Tag Archives: Housing Prices

“The Sound of Rising Prices”

It may not be as well-produced as the Chinese song about rising housing prices ((For more on how crazily expensive houses are, see this Danwei post.)), but rising inflation has finally inspired its own song.

The song is a parody of an already well-known tune called “The Sound of Applause” (掌声响起来, listen here). The parody version is called 涨声响起来, roughly translated as “The Sound of Rising Prices.” Here’s one of many videos that’s been made already:
http://www.tudou.com/v/kRdTpCGNBok/v.swf
(direct link to Tudou)

Here are the lyrics used in the video (note: the following translations are especially artless as I am exhausted and over-caffeinated, but you get the idea):

Standing at the counter of the supermarket,
Seeing how all the [prices] are rising,
I only feel like sighing,
There is nothing inexpensive,
So many prices have been changed,
Now regular people can’t afford to buy vegetables.

Thinking back on Chinese cabbage when I was young,
When 20 cents bought a big bagful,
I can’t keep from crying,
So many big buildings being constructed,
So many new cars being sold,
But I still have to tighten my belt.

As the sound of rising prices rises,
I feel more and more helpless,
My wages aren’t rising as fast as the prices,
As the sound of rising prices rises,
I begin to understand,
From now on I may have to eat [only] pickles ((咸菜 could be translated variously as pickles, salted veggies, salty food, etc. I’ve mixed and matched here for variety’s sake, but the point the songs are all making is that 咸菜 is relatively cheap.)).

Living in these times,
Are we lucky or is it tragic?
I feel even more like sighing.
There’s no such thing as “good quality goods at fair prices,”
Food, clothing, shelter, and transportation [costs] have all gone up,
I suffer each and every day,
Waking and hurrying to work,
Busy making money and paying off [housing] loans,
My happy carefree life is long gone,
So many second-generation rich kids are buying nice cars,
So many second-generation poor selling things off of blankets on the street,
The gap between rich and poor is getting worse.

As the sound of rising prices rises,
I feel more and more helpless,
Everyone will be eating salted turnips,
As the sound of rising prices rises,
I begin to understand,
We’d be better off and happier as beggars.

[Cue dramatic key change and female vocal harmony]

As the sound of rising prices rises,
I feel more and more helpless,
Everyone will be eating salted turnips,
As the sound of rising prices rises,
I begin to understand,
We’d be better off and happier as beggars!

However, netizens are so enthused about this song that there are already a bunch of versions (all share the same melody and, generally, the same rhyming sounds). Here’s are the lyrics as written in the image posted above, which we found being passed around on RenRen:

Standing at the supermarket counter,
Seeing [the price] of everything rise,
I feel unlimited helplessness in my heart,
So few inexpensive options,
So many prices have changed,
Common people can’t afford to buy vegetables!

As the sound of rising prices rises,
I feel more and more helpless,
Prices are rising faster than salaries,
As the sound of rising prices rises,
I begin to understand,
There’s no industry that isn’t tainted by corruption.

And here’s still another version of the lyrics we found here:

While eating bread and pickled veggies,
I heard the sound of prices rising,
And I suddenly feel like sighing,
Every day it’s radishes and cabbage,
Looking forward to when housing prices drop,
Waiting for my wife to “say bye-bye,”
The floor covered in instant noodle packaging
Is a record of my helplessness,
And I can’t keep from shedding a tear.
I was once confident and bold,
I was once strong and patient,
But in the end I was defeated by rising prices.

As the sound of rising prices rises,
My tears flow till they’re an ocean,
Some people laugh and some people are full of sorrow,
As the sound of rising prices rises,
My tears flow till they’re an ocean,
I finally understand the great importance of money

There are actually a lot more versions of this song, but we’ll leave it at that as they tend to be fairly similar. The phrase “the sound of rising prices” has even become so widespread that it’s referenced in news broadcasts, such as this story about the rise of “group purchasing” websites:

http://www.tudou.com/v/Tc4J880Vijo/v.swf

The Chinese government, of course, is busy throwing an absolute fit about Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize, and doing everything it can to appear as petulant and immature as a three-year old.

I think, though, that if the government is really concerned about things that “subvert state power,” they should lay off Liu and address the rising discontent with housing and commodity prices and the atrocious gap between rich and poor, which is manifesting itself in all kinds of ugly ways.

The incident I’ve linked to there, in which a police officer crashes his car into an old woman and then gets out to beat her, shouting “What I’ve got is money, so I’m gonna beat you today!” is just one of a number of recent rich-people-play-with-the-lives-of-the-poor stories that has incited outrage and violence.

Personally, I see this as the biggest challenge to state security that China currently faces. Unfortunately, it’s a tough one to blame on the West, so it looks like for now China’s government will be content to shriek their Liu Xiaobo conspiracy theories in increasingly-shrill editorial pieces that no one reads (except, of course, when they’re looking for a laugh).

Of course, why should the government care if “Kart-like” Westerners laugh at their ridiculous propaganda? They should, however, be concerned with the tone of public opinion in China, especially on the internet, where a recent Global Times op-ed noted (without a hint of irony):

[There is] a [sic] extreme lack of tolerance for dissident public opinion on the Internet where there is almost no room for opinions that favor the government.

Note that here, by “dissident,” they mean people who support the government. Yeah. That’s how bad it’s gotten.

Good luck, Zhongnanhai. Your preposterous “Confucius Prize” stunt might succeed in distracting people from the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony (at least for as long as it takes to laugh, snort derisively, and change the channel), but I’m not sure it’s going to distract Chinese people from the fact that despite China’s powerhouse economy, living here seems to be getting harder and harder.

Huang Zheng’s “Sell” Music Video

You have probably seen this elsewhere, but if you haven’t already, you should:

http://player.youku.com/player.php/sid/XMTgxMDk1Nzky/v.swf

(If the embedded video doesn’t work, try this link).

ChinaHush has an in depth explanation of the music video’s story, and Danwei has translated the lyrics, so go there for the in-depth scoop, but here’s the short version: both the song (implicitly) and the music video (explicitly) are a rather depressing take on China’s housing prices. (The video features different people in society imagining how long it would take them to buy the same house; answers range from 5 days for a rich businessman to over 500 years for a migrant worker).

I am not an avid follower of Chinese pop music or music videos, but this one has been getting quite a bit of attention, attracting millions of views within a few days time. As compared to most Chinese pop music (that I’m familiar with) it’s quite political, and the video is rather bleak. It is, if nothing else, another indication of just how deep the frustration with the housing market runs here. And as far as music goes, it’s rare for something this political to get this popular.

With apologies to Danwei, here’s my own translation of the lyrics, which I think is more thorough than theirs:

Trying to live like a human being,
I was forced to hollow out my heart,
Feeling their dreams are too far off,
Some people have sold off their wings,
Feeling a pain others can’t understand,
I lift my head and stay silent,
Having desires [at all] is so arrogant,
Who would be willing to flaunt them [on top of it]?

I would rather bleed than cry,
I would rather see myself suffer,
Selling out my own dreams ((The original here means “crazy”, not dreams; I’m interpreting it as more like “craze” here.)), why bother hiding it?
I would rather bleed than cry,
I would rather laugh as I suffer,
Selling out my own beliefs, how ridiculous

I don’t care, don’t care about all the scars,
Whatever, who cares if I’m changed beyond recognition,

I would rather bleed than cry,
I would rather see myself suffer,
Selling out my own dream, why bother hiding it?
I would rather bleed than cry,
I would rather laugh as I suffer,
Selling out my own beliefs, how ridiculous

Feeling a pain others can’t understand,
I lift my head and stay silent,
You have your heaven, and I have my wings.

Here are some comments netizens have left on Youku about the video and the song:

“Buying a house…[in the video] they spray blood, [but] I [would] spray brains…”

“Strongly ding ((Similar to “up” or “bump” in English BBS forum slang, indicates pushing something to the top of a webpage, now has also been coopted as a general way of expressing approval)), do not let this song drop”

“We can only kill or be killed, it’s better to go out like a hero than to be crushed to death by the system. Remember to choose who you kill wisely, kill [government] officials.”

