You may have heard that China’s house prices are as legendary as China’s economy. 

In the traditional sense, there are only four first-tier cities in China, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Since China began to allow a market economy in 1992, hundreds of millions of Chinese have poured into the four most advantageous cities from different provinces in China. 

On the one hand, this has enabled the four cities to have far faster economic growth than China’s average in the past 30 years, but on the other hand, it has also made the city’s housing prices far higher than China’s average. 

In 1999, the average selling price of a house in Beijing was 5,683 yuan per square meter($863.17). Today, 20 years later, even under the pandemic of the COVID-19, the average home price in Beijing is still as high as 62,000 yuan per square meter ($9400). This means that housing prices in Beijing have risen tenfold in the past 20 years. The same is true in three other cities. 

This brings a significant problem: those young people leave their homes to work in China’s four super cities for better career development and salary. But when they reached middle age, they found that they could not settle in these cities permanently. Because in the Chinese view, you can’t get married in a rented house. If you want to have a partner or even a child, you must have a house of your own. 

This even has nothing to do with the household registration system to some extent, only for economic reasons. 

Over the past decade, similar discussions have appeared periodically on social networks. Recently, however, there seems to be a new answer to this question: with the development of China’s small and medium-sized cities and the popularity of telecommuting, young Chinese who cannot afford house prices in big cities are returning to settle in “big cities” near their hometown. 

In this article, we found four young people who did this to tell the story of buying a house in their hometown:

Xijian, male, 26, senior product manager of a listed Internet company

For people born in 1994 and whose families are not very rich, the option of buying a house in Beijing did not exist in the first place. 

Most well-off families in China can barely afford to buy a house in their own city, at least with a minimum down payment. But house prices in Beijing are very high, especially after a round of rise in 2016, after which prices in Beijing have been out of reach for most families. 

For most of the outsiders working in first-tier cities, if the financial resources are not enough to gain a foothold, then where to buy a house is a question worth thinking about. 

In fact, for me, this problem is very simple, my hometown Suzhou is one of the most economically developed cities in China, but the Internet industry is not so developed, unfriendly to the growth of new people, so I came to Beijing. I came to Beijing not so much to settle down in Beijing, but to say that I had already made up my mind to use Beijing as a transfer station. Therefore, going home is an active choice for me. 

The cost of living in Beijing is not low, and the services available to citizens are actually the lowest among China’s major economically developed cities. Take urban construction as an example, the level of urban construction in Suzhou is much higher than that in Beijing.

In fact, the planning and design level of most cities in southern China is much higher than that of Beijing. There are a large number of parks scattered in the urban area of Suzhou, and these parks are open and without walls. There are far fewer parks in Beijing, and they are surrounded by a wall, which is unpredictable. Sometimes I go for a walk in the park and find that I can’t find an exit and need to go back. Then I always curse Beijing’s poor urban design. 

After the income reached a certain level, with the help of my family, I directly chose to buy a house in Suzhou, and the price of this house has also gone up. Whether from an investment point of view, or from the perspective of self-occupation, this is a very good deal. 

I have been in Beijing for almost 5 years now, and I expect that I may return to my hometown in about 2 years. Now I look forward to this more and more, because I will pin many unhappiness in my life on going home. Living in your own house can be solved. Of course, I know that this idea must be very unobjective and unscientific.

But objectively speaking, renting is really inconvenient, especially when I recently started thinking about replacing the laptop I bought six years ago. I found it difficult for a renter to make up his mind to buy a high-performance assembled computer, especially when it comes to moving. It’s not limited by income, not being able to buy better moving services or anything else, it’s mainly about mindset. A good life, a high-quality home life takes energy and time to design. But when you move, you lose everything. 

