It’s hard not to walk around pretty much any part of Shanghai and not be struck by the boom in residential real estate. At the local mall, I was awestruck by an impressive model of a new apartment complex (and had to then beat a quick retreat from a persistent saleswoman). On a sojourn to Songjiang, a suburb of Shanghai, I noticed new and newish looking hi-rise apartment complexes along the 45 minute highway ride, and especially out in the suburbs. Actually, everything here in Shanghai screams to me: housing bubble. What is key to any bubble is the widespread belief that no bubble could possibly exist here in China, due to population and other factors. Even if it is not a bubble, as this NYT article points out, fast-rising real-estate prices is driving many Chinese men out of the marriage market.
BEIJING — In the realm of eligible bachelors, Wang Lin has a lot to recommend him. A 28-year-old college-educated insurance salesman, Mr. Wang has a flawless set of white teeth, a tolerable karaoke voice and a three-year-old Nissan with furry blue seat covers. ..
But by the exacting standards of single Chinese women, it seems, Mr. Wang lacks that bankable attribute known as real property. Given that even a cramped, two-bedroom apartment on the dusty fringe of the capital sells for about $150,000, Mr. Wang’s $900-a-month salary means he may forever be condemned to the ranks of the renting.
Last year, he said, this deficiency prompted a high-end dating agency to reject his application. In recent months, half a dozen women have turned down a second meeting after learning that he had no means to buy a home.
The article is pretty unsparing about Chinese women, making them seem overly materialistic and deeply unromantic. Having never raised this subject with my students (and feeling a bit uncomfortable about doing so), I am not sure whether it can be called accurate. I am tempted to sign up for a local dating service, just to find out (although I doubt my wife would approve of the experiment).
In any event, is this another sign of China becoming too materialistic? The idea that China is very, or even unusually materialistic, is an easy conclusion for foreigners to make. Money, saving or spending, is a big part of life here.
But money, and wealth, has always been an important part of Chinese society. Chinese society wishes you “prosperity” and “wealth” at the New Year. Perhaps it is simply a sign that traditional Chinese values (e.g. man provides for wife, wife has no co-equal economic duty to provide for husband) are still quite strong, even in a fast-moving society where such values are hard to translate.
The more I think about this, the more true it seems. What shocks me about the article is the fact that the Chinese women quoted don’t seem to think they have, or should have, an equal duty to contribute to their family’s economic wealth. The idea that they do not seems more of a traditional Chinese conception of a woman’s role.
Traditional Chinese values probably never went away, but they are probably making a comeback as other systems of social conduct and morals fall by the wayside. So the article is not really just about the new, fastmoving Chinese real-estate market. It is also about the less dramatic comeback of the Old China.