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Housing construction in towns and cities lagged behind urban population growth. A 1978 survey of housing conditions in 192 cities found that their combined population had increased by 83 percent between 1949 and 1978, but housing floor space had only grown by 46.7 percent. In 1978 there were only 3.6 square meters of living space per inhabitant in these cities, a reduction of 0.9 square meter since 1949. To remedy this problem, construction of modern urban housing became a top priority in the late 1970s, and by the mid-1980s new high-rise apartment blocks and the tall cranes used in their construction were ubiquitous features of large cities. Some apartments in the new buildings had their own lavatories, kitchens, and balconies, but others shared communal facilities. Nearly all were of much higher quality than older houses, many of which were built of mud bricks and lacked plumbing.

By 1981 living space in urban housing had increased to 5.3 square meters per person, and by 1985 the figure was 6.7 square meters (see Housing Construction , ch. 7). Despite this progress, scarcity of housing continued to be a major problem in the cities, and many young married couples had to live with parents or make do with a single room (see Housing , ch. 3).

Housing conditions in rural areas varied widely. During the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of production brigades built sturdy, sanitary houses and apartments and in many cases entire new villages. With the introduction of the responsibility system and the more than doubling of rural incomes in the early 1980s, another wave of housing construction took place as farm families moved quickly to invest in their major personal assets--their homes-- which for the most part were privately owned. Many farm family houses lacked running water, but virtually all had electricity and were considerably more spacious than urban dwellings. In 1980 farm homes averaged 9.4 square meters of living space per person, and by 1985 the figure had risen to 14.7 square meters. Despite extensive construction of new housing, in poorer regions some farm families still lived in traditional dwellings, such as mud-brick and thatch houses or, in some regions, cave houses. Many of the nomadic herders in Nei Monggol, Xinjiang, and Xizang (Tibet) autonomous regions still lived in tents or felt yurts. In the Chang Jiang Valley and in south China, some fishing and boat transportation communities continued to live on their vessels (see Minority Nationalities , ch. 2).

Data as of July 1987