The Opportunities of Hegang with Its Cheap Housing?

Alex Lew, CFA
4 min readMar 25, 2023
Source: ZaoBao

Hegang, a former mining town in China’s northern region, is facing a population decrease as people leave the area due to low salaries, limited job opportunities, and harsh winters. However, in recent years, the combination of an increased housing market and a shrinking population has transformed Hegang into one of China’s cheapest cities.

In 2019, Hegang gained notoriety after young outsiders created viral videos and blog posts showcasing their ability to purchase apartments in the city for as little as 46,000 yuan ($6,700). This claim was supported by surveys, which showed that Hegang’s second-hand housing stock was sold at an average price of 2,152 yuan per square meter, making it 40 times cheaper than in Shenzhen, a high-tech southern metropolis.

Hegang has become a popular destination for those looking to turn their modest savings into a home. Although many people leave the area after just a few months due to the harsh winter temperatures, others visit briefly to decorate their newly purchased apartments before returning to their lives as migrant workers in eastern cities. Regardless, even this remote form of ownership offers a source of comfort for these migrants who may spend years in cities like Shanghai or Guangzhou but have no hope of purchasing homes there.

Hegang’s cheap housing reflects the cost-of-living crisis that China is facing. Between 1998 and 2021, urban homes in China have become four times less affordable, with a flat in Beijing costing an average of 6.3 million yuan, or about a million dollars, 34 times the average annual salary in the capital. This housing crisis highlights deep inequities in society, including significant income inequality and encrusted privilege from the socialist era.

Hegang is attracting a diverse group of individuals, including strivers, have-nots, and misfits. Some successful newcomers are supplementing their local jobs by creating short online videos and posts, earning millions of views for their films about the cold or the cheap cost of living in Hegang. However, not everyone is thrilled about the influx of outsiders. Some locals resent Chinese bloggers who refer to the city as a haven for those who want to “lie flat” and abandon their material ambitions. Despite this, some fresh starts in Hegang are life-changing. For instance, purchasing and renovating a flat for 70,000 yuan allowed a 25-year-old vlogger to make a home for herself and her sister, while supporting herself through various means, such as street vending, pet-sitting, and online customer service.

In conclusion, Hegang can be best understood as an accidental safety valve for the pressures of modern life in China. Its cheap housing, friendly atmosphere, and good schools make it an attractive destination for those seeking a fresh start. The fact that Hegang has become famous for its affordability highlights the tremendous pressure that Chinese society is under and the need for a safety valve.

The cost-of-living crisis in China is not limited to Hegang, as it is a nationwide issue. The rapid increase in housing prices and the limited availability of affordable housing have created a difficult situation for many urban residents. The government has taken some steps to address this crisis, such as investing in affordable housing projects, but much more needs to be done to ensure that all citizens have access to affordable and secure housing. The popularity of Hegang as a destination for those seeking a fresh start is a reflection of the severity of the cost-of-living crisis in China, and it serves as a reminder that the government must take action to address this critical issue.

In addition to addressing the cost-of-living crisis, the government must also focus on creating job opportunities and improving the overall standard of living in areas like Hegang. A thriving job market, combined with affordable housing, is crucial in retaining the population and attracting new residents. The government could, for example, invest in the development of new industries and businesses, as well as in the education and training of the local workforce. This would not only provide job opportunities for residents but also help to diversify the local economy and make it less reliant on a single industry.

Another important aspect to consider is the environment and quality of life in Hegang and other cities facing population decreases. The government should focus on improving the local infrastructure, including transportation, healthcare, and education, to make these areas more attractive to residents and businesses. By doing so, the government can help to create a more livable and sustainable environment for current and future residents.

In conclusion, the appeal of Hegang as China’s cheapest city highlights the critical need for the government to address the cost-of-living crisis and improve the standard of living in areas facing population decreases. By investing in job creation, education, and local infrastructure, the government can help to create a more livable and sustainable environment for all citizens. With the right policies and investments, cities like Hegang have the potential to thrive and become attractive destinations for those seeking a fresh start.

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