The urban landscape of Suzhou via Unsplash

On the National Day in 2020, I went home for eight days. During these eight days, I visited my relatives and friends, and the whole eight days were occupied. Basically, I have to go out every day, and I even have to meet with different people for two meals a day. On the National Day in 2019, I spent in Beijing, basically living at home for seven days. This huge difference made me realize that my interpersonal relationship between the two places is different, and my contacts in Beijing are basically limited to work, while in Suzhou, there are classmates in middle and high school, relatives and teachers, and Beijing is unlikely to really accept me in various senses. 

Going home will also have some trouble, but on the whole, going back to Suzhou is actually a choice with little burden for me. There are many people’s hometown and the economic gap between first-tier cities is too huge, so they will feel uncomfortable. My hometown Suzhou is one of the most economically developed cities in China, only slightly worse than first-tier cities, and far surpasses most Chinese cities, including Beijing, in terms of urban construction. At the same time, Suzhou is very close to Shanghai. If I regret leaving Beijing, I can also go to Shanghai nearby. 

Of course, I also know that there are many people who were born in third-and fourth-tier cities, and for these people there is no difference between going home and being unemployed. So I also know some friends who still choose to buy a house in Beijing at this point in time, spending about 4 million yuan to buy a small house that is less than 50 square meters outside the Fifth Ring Road of Beijing. 

If I return to Suzhou and begin to miss the rich cultural and recreational activities available in big cities, such as dramas and concerts, I can also go to Shanghai. It takes only 30 minutes to travel from Suzhou to Shanghai by train. It is entirely feasible to live in Suzhou and spend the weekend in Shanghai. And in fact, I have never seen a play or a concert when I was in Beijing, and there is no essential difference in daily food consumption between first-and second-tier cities. On the contrary, Suzhou has more exquisite Suzhou-style snacks that Beijing cannot provide. 

Similarly, if I can’t find a satisfactory job after returning to Suzhou, I can also go to Shanghai nearby.

Jia, 29, Weibo blogger, former-Bytedance employee

Bytedance is one of the fastest growing Internet companies in China, but I came up with the idea of quitting in October 2018 because I was so tired to work there. 

Before quitting, I began to run an account on Weibo in my spare time to share emotional stories and suggestions. It went well. In half a year, the account had more than 500,000 followers, some sponsors came to me, and I realized that I could make money from this account and no longer needed a full-time job. 

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By post advertisements in this account, I got 100,000 yuan(about $152,000) in the highest month. I did some simple math, and if I went back to my hometown Chongqing, even if I had sponsor content only once a month, I would still earn more than most locals who work full-time in Chongqing, so I began to plan to return to Chongqing.  

I resigned and came to Shanghai in October 2019 to catch up with many of my friends and get in touch with some sponsors. Although Shanghai is also a big city, I like it better than Beijing. If there is no COVID-19 epidemic, I may indefinitely shelve my plan to return to Chongqing. 

But the epidemic came, and although neither I nor the people around me were infected, it made me realize that it was best to live in a city with relatives, so I restarted the plan.

I asked my sister, who has been living in Chongqing, to help me find a suitable house there. Apart from signing the purchase contract, I did not participate in the purchase process. Because I do not regard buying a house as a very important thing, it is just an alternative to renting. 

In my opinion, if you keep renting, you won’t get anything in a few decades. But if you buy a house, even if the house price hasn’t changed in decades, when you sell it, it’s like living for free for decades. What’s more, in most Chinese cities, house prices are still rising predictably. Chongqing is also one of them. 

Window view of Jia’s room and her cat

I finally bought an apartment in Shaping District, the price is 1.2 million yuan(about $183,000), it is 80 square meters, the same house in Beijing may cost 5 million yuan(about $760,000). I am satisfied with the room itself, but I am a little dissatisfied with the surrounding environment. Although it is located in the old city of Chongqing, the apartment is somewhat deserted, with no shopping malls, no street stalls and no tourists within walking distance. I’m planning to sell it and move somewhere else. It’s either a busier place or a mountain area with fewer residents but better scenery. 

