Skyrocketing property prices have the white-collars gossiping around the water cooler again.
Except it is not real property prices that are generating discussion. As it turns out, the buzz is more about the real estate prices in Jiangzhou, a fictional metropolis in the hugely popular TV show Dwelling Narrowness (“Snail House” in Chinese).
Adapted from best-selling writer Liu Liu’s popular novel of the same name, the TV series, which began in July, has achieved impressive viewing figures.
Dwelling Narrowness follows the story of the Guo sisters, Haiping and Haizao. Elder sister Haiping and her husband have borrowed heavily to buy a house in the outskirts of the city. In a desperate attempt to help her older sister come up with the downpayment, Haizao begins an affair with a corrupt official, who gives her the money.
The story for the younger sister gets worse. She suffers a miscarriage and her lover commits suicide after being accused of taking bribes. Her older sister fares somewhat better, eventually moving into her new home with her husband.
According to the Western China Metropolis Daily, the drama has struck a chord not only because it captures the stress of home-buying, but also because it taps into the frustration that ordinary folk feel about the booming real estate market. Price increases have made housing unaffordable for many (see last week’s issue).
“I understand and sympathise with them [the characters on the show]. They are not greedy or insatiable. They just want a small apartment. Every Chinese has the same desire. I just hate the soaring property prices and those causing them – governments and property developers,” says one angry blogger.
Another netizen writes: “I found our lives depicted in this drama, everything is exposed under the sunlight. There is no way out. In the face of housing and reality, we are seriously hurting.”
The TV drama has sparked a deep debate in a country where it’s a long-standing tradition that every family should “own” its own home. An internet poll on the popular web portal Tencent, which drew more than 360,000 votes, showed that over 80% of netizens agreed with the statement that “happiness is closely related to owning a home”.
Netizens have also picked up on individual stories of despair. A white-collar office worker in his late twenties jumped off a building in August because he could not afford to buy a property ahead of his marriage, says New Express Daily.
The popularity of the show – and rising government concerns over property prices – may have touched an official nerve.
Last week, viewers complained that Beijing Television had ceased broadcasting the show, says the newspaper Xi Bu Shang Bao.
The official response from the television station was that a technical problem had damaged the recording of the episode. But others detected darker motives. An unnamed station insider told the paper that the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) had ordered the show to be stopped because it was too closely related to the sensitive topic of rampaging real estate prices.
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