Why a young Chinese man opted for a small northeastern city

November 12, 2019 11:49
Lower living costs and a more relaxed lifestyle are prompting a growing number of Chinese to opt to live in smaller towns. Photo: Yicai

While a lot of young mainlanders are struggling with exorbitant home prices in big cities, Li Hai, 33, recently bought a 77-square-meter apartment in the northeastern Heilongjiang province for less than 60,000 yuan (US$8,450)

Li, born in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, earns a monthly salary of around 9,000 yuan as a mechanic on a ship. He usually works on the sea for several months, takes a few weeks of break and then goes back to work again.

Since Li spends most of his time on a ship, whether he is living in a top-tier city or not does not really matter so much. As home prices were very high in his home town, Li decided to look elsewhere among the smaller cities.

He visited several lower-tier cities, including Yumen in Gansu province, Lincang in Yunnan province and Engshi in Hubei province before setting his eye on Hegang in Heilongjiang.

The small city has a population of 1.1 million. Its economy used to rely on coal mining, but as the city has gradually begun to run out of coal reserves, people are moving out. As a result, home prices are cheap, and one can easily find an apartment costing less than 1,000 yuan per square meter.

Li bought his apartment for 58,000 yuan, or around 750 yuan per square meter.

Though Hegang has poor transport links with other parts of the country, Li is nevertheless pleased with what the city has to offer.

There are adequate public facilities such as hospitals, libraries, playgrounds, etc. There are also plenty of shopping malls, convenience stores, internet cafes and restaurants. Li does not feel much of a difference from living in a big city.

Li has made many new friends after he moved to the town. Many of them moved to Hegang for similar reason. Most of them don’t have nine-to-five office jobs. Some are owners of online shops, and some are freelance writers or programmers.

Li has shared his experience online, and his post has gone viral. Lots of young people have expressed interest in following suit.

Although the main trend in China would still be for the majority of people to live in big cities or the satellite cities around them, we can expect to see more people like Li opting for small towns in the coming years, in view of the lower living costs and a more relaxed lifestyle.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 11

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist