Remembering Beijing’s cramped housing

December 12, 2008

By Niu Shuping

China’s economic reforms have made a huge difference in the availability of affordable and spacious housing.

After I graduated in 1988 from a university in Wuhan, I found a job in Beijing and lived in a dormitory on the top floor of a five-storey office building.

Sixty graduates from all over China who had come to Beijing to work lived in dormitories in the building. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang even stayed there at the time.

We had only one kitchen for all 60 people. Sometimes people queued to cook dinner. We struggled to find restaurants open after 6 p.m., even in downtown Beijing.

There was one telephone in the middle of a long corridor on the fifth floor, outside a room with a television, which was the only place for us to relax. We had no privacy.

In 1995, a year after I got married, my “danwei”, or work unit, allocated me a room with a kitchen and bathroom in a “newly-married-couple building” or “yuanyang lou”.

In 1998, under the “welfare housing allocation system”, I managed to get a small apartment, the last such free allocation following China’s housing reforms.

Then, new apartment buildings started sprouting up. Individuals were encouraged to buy their own homes, not like before when the danwei allocated an apartment based on the number of years you had worked.

I now have my own apartment — not 100 percent as land still belongs to the government — but I still have my own property with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was a dream come true.

Visit for a special package on the 30th anniversary of economic reforms in China

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