Roll up those taxi windows, drag your bags through security… this only comes every ten years. Beijing’s bitter wind welcomed 2270 delegates yesterday to shine their shoes and take their seats in a room booked for the “18th National Congress”. While the U.S. lets out its breath to enjoy another four years under Obama’s leadership, China prepares itself for a new president and premier (7 of the 9 current Politburo Standing Committee members are retiring this year). Xi Jinping, the likely candidate to replace President Hu Jintao, emphasized four main questions to be addressed at this year’s conference, namely: What flag will we wave? What path will we follow? And in what state of mind? To continue advancing towards what kind of goals? (我们党将举什么旗、走什么路、以什么样的精神状态、朝着什么样的目标继续前进) Specific, I know. Citizens wait eagerly to see what solutions the committee generates for problems like insufficient health care, inflated real estate, and the growing gap between the rich and poor. As news stations flash snippets of animated discussions over round mahogany tables, the mysterious lure of the national government grows in the eyes of the people. Local and provincial governments may be corrupt or unfair, but loyalty towards the national government is a tradition that stretches back thousands of years, born from the people’s innocent dependency and undying hope in a power that remains faceless. Just as religion presses followers to have faith in what they cannot see, a government too can round up millions of supporters if only by providing a mirage of hope.
So where to live? It’s undoubtably the biggest problem on Beijingers’ minds. The campus I’m living on is only about 1 square mile and has 60,000 students. A typical dorm room (about the size of an American freshman double) houses 8 kids. The number of individual cars in Beijing alone just surpassed 4,500,000… not counting buses, subways, bikes, etc. Not surprisingly, finding a house in this developing madhouse is tough. But anyone could guess that. Here’s stuff you might not know:
China has a registration system, which means you’re forever a member of the city you were born in. If you choose to move to a new city like Beijing to live and raise your family, you’ll have a harder time finding a job, will have to pay more for your house, more to send your kids to school, etc.
Before the 1980s China’s housing system was based on welfare so if you had an average job you were guaranteed a house. After the free market reforms, housing went commercial and while the new system provided more opportunities for people to buy houses it also sent monthly payments through the roof. Now, China has reinstated a subsidized, low-cost housing plan for the poor, but its flaws are almost as great as its benefits. Long story short, a few strings get pulled and it’s not a poor citizen unlocking the door to their new apartment but a wealthy man with government guanxi (connections) surveying the rooms before selling it (along with 7 others) for a jacked up price.
According to my Chinese roommate, a house in Beijing is about $500,000 (US) and 10 times the cost of a house in her hometown.
But why are we even considering housing costs? In Beijing, you better be among the wealthiest 3% to dream of a house. Just finding an open apartment is considered a success.