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Shenzhen’s High Rents Drive Young Chinese to Live in Tricked-Out Vans

By Jake Beardslee · July 21, 2023

In brief…

  • Shenzhen e-commerce worker Twiggy He lives in a refurbished RV, saving big bucks while embracing a new, care-free lifes
  • Her RV is named "YOLO" and sits snugly and inexpensively in her company's parking lot.
  • RV life has become a viable alternative for young Chinese urbanites facing skyrocketing housing costs.
  • The RV option has saved another van dweller, Zhang Xi, thousands of yuan in rent. He eventually plans to use the savings for down payment on an apartment in a more affordable city.
Skyrocketing housing prices in Chinese cities like Shenzhen are driving young professionals to seek unconventional living arrangements such as
converting vans into permanent homes.  Dinkun Chen, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

E-comerce worker Twiggy He’s unconventional home has become the talk of her office in the Chinese tech-hub of Shenzhen. Why? Because it’s not a house, and it’s not an apartment. It’s a refurbished RV complete with a kitchen, bathtub and piano that’s parked snugly in her company’s parking lot.

In an interview with France24, He explained that she chose to live in the brightly painted, remodeled van she calls “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) for its a carefree, no-strings-attached lifestyle.

“I find living in an RV to be very free,” said He. “And it doesn’t give me any anxiety about buying a house, or make me feel like I need to settle down in this city. It’s hard to predict what will happen in the future. Maybe I’ll even move to a new city in a few years.”

He, at age 28, is part of a trend of young urbanites who have opted for non-traditional living situations after watching the price that have long roiled the housing market in China’s big cities.

RV life has saved He thousands of yuan in rent. “Previously, my rent cost around 2,000 yuan ($275), or including bills 2,500 yuan ($345). But now my rent costs just 600 yuan ($83), since parking costs 20 yuan ($2.8) per day. So 30 days of parking would cost 600 yuan,” she explained.

Another van dweller, Zhang Xi told France 24 that the unaffordable cost of traditional housing was the primary reason he and his partner began living in an RV last May. Soon after, they started a business converting vans for others seeking the same lifestyle.

“Housing prices in Shenzhen are so unimaginably high [for] young people. So we never even considered buying a house. We don’t think buying a house in Shenzhen is something the two of us need to do,” said Zhang.

According to a recent survey, rents in Shenzhen consume nearly half of an individual’s income. Owning a home is an even greater financial challenge. Zhang and his wife intend to continue living in their van until they have children, saving about 3,000 yuan per month on rent and transportation. Their eventual goal is to use those savings for a down payment on an apartment in a less expensive city.