Housing and Social Change: East-West Perspectives

By Ray Forrest; James Lee | Go to book overview

10

From welfare benefit to capitalized asset

The re-commodification of residential space in urban China

Deborah S. Davis


Introduction

On the eve of the Communist victory in 1949 urban housing was a privately owned asset. Real estate transactions were highly commercialized and residents from all economic strata viewed residential property and land as commodities that could be traded, sold, rented or sublet for a profit. However, after more than three decades of war, urban housing stock was in disrepair and there was an acute shortage of space. Millions camped on the streets or lived in crowded, make-shift hovels. Thus when the new Communist government nationalized urban land in 1950 (Wang and Murie 1999:58) and presented a socialist property regime where all new urban housing could only be collectively owned, there was little opposition. The minority who already owned their homes were permitted to continue to hold full title to their residence, but for the overwhelming majority, the Communist victory de-commodified residential space and transformed a private, capitalized asset into a public welfare benefit.

In terms of property rights, the communist revolution had created a system of urban tenancy where public agents held the ultimate rights of use, the rights to all financial gain, and the right to sell or alienate the property. Thus with the exception of a small minority of homeowners, urban residents became renters with limited rights of occupancy and no option to become property owners (Whyte and Parish 1984:82). 1 In 1978, when the Deng leadership jettisoned most of the Maoist blueprint, they also questioned the ideological foundations of the existing urban housing policy and subsequently launched a series of program innovations that by 1999 had re-commodified and privatized most urban housing stock (Li 2000). However, the route by which urban residential property was re-commodified and

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