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OCTOBER 23, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 16

A New Bourgeois Dream
What do young Chinese do with their money? Hunt for a home
By TERRY MCCARTHY

What's hot among China's young city dwellers? It's not as hip as surfing the Net, not as fun as raving in an underground club and definitely not one of those fads with a shelf-life shorter than Zhu Rongji's temper. It's house-hunting—and nearly everyone wants in.

For the first time since the communist revolution, young urban couples in China have the opportunity—and the money—to buy their own home. And the same Communist Party that once held all private property to be a hei-nous social evil cannot encourage buyers to jump into the market quickly enough.

Huang Jiahong and Xue Mingli are happily taking the plunge. Huang, 30, works in customer service at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Shanghai and earns a relatively comfortable salary of $1,000 a month. Xue, 24, works for British American Tobacco where she makes $400 a month. The two plan to get married next year; until then, they each live with their parents, and spend weekends looking at houses.

This is all to the government's delight. When Zhu became Premier in 1998, he vowed to make China a nation of home-owners. Not only would this help the state by removing the burden of providing essentially free housing to the entire population, but Zhu also saw how private ownership could fuel overall economic growth as people spent more on things like furniture and appliances.

Huang and Xue are ready to buy. They are looking for an apartment in the $35,000-$50,000 range. They have already saved enough for the 20% down payment; a 30-year bank mortgage will cover the rest. Now they just need to find the right place. Their parents, who never had the chance to buy a house on the open market, aren't much help. "We're not even consulting them," says Huang. "They only worry about value for money. We are interested in value for life."

Like many other house-hunters, they want a place fairly central in Shanghai, preferably facing south, with as much space as possible. With their budget that probably means a one-bedroom apartment of no more than 70 sq m of floor space. They have looked at some bigger places with two bedrooms, and their parents have offered to chip in to make up the difference. But Huang and Xue want to be self-supporting. They hope to choose a place by the end of the year. They know it won't be luxurious, but it will be a place of their own. And that, for China, is revolutionary.

Write to TIME at mail@web.timeasia.com

government ALSO IN YOUNG CHINA: GOVERNMENT
National Pride: Patriotism makes a comeback

Sport: The basketballer denied an outside shot

Invisible Fences: Authorities keep a rein on kids partly by not telling them what is and isn't allowed

Getting High: Ecstasy becomes the urban drug of choice

Country Girl: A villager moves to the big, bad city

Getting Green: Activists seeking to avert an environmental disaster are tapping the ranks of the very young

Home Sweet Home: Citizens now aspire to buy a flat

Looking Inward: Today's artists are beginning to explore individual rather than collective themes

Big Think: Intellectualism did not die with the 1980s

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