In China, owning a home is a prerequisite before a man can marry. It is expensive to buy a home in China’s big cities, so why are Chinese men put under such heavy pressure?
Before Yufei Liang visited the home of his girlfriend’s parents, he wore nicer shoes, a crisp and classic shirt to make himself look sharp, and he practised several times in front of a mirror what he would say.
It was a crucial moment in his life and he didn’t want to mess up. Fortunately, they had a good impression of him. Laying out a table overflowing with local spicy food and taking him to visit a famous park was their way of showing their acceptance of him and their hospitality.
However, they still informed Yufei that it would be better if he bought a home when he got married. “My wife’s parents lived in a town where everyone’s daughter and their children would buy homes when they got married. So that was the reason they placed constant pressure on younger generations to act in this manner”, said Yufei Liang.
Yufei is a 33-year-old social worker from a humble background, currently living in one of the first-tier cities in Guangzhou. Two years ago, he bought his current flat with his savings and money borrowed from his friends to satisfy his girlfriend’s parents. “My wife’s parents hope that she can find a husband who owns property and has a stable job, they believe these aspects will guarantee her a better and settled life”.
Across China, there are a myriad of millennials like Yufei Liang, who have to work hard to own a property in order to marry their beloved. Approximately 69 per cent of single women think their future husband needs to own a house before they marry, according to a China Daily survey. By comparison, only 10 per cent of participants accepted rented flats after getting married, and was regarded as a sign of insecurity.
Buying a Home as Compensation for the Bride
Not every Chinese man is as lucky as Yufei Liang and many have been hindered due to expensive housing prices.
Elvis Fan, a 27-year-old programmer in Guangzhou, fell in love with his girlfriend in university. His girlfriend’s parents demanded the housing requirement as one of the conditions for their marriage. Unfortunately, his 12,000RMB (around£1,362) salary per month meant he could only afford one-fifth of the deposit needed for a flat located in Panyu District where house prices are somewhat lower.
Faced with this daunting problem, he was forced to seek financial assistance from his parents, who owned a flat in Meizhou, a small city near Guangzhou. Selling their apartment was the best way to support their son.
However, Meizhou’s average house prices fell by four per cent year-on-year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid the current economic slump, if Elvis’ parents insisted on selling their place, not only would they lose money, but it wouldn’t be easy to find buyers.
Cash shortages frustrated Elvis immensely. “I once thought about giving up my relationship with my girlfriend but I feel that if I give up, I would feel as if I had given up on my goal,” said Elvis.
Regarding the problem faced by Elvis Fan, sociologist Sandy To believes that a house is a form of bride price as compensation to a daughter’s family in modern society.
“Traditionally, parents of the groom had to pay ‘bridewealth’ in the form of money or gifts to the bride’s parents to make up for their loss of a daughter under the patrilocal rule where the daughter goes to live with her husbands’ family,” said Sandy To.
“The modern enactment of this was ‘a house’. This was also to showcase the wealth and power of the groom’s family, as women are expected to ‘marry up’ under tradition.”
Grasping Better Educational Resources for Children
For people who want to get married, whether men or women, purchasing a home is not only for procuring a stable territory, but it can also help their children have access to better schools in the future.
According to a survey conducted by the Home Expectation website in 2019, more than half of the participants thought that the main reason for buying a house was so their children could go to a decent school. This phenomenon has a lot to do with China’s educational policies.
In China, local people’s government at various levels shall ensure that school-aged children and adolescents are enrolled in schools that are near the places where their residences are registered, according to the Law of Compulsory Education enacted in 1986.
However, under the Hukou system (registered residence system), childrens’ admission rights are strongly connected to their registered residence locations. Consequently, it follows that parents buy homes in certain schools’ catchment areas in order to acquire admission to nearby schools. Homes inside a good school district are called Xue Qu Fang.
Xiaoyan Liang, a 55-year-old retired teacher, also lives in Guangzhou. In 1996, she followed her husband to Guangzhou from Anhui Province. The most urgent undertaking at the time was to find a good elementary school for her child. It took her and her husband nearly one year to choose a prestigious primary school in Tian He District and find a suitable Xue Qu Fang, too. Sometimes, she had to miss meals so as to attend appointments with landlords.
Although Guangzhou has imposed policies to undermine the effect of school district houses, like allowing the children of tenants to attend the nearby schools, many parents still put the school district houses at the top of their lists when it comes to buying a property.
“Compared with some Western countries, we make practicality top priority, because we want our children to have an optimal start when they enter school. Our teachers also support this thinking” said Xiaoyan Liang.
Definitions of Success
Yufei Liang’s motivation for buying a home was initially to provide better living conditions for his wife and children. He firmly believed this was the main responsibility of a husband. Later, he was surprised to find that the value of his house had doubled within three years.
He was thrilled as he realized that his home in Guangzhou was not only a mere residence but also a precious investment. To fulfil his dream, he is planning to sell his home to gain Chinese capital for a tea business.
Guangzhou’s housing prices are not the only cases of soaring housing costs in China. Since the global financial crisis in 2008, China’s housing prices in 28 out of 35 cities have been growing.
In Shenzhen, one of the first-tier cities, housing prices have risen by about 410%, which means that a house worth one million RMB (around£110,623) 10 years ago, today has risen to a remarkable seven million RMB (around£774,361). But the increase in people’s disposable income has not kept pace with the escalating housing prices, according to 21st Century Economic Reports.
Han Han, a 38-year-old popular novelist for millennials, complained about the pressure caused by unreasonable housing prices on young people, when he was interviewed by the media paper, Nandu Weekly. He said that there was naturally a gap between ideals and reality in any country, but this gap was particularly unfair in China and forced many young people’s lives to be substandard.
Based on a report from Morgan Stanley, China’s urbanization rate had reached about 60% in 2018, far below the 80% evident in developed countries. In the future, more people will flood cities and the housing demand will continue to increase. Roseann Lake, a sociologist and the author of Leftover in China, thought that it was difficult for anyone in society to possess their own properties.
Concerning the problem of millennials facing high housing prices, Dajie Tang, director of the Research Department of the Saiyi Enterprise Research Institute, believes that housing prices are the same for low- as well as high-income earners.
“What the country needs to do is to increase the supply of affordable housing, especially low-rent housing. And, at the same time, millennials should try to adjust their consuming behaviour. Is it possible to get rid of the stereotypical concept of “a house is a prerequisite for marriage?”, asks Dajie Tang.
Elvis Liu was still struggling for his beloved and their future. After sitting and failing the postgraduate entrance examination, he got pneumonia, followed by a high fever. It took him more than a year to recover. He finally received a postgraduate offer in the spring of this year at the most competitive time, due to the disruption caused by COVID-19.
“I was so lucky to obtain the entry ticket to the master’s course. It represents the first crucial step to our marriage,” said Elvis. “Our love cannot to be compared to owning a house but we have made our decision to get married within two years, even if we have nothing at that time.”