Chongqing is still a city in rapid development, but with my work experience, I can’t seem to find any good jobs here. If I work for a local company in Chongqing in the same position as I do at Bytedance, my salary is about 5,000 yuan(about $759), which is 1/6 I can get in Beijing.

But I don’t need to find a full-time job in Chongqing because, as I said before, as a professional online celebrity, my income is still much higher than that of many local people in Chongqing. I feel that my current state of life is almost the same as I had expected, which makes me satisfied. 

The only drawback is that most of my friends in my life have been in big cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen. I have few friends but relatives in Chongqing, which makes me feel a little lonely. 

I’m trying to use dating App to make new friends. In other parts of China, there are only requests for one-night stands or relationships on dating apps such as Tantan. But in Chongqing, many strangers on these apps contact you just to have a meal together. 

Because the most famous food in Chongqing is hot pot, and hot pot can’t be eaten alone.

David, 29, a former journalist of one bankrupt technology blog site

For media practitioners, Beijing is the city with the highest concentration of peers, but it is also the center of the storm of public opinion censorship. 

Many people do not know that the eye of a typhoon / tornado is unusually calm, and the air pressure is more than 15% lower than outside. Beijing is such a city in the eyes of a storm, stable and serious. 

Beijing hosted the Olympic Games in 2008, and I was still in high school. I didn’t know at that time that housing prices in Beijing were already on fire. The day after graduating from college, I arrived in Beijing by the slow green train with some of my buddies. Before my luggage arrived, I had to find a cheap house and rent it for 1,100 yuan(about $167) a month. 

In the first few years of work, what impressed me most was that the data indicator was the rent-to-income ratio, that is, no matter how much you earn each month, the rent had better not exceed 30%, otherwise it will significantly affect your quality of life. For many years, I have firmly believed in the effectiveness of this indicator, even if it is not in Beijing, it is applicable to any other city. 

In life, I do ask myself to do so. My rent in Beijing never exceeded 30% of my monthly salary, or even less than 10% for a time. Although it is troublesome to rent and move once a year, there are enough platforms and services for you in Beijing, so the whole is reasonable. 

The idea of buying a house in Beijing has never entered my mind, because I know that non-local children from ordinary families want to buy a house here and take root here, and it is easy to empty the wallets of six people(All the savings of yourself and your partner, as well as your parents on both sides). Coupled with the fact that I am a media reporter, I have heard and seen too many bitter stories about Beijing drifters buying a house. Therefore, I have never thought of buying a house in Beijing.

The community where David’s house is located

Just after the Spring Festival in 2017, my mother in my hometown visited two buildings and paid a deposit in one of them. Pay 5,000 yuan to get 10,000 yuan redemption, a promotion strategy commonly used by real estate developers.

My hometown is 300 kilometers south of Beijing in Hebei. If there is no traffic jam on the highway, it will take more than two hours one way. As we all know, the most sensitive factor of house prices is distance, not to mention this is Hebei.

Take Fengtai District in Beijing, where I rented a house at that time, as an example, the house price was at least 50, 000-60, 000 yuan($7,597 – $9,116) per square meter, and the starting price of the house in my hometown in Hebei was only 1/10. Because I bought a small household, I only applied for a small part of the commercial loan. With my income level at that time, it can be said that there was no pressure for monthly mortgage. 

When I finished all the formalities, house prices in Hebei rose rapidly under the drive of Xiongan New area, and many buildings rose directly from 5,000-6,000 to more than 8,000. Xiongan New area is a state-level new area officially established on April 1, 2017, located in the east of Baoding, Hebei Province, forming an equilateral triangle with Beijing and Tianjin on the map. Although the Xiongan New area is only three county towns and surrounding areas put together, its positioning is indeed a “millennium plan and a major national event.” The large-scale rise in house prices in Hebei is mainly due to president’s words. 

Personally, I am certainly happy that my house has appreciated in value, but I should not consider selling it. Because, my first thought is bought as a rigid demand for housing, decoration also spent a lot of my thought and cost. What’s more, the new high-speed railway station to be completed next year is very close to our community, and the journey to Beijing can be shortened to one hour, so it is very convenient to go home on weekends.

From graduation to now, I have lived in Beijing for seven years, and the largest number of outsiders in Beijing are from Hebei. I think most of them are unlikely to buy a house in Beijing on their own. Like me, taking advantage of the marginal advantage of Beijing’s high income and low expenses, there should be not a small number of Hebei people who buy houses in their hometown. 

More precisely, this is also the motivation for young people in China to leave their homes and work in big cities.

Nowadays, China’s urbanization has entered the development stage of urban agglomeration. The Yangtze River Delta, Zhuajiang River Delta and Changsha-Zhuzhou-Xiangtan urban agglomeration are all developing rapidly, and the net inflow of population in recent years is also very exaggerated.

Apartments still under renovation

This is mainly because with the exception of Shenzhen and Shanghai, it is relatively easy for most cities to settle down, the infrastructure in the city is also highly improved, and the livable index is very high. The industrial synergy effect of the Yangtze River Delta economic belt is very obvious. Shanghai’s finance, automobile, Internet and other industries are very developed, and the industrial foundation of the surrounding cities such as Suzhou, Wuxi and Changzhou is also very solid. The high-speed rail network covers almost all the key cities in the Yangtze River Delta, logistics, passenger flow, information flow is extremely efficient and convenient, and the tentacles of financial services are everywhere.

Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei is another picture. Beijing, as the capital of China, can absorb population and labor force from the whole country, but the surrounding municipalities Tianjin and Hebei contribute the most. The geographical area of Beijing is twice that of Shanghai, but the total resident population is equal to that of Shanghai. At the industrial level, in recent years, Beijing has successively retreated many heavily polluting and consuming industries to Hebei Province, such as the overall relocation of Capital Steel to Caofeidian area of Tangshan City. Printing and dyeing factories and printing plants, large and small, moved to Langfang in Hebei province.

It is true that pollution in Beijing has been reduced, but the coordinated development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, which has been encouraged since 2014, has not been able to coordinate on such a large scale as the Yangtze River Delta. If Shanghai is the moon and the surrounding Suzhou and Wuxi often outline a picture of the stars and the moon, then the industrial picture of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei is that Beijing has a lonely moon, Tianjin benefits from the port, the position of Hebei is still awkward.

Perhaps the Xiongan New area was set up by the state because of the problem of coordination between Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei. Looking back at the end of 2020, it took three years from the coordinated development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei as the national strategy to the establishment of Xiongan New area, and another three years from the millennium to the present. Irresponsibly, it is estimated that the gap between Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and the Yangtze River Delta is about 30 years. But how many 3 years can a person have in his life, and how many 30 years can he have?

Erinstein, 28, Product Designer

In fact, going back to Zhengzhou was planned from the very beginning, and the only question is when. 

I went to Guangzhou as soon as I graduated and chose the IT department of the relatively leading company in the medical industry to work. The job payment is very good, and the development prospect is also very good, but these are not what I like most. What I value most is that this company has a large subsidiary in Zhengzhou. 

In fact, if you pursue career success, staying in Guangzhou is certainly a better choice, but in my opinion, work is for life, not the other way around. Although the work in Guangzhou has a good prospect, but the work pressure is very great. In the busy season, even the most basic regular routine of eating and sleeping on time cannot be guaranteed, which is not a small burden on the body. 

My husband (who was still my boyfriend at that time) worked in a more traditional industry with a low turnover rate and inconvenient job-hopping. On the other hand, the IT-related jobs I belong to have a wider range of choices. 

Later, I learned that the IT department I worked in only had a position in the group headquarters, and there was no corresponding position in the subsidiary of Zhengzhou, and there was no possibility of internal adjustment directly back to Zhengzhou, so I left. 