[In response to the above comment:] “Well said.”

“I cried at the end.”

“Being a person is hard…being an honest and upright person is even harder!!!”

“Being a “house slave” for a generation is horrible, being a house slave your how life is even worse…fuck, housing prices…”

“These days, domestic pop music is all about discussing love, songs related to [real] life are fewer than few. I support this song by Huang Zheng. Songs that reflect life are the longest lasting ((The word he actually uses here means “vitality” but I think this is really what he means)).”

“Regardless of whatever the officials say, in the eyes of the people, this is a great work of art!”

“If you don’t ding this, you’re simply inhuman. So much better than CCAV [joke name for CCTV]”

Government Officials Buy Housing at 4% of Market Value

The following is a translation of this recent article posted on Southern Weekend. The article discusses the issue of low-priced housing available to public officials through their departments. In some extreme cases, public officials pay only 4% of the total market value, such as in the Xizhimen area of Beijing.

Translation

Throughout the country, housing prices have been rising steeply, so much so that the government has recently had no choice but to institute new policies to try and curb costs. The government’s hand has been forced in light of a recent publication titled “Public Officials Buy Houses at Astonishing Prices”, which after its publication became widely read throughout the internet. Compare the price [public officials pay] with the going rate for similar housing in the same area:

Mortage Slave

Housing for city officials in the Qiaoxi district of Shijiazhuang City costs 4,000 RMB/meter, where the market price is 30,000 RMB/meter. In Beijing, public officials can buy housing in Xizhimen, near the railroad tracks, for 2,000 RMB/meter. The market price in this area is 50,000 RMB/meter. Also in Beijing, the market price for housing in Guangqumenwai area goes for 35,000 RMB/meter, whereas public officials only pay 4,500 RMB/meter [….]

As soon as this publication was posted, it received a huge reaction [from the public]. But what has really caused public opinion to buzz is that the claims in this article have been verified. [Southern Weekend] has interviewed Beijing Institute of Technology professor Hu Xingdou, an avid observer of issues relating to fairness and justice.

Southern Weekend: According to what you know, is this type of situation common in Beijing?

Professor Hu: Many central government departments purchase affordable housing for public officials. They also build low-cost commercial housing. All of these houses are within the second and third rings of the city where costs average between 20,000 to 30,000 RMB/meter. If public officials are buying houses for only between 3,000 – 5,000 RMB/meter, then they are saving anywhere between 2 – 3 million RMB in total, and in some cases as much as 4 – 5 million.

SW: How do you view this phenomenon of public officials benefiting from limited housing costs?

Hu: This problem […] was very unexpected. It’s a classic case of using abusing public authority for private gain. It is a serious case of corruption.

SW: Some people say that this is a case of public officials legally benefiting [from their position]. How do you feel about this?

Hu: This is absolutely illegal. Public officials should [be treated] just the same as ordinary citizens—they should have to go out into the market and buy commercial housing. Their income is not any lower than others. There’s no reason for them to receive such benefits.

House Shopping

SW: Do public officials enjoy better benefits than ordinary citizens?

Hu: Public officials truly are enjoying better benefits than ordinary citizens. Such benefits include housing, government-issued cars, meal reimbursement, retirement funds, and medical insurance. The current system has turned public officials into a privileged class, which was inevitably brought about by the expansion of the government’s power. Such power has continued to grow since the introduction of policies to reform the country’s political and economic systems [starting in 1978]. This power has largely seeped into the market, and has not been restricted. Some central government departments are using their special power for private gain. Local government subordinates follow the example set by their superiors, and in many cases go even further.

SW: Will the new regulations suppress rising house costs?

Hu: In the short run, the policies will have some affect. Prices may go down temporarily. [The aforementioned government] departments have already halted this [corrupt] behavior. However, as soon as these rumors pass, this type of phenomenon may reappear. The root of the problem lies in [the fact that] there is no limit to the government’s power [….]

