Picture this typical scenario: "Mommy, I want this candy…" screams "Mr. Chen" as a two-year-old. As a teenager, the request is more fancy but no less demanding: "Mom, can you buy me a laptop? All my friends have one." And now in his 20s, Mr. Chen asks: "Mother, buy me a flat?" Driving a second-hand Volkswagen Bora that his very doting parents acquired for him, Mr. Chen insists that an apartment is what he needs to find himself a wife. Car, flat, woman. He's set for life.
Or is he?
To someone unaccustomed to new-fangled practices in China, the above scenario might sound a little strange. But it is a lot more common than people think, particularly in major cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
In the West, if young adults continue to stay with their parents past the age of 18, they usually pay rent or give their parents a spending allowance in exchange for being allowed to stay.
According to an Internet survey conducted by sohu.com of nearly 10,000 young Chinese adults, 70 percent of them think nothing of asking their parents for money to buy a flat. Only 30 percent are opposed to that idea, stating a preference for independence and self-reliance.
"We are not babies anymore. It's our parents' money, not ours. We have no right to ask them, even if our parents are willing to give it to us," -- this was the general sentiment of the minority 30 percent.
Many young working people still live off their parents, earning for themselves the not-too-complimentary nickname "Ken Lao Zu" -- Ken means "eat," Lao means "the old," and Zu means "a group of people." Literally translated, it means "someone who lives off the elderly." Other rather embarrassing monikers include "kidult."
According to the survey, 84.85 percent of the respondents in Beijing think that it's common practice to buy apartments with parents' money. In Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, 86 percent support the practice; in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, the figure was 74.16 percent; and in Tianjin, 87.71 percent.
Those in support of the practice had this to say: "If it's for the down payment on a flat, I would definitely consider using my parents' money."
The making of the Ken Lao Zu
Ma Lei, an editor with sohu.com, offered an explanation for this seemingly leech-like behavior. The average monthly income of a young person new to the workforce in Beijing is between 2,000-3,000 yuan (US$250-375). Not everyone is fortunate enough to win the lottery. The down payment alone on a regular apartment these days is equivalent to at least five years worth of savings.
Hu Jinghui, deputy general manager of a real estate agency, admitted that the 80,000 yuan (US$10,000) down payment was paid for by his father. He said that there was no way he would have been able to buy the flat otherwise.
Hu listed four main reasons why young adults would turn to their parents for help. First, many of the marrying age typically only have four to five years of work experience. Although salaries are higher in Beijing than in many other cities in China, so is the cost of living.
Second, the real estate market is overheated and current housing prices are too high. Hu said: "Even a second-hand home is expensive. If you wanted to buy a 60-square-meter flat within the Fourth Ring Road, you'd need at least 400,000 yuan (US$50,000). The down payment and extras for renovations could add up to 200,000 yuan (US$25,000)."
Third, he said many families wish to reduce the amount borrowed from banks to avoid the high interest rates.
Last, in the traditional Chinese view, it is the responsibility and obligation of parents to take care of their children, even as adults.
However, Chen Xu, a Beijing-based lawyer, said: "A more reasonable course of action would be for a young person to first rent a house, then buy a small one before finally moving on to a bigger home."
(China.org.cn by Wang Ke, September 5, 2006)