aging in tangtou, baishizhou

This past week I have been listening to stories from the residents of the Tangtou row houses. Here is one:

Old Xu was born on November 12, 1945. In neidi, he was an accountant on a production team and then for the village enterprise.  After the redistribution of land during the household responsibility system, he and his wife did not receive enough land to farm cotton profitably. Consequently, his three children left to work elsewhere and the land has gone fallow except for a small vegetable plot.

Two years ago, Old Xu came to Shenzhen at the age of 65 because he did not want to burden his children with the cost of his retirement. His wife continues to live back home, taking care of their grandchild.His pension is only 30 or 40 rmb a month. Together, he and his wife need 20,000 rmb annually, or about 1,700 a month to meet their expenses. In Baishizhou, he makes a living collecting and reselling cardboard boxes and other garbage. He says he can save money this way because although there’s no real profit, he makes enough to support himself and to bring a little home for Chinese New Year.

At present Old Xu lives with two other old men in one of the 25+ square meter houses. This house is one of the cheaper in the settlement, with a rent of about 600 rmb a month plus water and electricity. His share is 200 rmb a month, or roughly 5 times his retirement pension back home. A bathroom has been added to the outside of the building. Inside, the space has been divided for sleeping and simple cooking.

When I asked him how the environment could be improved, Old Xu said that old people have no place to exercise. Instead, they just sit around talking, but that was the fastest way to an unhealthy old age! Old Xu also admitted that he was lonely because except for his roommates, he didn’t know anyone in the area. He then shrugged and asked rhetorically, “What can be done? If I go home, I can only become a burden for my children.”

in the aftermath of housing reform (房改)

Much of what I know about Shenzhen, I know through hearsay. How much might be confirmed through other sources — people, reports, maps, or books, for example — is a methodological question. Sometimes I can track down confirmation, other times I can’t. What I do know, however, is that most folks are willing to talk about other people’s affairs, even when not willing to disclose anything about themselves. The other day, I heard a story about the Baoping Community compound and here’s how it goes:

Built in the area around the train station and then moving north parallel to the train tracks, the earliest residences for Shenzhen cadres were small, danwei compounds. In 1980ish, the Xili Industry and Trade Enterprise bought land rights from Caiwuwei Village and built a small compound along what became Heping Road, just east of the railway. Xili went out of business and Shenzhen Travel took over the compound. However, Shenzhen began privatizing danwei houses in 1988, a full ten years before the rest of the country. Thus, China Travel employees who had housing in the residential area were able to purchase their benefit housing (福利房) at cost.

Sometime after privatization, the residential compound was renamed, Baoping. Old and small, the residential compound is no longer upscale housing. Instead, most of the homes are shared rentals (合租), in which each bedroom is rented out and then the kitchen, bathroom, and living spaces are shared. Continue reading