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China’s 1.4bn People Couldn’t Fill Empty Homes: Ex-Official

A former statistics bureau chief has gone public with his negative view of the country’s crisis-hit property sector

102 cities in China are struggling to service their debts, Rhodium Group has said.
Unfinished apartments are seen in Guilin, China in this Reuters image from Sept 2022.


China’s population of 1.4 billion wouldn’t be enough to fill all the empty apartments littered across the country, a former official claimed on Saturday.

China’s property sector, once the pillar of the economy, has slumped since 2021 when real estate giant China Evergrande Group defaulted on its debt obligations following a clampdown on new borrowing.

Big-name developers such as Country Garden Holdings continue to teeter close to default even to this day, keeping home-buyer sentiment depressed.

“How many vacant homes are there now? Each expert gives a very different number, with the most extreme believing the current number of vacant homes are enough for 3 billion people,” said He Keng, 81, a former deputy head of the statistics bureau, in a rare public critique of the country’s crisis-hit property market.


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“That estimate might be a bit much, but 1.4 billion people probably can’t fill them,” He said at a forum in the southern Chinese city Dongguan, according to a video released by the official media China News Service.

As of the end of August, the combined floor area of unsold homes stood at 648 million square metres (7 billion square feet), the latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show.

That would be equal to 7.2 million homes, according to Reuters calculations, based on the average home size of 90 square metres.

That does not count the numerous residential projects that have already been sold but not yet completed due to cash-flow problems, or the multiple homes purchased by speculators in the last market upturn in 2016 that remain vacant, which together make up the bulk of unused space, experts estimate.

His negative view of the economically significant sector at a public forum stands in sharp contrast to the official narrative that the Chinese economy is “resilient”.

“All sorts of comments predicting the collapse of China’s economy keep surfacing every now and then, but what has collapsed is such rhetoric, not China’s economy,” a spokesperson at the foreign ministry said at a recent news conference.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara


Read more:

Shares of China Property Giants Sink as New Hurdles Arise

Evergrande Wealth Management Unit Staff Detained by Police

Country Garden Creditors Fear it Won’t Dodge Another Bullet

Moody’s Sounds Alarm For China’s Troubled Property Sector

Hui Ka Yan and The Rise and Fall of China Evergrande



Sean O'Meara

Sean O'Meara is an Editor at Asia Financial. He has been a newspaper man for more than 30 years, working at local, regional and national titles in the UK as a writer, sub-editor, page designer and print editor. A football, cricket and rugby fan, he has a particular interest in sports finance.


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