo all hope of buying a house.
As some of you may know in China owning a house is more or less a prerequisite for a women saying yes to a mans marriage proposal. If a man doesn’t own a house, the woman is likely to say no, and even if she wants to say yes mommy or daddy will likely veto. The reasons for women (and woman’s family) putting so much emphasis on a house was explained to me, by a Chinese woman, like this:
It goes back to that idea of security mentioned in the previous post. If some one comes to a top tear city for college they are most likely going to want to stay. Unlike in the US, migration of people from city to city is controlled by the government through the Hukou system. With out a Beijing Hukou you can’t legally live in Beijing. Sure lots of people, mainly migrant workers, do it anyway and there is little consequence. But why the woman is concerned is that with out a Beijing Hukou it will be hard for her to find good work and impossible to send her child to a top school in the city. Owning a apartment provides that Hukou and there for allows for her to ensure that her child will go to a good school. It also ensures that she can continue to live legally in a top tier city and find employment easier. Its about security, plain and simple.
This is one of the biggest fears many Chinese men my age have, I believe. But the ironic part is that many of the people I talked to have accepted it. There is little they can do, and for the most part they are counting on the government to do something, even though few believe the government actually can or will.
I really don’t know how to end these conversations; they usually turn in the Chinese guy venting, and me trying to console him until he is ready to move on to the next topic. Its hard because this is not my reality, and I will likely never have to face this problem, but to many of the young Chinese people I have talked to this is a big burden in their lives.