SW: [The government] has recently legislated the “Housing Protection Act”. What are your thoughts on this new regulation?

Hu: If it’s supervised well, it will be great [….] I think it ought to limit the housing that public officials can purchase, unless the public official in question falls within the lower-income bracket, but this is impossible.

SW: Many people say that the government will never issue laws or policies which limit their benefits.

Hu: The important thing here is that the government listens to and respects public opinion.

SW: Which country do you believe handles issues of housing, house prices, etc. well?

Hu: Actually, all countries handle this issue better than China. In Singapore, for example, 86% of citizens have adequate housing. In regards to affordable housing, both the public and the country have property rights […] so housing prices in Singapore are high, but everyone has the ability to buy a house. Aside [from Singapore], in northern Europe, in countries such as Sweden, protected housing comprises 30 – 40% [of the market], but in China it’s just 10%, and in some places [in China], as low as about 5%, with [much of the protective housing] being owned by the rich.

SW: Why is it that our country’s public policies aimed at [controlling] housing [issues] has failed?

Public Officials Getting a Good Deal

Hu: The recent measures and steps taken have been treating the symptoms but not the root cause. These measures haven’t even started to touch the root of the problem, which lies in the government’s monopoly over the provision of land and high rate of taxes collected. The government collects taxes on about 60% of property. In Shanghai, they collect 64.5%. As such, the government’s profit needs to be controlled [….]

Getting back to the original topic, the favoritism showed to public officials in regards to purchasing low-cost housing belongs to a discriminatory system with Chinese characteristics. People with special power enjoy the benefits of protected housing. Ordinary city dwellers can only buy commercial housing, and country peasants rely on themselves to build housing. This is an issue we must breakthrough.

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Housing Prices Up 1.5%? “Yeah Right,” Say Netizens

The National Department of Statistics recently published a report on economic and social developments in 2009. Among the statistics found in the report are the past year’s housing pricing changes. In a year when people were literally lighting themselves on fire over housing issues and many complained of skyrocketing housing prices, the official verdict is in:

The data shows in large and middle-sized cities housing market prices went up by 1.5%. Newly built dwellings went up 1.3%, the prices of secondhand dwellings went up 2.4%, and the prices for renting/leased housing went down by 0.6%.

Henan Man Protests High Housing Prices
But that 1.5% figure hasn’t exactly been well received. From this article:

The Statistics Department’s 1.5% yearly increase is obviously lower than what many people have experienced in reality. Yesterday, as soon as the statistics were published, there was immediately hot debate on the internet. One netizen wrote, “Even in a small town, prices going up by over 30% was common last year, and in cities it was even more. A 1.5% increase, can you believe it? Obviously they put the decimal point in the wrong place.”

Others have called into question the usefulness of national statistics and called on the government to release more specific local statistics. Said Beijing realtor Yang Shaofeng:

Because of China’s regional differences, the housing prices in cities in different regions could be relatively disparate. Even in the same city, in central and suburban districts there are high and low housing prices. Because of this, the experiences of people from different regions toward the increase in housing prices is naturally different.

Comments on both original articles seem to be closed — clicking “leave a comment” on the Xinhua stories currently results in an error message — and there seems to be a mysterious dearth of comments on reposts of the news on other sites, too. For example this Mop repost has only one comment (“It’s simply nonsense, perhaps the Statistics Department are all blind?”) and this repost on Tianya is getting responses, but apparently slowly enough for someone to comment: “Why is nobody responding?”

What comments are there are pretty harsh. “Those in the public sector are stupid c**ts,” wrote one. Another wrote, “Actually, we common people won’t blame those in the Statistics Department for eating, drinking, and having fun [on the public dime], just don’t come out with messy altered statistics like this, OK?”

The statistic certainly does look questionable, especially in light of January’s apparent 9.5% spike. A botched decimal point? Intentionally fudged numbers? National data thrown off by massive regional disparities? You can be the judge of the cause, but whatever the reason, Chinese netizens certainly aren’t buying.