The Property-owning Middle Class

Home is a very important concept for Chinese people. A growing Chinese middle class can increasingly own their own homes. According to some estimates, China‘s rates of home ownership are as high as 80% in the cities, – topping US homeownership rates of about 69%.

Before the reform, all property in China was nationalized and “collectively owned by the people.” Housing was distributed along with work. During the Cultural Revolution, property owners were persecuted. But now, owning a house in China is a badge of pride. As a new home owner said, “Owning my own home will give me a sense of belonging.”

In the past two and half years, prices for housing have soared 40% in Beijing and 30% in Shanghai. A growing middle class with its wealth tied up in houses wants to pass these assets on to their only children. In March 2007, China’s lawmaking body, the National People’s Congress, passed a new law on property rights, which is mainly intended to reassure the country’s fast growing middle class that their assets are secure.

Private ownership of homes has profound implications for China’s political and economic systems. As Internet entrepreneur Ding, who is trying to create a for the Chinese middle class, said, “Chinese people used to be tied to their homes chosen by their work units. Now they are able to choose their communities, their neighborhoods. It’s a fundamental change in their lives.”

Ultimately, the Chinese middle class may fundamentally change China in ways we cannot foresee. It would be interesting to see how a property-owning middle class will influence government policies, how home owners will protect their rights, and to what degree it will lead to a more pluralistic society.