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China: Voila! RMB 77 rent per month

To express the CCP's caring for the livelihood of ordinary people, the CCTV network news broadcast featured President Hu Jintao's visit to several low-income families in Beijing on December 30, 2010. However the conversation between President Hu and Guo Chunping, a representative of the low-income residents, at the affordable housing campus, has sparked off a new round of netizen uproar at the beginning of the new year.

RMB 77 rent per month

Shanghaiist has quickly translated the conversation:

Hu: When did you move in?
Guo: I've moved in over half a month now.
Hu: Oh, half a month, I see. How big is this apartment?
Guo: It's 45 square metres in all.
Hu: 45, huh. Two rooms?
Guo: Yes, two rooms.
Hu: How much rent are you paying for this apartment?
Guo: I pay RMB77 each month.
Hu: RMB77 each month — are you able to cope with the rent?
Guo: Yes. Secretary-General, I just wanted to say a big thank you to the party and the government. We are so touched to have been given this fabulous apartment to live in!
Hu: The party and the government are very concerned with the people's daily livelihoods. We've taken up a series of measures to further improve your daily lives. Well, we're so happy to see that your lives have been improved here!
Guo: Thank you! Thank you! Our country is really improving day by day. We never dreamed we would be living in such an apartment some day.

While people have been complaining about the housing property bubbles, the episode of “RMB77 rent for a 45 square metre apartment” of course has generated a great deal of resentment among people who are struggling to survive in the city. In reaction to the propaganda, Onion cartoon creates a sarcastic poster advertising the China Dynasty's super cheap hotel fee:

Government subsidy

The first question raised by the netizens is whether or not it is possible to find such low-rent apartment in a city where people are paying RMB200 per month for a dormitory bed. Netizen Longer, however, digs out some regulations related with government housing subsidy and finds out that it is indeed possible:

如果按照每月40元的政策補貼,45平米的房子政府將補貼 1800元,但最高限額是1500元,所以,政府應該是給郭家補貼了1500元。而45平米廉租房的市場房租標準應該是1577元,郭家自行每月再支付 77元房租。

If the government subsidizes RMB40 yuan per meter, the subsidy for a 45 square meter house would be RMB1800. However the maximum subsidy is RMB1500 yuan, we could conclude that the government pays Guo family RMB1500 per month while the rent of the affordable housing apartment is RMB1577 and the Guo family only need to pay RMB77 rent per month.

The question then followed is who can get the government housing subsidy? Netizen Renrou from MOP (post deleted) searched for Guo Chunping's real identity and found out that she is actually a civil servant working with the traffic police department in Beijing's Chaoyang District. According to their neighbours, Guo's family does not even live in the apartment. Moreover, netizens also dig out Guo's daughter's online photo album (all photos deleted) to show that their family is pretty well off, such as the fact that the daughter has visited many countries outside China.

Local newspapers, Southern Metropolis, picks up the story and points out that as Guo's family is composed of two persons, a single mother with a daughter who is still studying at the university, and in that case if her income is less than RMB 1160 per month, she is eligible to the government subsidy scheme.

New year wish censored

Although all the details are genuine, the propaganda is too detached from most people's living experience, the “truth” represented by the CCTV remains unconvincing and laughable. In the past few days, a sarcastic 2011 new year wish has been passing around through micro-blog and mobile:

北京月房租77元, 工资年增长11.2%,大学生就业率99.13%,官员不分昼夜学习八荣八耻, 大学生食堂就餐平均每顿两三元。我有一个梦想,就是能永远活在新闻联播里。

The monthly rent in Beijing is RMB77, the salary growth is 11.2%, the university student's employment rate is 99.13%, government officials are spending days and nights learning “Eight Honors and Eight Shames”, university students are paying on average RMB 2-3 for a meal. I have a dream: living in the world of CCTV news forever.

As Zhongnanhai points out, the netizens uproar is not about Guo's family:

It is about the people’s reaction to an official state television report. It’s not a good sign for the Communist Party when reports involving the President are ridiculed and mocked by citizens, even if it’s just online for now. The government is going to have to be a bit more persuasive in its propaganda, especially with an ever more sophisticated and connected citizenry.

However, the propaganda machine remains rigid in dealing with this kind of public debate and scrutiny. Currently the key phrase “77 rent per month” (月租 77) has been banned across micro-blogs and forums, while some discussions can still be found via Twitter:

@99_hero:

我妈刚才给我打电话了,“我看新闻联播北京房租才77元,你每月房租跟我说1000多,你钱都上哪去了!”我回答道:“胡说的,你也信?”

My mother has just called me. “The CCTV network news broadcast said that the rent in Beijing is just RMB77. You told me your rent is more than RMB1000. Where have you spent your money?” I answered: “You believe in bullshit? (pronunciation similar to “Hu said that.”)

@starboybin:

人与人的差别太大了:有人房租一个月只需77元,同样的房子,有的人却每天要77元。

People are facing different reality: Some are paying RMB77 per month, some are paying RMB77 per day.

@wuzhenyang

廉租房“月租77元”其实有的,只不过你申请不到,能申请得到的,一般都不住,而是出租,这就是现实,你哭吧。

It is true that affordable housing only costs “RMB 77 per month”. Only that you can't get this kind of benefit. For those who can get that, they don't live there. They rent it out. This is the reality. Cry as you like.

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