housing


housing
Before 1949 housing was largely owned by private individuals or families. After the establishment of Mao’s socialist regime, however, almost all residential structures in the cities were nationalized. Each housing unit was divided into several sections and allocated to different families by the city government. In the relatively mixed, neighbourhood-based communities, the police and residents’ committees (juweihui), led directly by the district government, became the primary agents of social regulation and community services. Meanwhile, the majority of urban Chinese workers and state employees were provided with state-subsidized public housing by their work units (danwei). Located within or adjacent to the site of the danwei, these undifferentiated, military barrack-like apartment blocks were usually divided into separate compounds to prevent outsiders from trespassing freely. The social composition within the compound tended to be homogeneous since the heads of the households often belonged to the same work unit. In this type of community, basic services and social control are provided primarily by the work unit that serves simultaneously as the employer, landlord and the source of local authority.
The public housing system, which was firmly in place for nearly forty years, had many problems. There was a serious housing shortage and overcrowding throughout Chinese cities. It was common for several families to share a kitchen and bathroom and for a family of three generations to live in a one-bedroom unit. The extremely low rent and heavy reliance on government subsidies resulted in poor housing maintenance and substandard living conditions. There was also disparity in housing access between work units and among employees within the same work units.
Beginning in the late 1980s, the central state launched urban housing reform, which sought to privatize existing public housing and eventually to commercialize the entire housing market. But it was not until the early and mid 1990s that housing reform was carried out nationwide and became a centrepiece of China’s economic development strategies. Under the new policy, families living in public housing are encouraged to buy back the apartments from their work unit at a rate significantly lower than market value. The state urges urban residents to discard their old socialist welfare mentality and embrace the new trend of private home ownership. As this popular state slogan advocates: ‘Housing is a now consumer product, no longer a welfare product.’ By the end of the 1990s, most public housing in all Chinese cities had been privatized, although there is a great deal of local variation in the ownership form.
At the same time, there has been rapid growth in the development of commercial housing for sale to individuals, mostly China’s emerging middle-class people. The newly constructed, gated residential compounds are usually detached from the work-unit system and are run by private ‘property management firms’ (wuye guanli gongsi) and protected by security guards. Ordinary working-class people cannot afford such new commercial housing. These new communities have become an important measure of one’s socioeconomic status and have transformed the urban Chinese social landscape into a highly stratified one.
See also: hukou
Dutton, Michael (1998). Streetlife China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 40–61, 214–21 [on the work unit in the reform period].
Lu, Xiaobo and Perry, Elizabeth (eds) (1997). Danwei: The Changing Chinese Workplace in Historical and Comparative Perspective. Armonk, NY: M.E.Sharpe.
LI ZHANG

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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