Why squatters in unfinished apartments spell trouble for Xi Jinping : The Indicator from Planet Money Xi Jinping was reappointed as China's leader over the weekend. He faces a housing market crisis that could put China's overall economy at risk.

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The mess at the heart of China's economy

The mess at the heart of China's economy

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Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images
People gather at the Evergrande headquarters building in Shenzhen, southeastern China on September 15, 2021, as the Chinese property giant said it is facing unprecedented difficulties but denied rumours that it is about to go under.
Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images

For the past few decades, China's housing market has reached astonishing heights. In the early nineties, only a quarter of the population lived in cities. Since then, a combination of massive urbanization, economic growth and speculation has made Chinese property the largest asset class in the world.

As Xi Jinping takes on a third term as China's leader, though, the country is in the midst of a generational housing crisis. The nation's largest developers are defaulting on their credit obligations, millions of homebuyers have been waiting years for apartments that still aren't finished and citizens are refusing to pay their mortgages en masse in a rare form of domestic protest. Today, we trace China's real estate boom and bust from its origins in the early 1990s through to the present day.

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For sponsor-free episodes of The Indicator from Planet Money, subscribe to Planet Money+ via Apple Podcasts or at plus.npr.org.