After many people go back to their hometown, they live in the house they bought early. I am a little different on this point. When I was in Guangzhou, I lived in a dormitory assigned by the company. I didn’t have the trouble of renting a house. I needed to rent a house when I returned to Zhengzhou. It’s not that I’m so resistant to renting, but the living experience is really not as good as my own house. 

For example, the kitchen needs to be shared with roommates, but it is actually a familiar stranger, and it is impossible to cook together, so you don’t always think about cooking. 

Moreover, a good living experience itself is like a work, which needs to be carefully designed, carved and constantly adjusted. Renting means that on the one hand, there will be a lot of restrictions, after all, the house is not our own, can not do too much transformation. On the other hand, renting means that we are only a passer-by in this house, do not want to spend too much thought. 

2017 is a tense time for China’s property market, and Zhengzhou is definitely the most tense one among many cities. Because in that year, the Chinese central government formally replied and approved the upgrading of Zhengzhou from a provincial capital to one of the national central cites. 

The benefits that title can bring to a city are not immediately apparent, but the disadvantages are immediate, with house prices rising rapidly, followed by purchase restrictions. 

Now that we have returned to the provincial capital of our hometown, why not just solve the proposition of buying a house as soon as possible. 

After several choices, I chose a real estate. A deposit was paid after the subscription. I thought I had to wait two years before I could live in my own house. However, the day before my pre-ordered house was officially sold, I found that one of real estate agents in my WeChat contact list had posted a WeChat Moment. The post said that there are several second-hand houses in the community where I am renting now that they are going to be sold, and the price is also good. After a brief discussion with my family, I bought it the next day.

I thought my story of buying a house came to an end, but two years later, the new community that I had planned to buy, the house delivered was of poor quality. All the configurations promised by constructor have shrunk. In retrospect, I was a little scared and a little grateful. Come to think of it this way, going back to my hometown to buy a home does not necessarily mean that it will be plain sailing. If I didn’t buy a second-hand house, but bought a house in that newly-built community according to the original plan, I can only go to protect my rights every day.

Many Chinese people, including me, going back to their hometown to buy a house does not mean going back to the city(or village) where they were born to buy a house.

Instead, they went back to the provincial capital of his hometown to buy a house.

Because the development of the real hometown of most people is not as fast as that of the provincial capital cities, and some cities are even in decline. In fact, the capital of my hometown is another strange city to me, but the physical distance to my hometown is closer. If you buy a home in a less familiar place, you are more likely to be cheated.

Many of my middle and high school classmates have gone abroad, and very few of them have come to settle in Zhengzhou. I do have some relatives and friends in Zhengzhou, but I am not so sociable, so it doesn’t make much difference to me.

Erinstein has 18 smart appliances at home.

I am now engaged in product design in an IT company in Zhengzhou. The products of the company are mainly for schools and teachers, and the work pressure is far less than that of the past Guangzhou company. At 5 PM, almost everyone began to pack up and get ready to go home. Although the salary of the job is definitely not comparable to that of the past, it is enough in Zhengzhou, and it is also important to be able to go home early to spend time with the family.

After living in our own house, my husband did something he wanted to do for a long time but couldn’t do when renting, connecting all the electrified homes to smart speakers and not even letting off the gas stove.

Returning to rural life has always been an unrealistic dream for residents of big cities around the world. A few years ago, there were also many young people in China who were tired of urban life and tried to settle in the countryside, but most of them failed. Because country life is often not natural and beautiful, but hard work and boring. 

But moving from mega-cities to sub-tier cities, rather than rural areas, provides another enforceable option. 

China has experienced rapid economic development in the past 30 years, and the benefits of these economic development are not limited to those four mega-cities. 

Although there are not many star companies and well-paying jobs in China’s second-or third-tier cities. But the infrastructure of these cities has been upgraded, and they are waiting for young people who want to take care of their work and life to settle here.