Long blamed for congestion and social disunity, China’s gated communities continue to be desirable places to live

Zhang Yan’s neighborhood in central Beijing is a safe one—at least that was what she thought when she went to bed as usual one evening, leaving her front door unlocked. But when she got up later to check the source of a commotion in her living room, she found that her bag was gone.

The thief escaped, despite the fact that Zhang lived in a “closed” residential community, surrounded by walls, with security guards at the entrances and multiple surveillance cameras in the stairwells. “I called the police…but when we went to view the tape, we found that those exact few minutes of footage had been deleted,” Zhang told TWOC, suspecting an inside job by the property management company in charge of the community; but without proof, “there was nothing we could do.”

In much of the world, gated areas of apartment blocks are the domain of the super-rich, but in China, they have become a middle-class norm. With their high walls and restricted entry to the public, the vast “closed communities” that occupy China’s urban landscape are prized by prospective homeowners for their convenient housing services, provided by property management companies, and a sense of exclusivity and safety (though Zhang’s story suggests there is no guarantee of this). Urban planners and sociologists, however, decry them for the problems they pose for traffic and social cohesion.

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Building Blocks is a story from our issue, “Contagion.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the deputy managing editor at The World of Chinese. He writes mainly about society, sport, and culture, with his pieces touching on diverse topics from the future of China’s ski industry to efforts to prevent juvenile crime.

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