Classroom warfare

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WiC has written before about the race to buy property near Beijing’s better schools, following new rules that enrolment should be based entirely on the student’s address (see issue 236). But the changes are leading to some rapid price rises in unlikely quarters, including in some of the capital’s more decrepit hutong (the city’s traditional narrow streets), where courtyard houses are being split up and sold as single units to desperate parents.

The Beijing News has reported that one tiny 4.4 square metre room has just been purchased for Rmb4.35 million ($710,372) – or Rmb300,000 per square metre – purely because it is located in the catchment area for a popular primary school in the Xicheng district of the city. Often it is the smaller places that are most in demand, because local residents face fewer purchase restrictions in buying “bungalows” in the older dwellings in Beijing’s side streets and back alleys. Many lack their own kitchens or bathrooms, which were previously shared communally by neighbours.

But the shortage of facilities is rarely troubling to the new owners, who have no intention of living in their new purchases, seeing them only as tactical acquisitions in the battle for school places. Once the school has seen an appropriate residency permit, many owners sell up, hoping to profit from price rises in the most strategically located neighbourhoods.

As a Mrs Li confirmed to the Global Times, her family won’t be moving into her own tiny purchase. But her 4 year-old son won’t get into a decent school unless they plan ahead.

“If we do not buy now, it will be more expensive as more and more parents are buying these kinds of ‘enrolment houses’. The earlier, the cheaper,” she explained. “If he cannot go to a good primary school, then he won’t be able to go to a good junior high school, or a good high school, or a good university, which will ultimately ruin his life!” she lamented.

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