If you click on the real estate section of the City Categories website, you’ll see several villas and apartments for sale in a small town in central China — but some of these properties aren’t technically located in residential areas. Instead, upon close inspection with online maps, they appear to be on the campus of a private primary school.
According to a report in local newspaper Orient Today, the construction of residences on the grounds of the Huaxia Foreign Language Primary School, which is located in Taikang County in Henan province, has been fiercely contested by local administrative bodies, although the school’s teachers and students have defended the project.
So far, the school has built 10 villas and 18 apartment buildings, ranging from 7 to 11 stories high. All of the homes are for sale. The report said that teachers now meet with prospective buyers in the student admissions office.
Sixth Tone spoke to a man surnamed Zhang who owns one of the apartments and is hoping to sell it. “I have had many people come and look around,” he said. “Lots of people have already moved in — the building is almost full.”
While the apartments were initially built for teachers, Zhang said, he himself is not employed by the school and does not live in Taikang County year-round. He is, however, the owner of a three-bedroom, 128-square-meter apartment on campus priced at 300,000 yuan (nearly $44,000). The apartment is described as four years old and unfurnished, with full access to the school’s cafeteria and facilities. It shares its entrance with the primary school.
Zhang’s apartment is listed on a real estate website along with several other properties at Huaxia Foreign Language Primary School. The newer apartments on campus are looked after by school staff, who have their own keys to show them off to prospective buyers.
Zhang admitted that there were a few problems with his apartment: It doesn’t have an official zoning certificate or presale permit, and his contract has not been documented by the state housing department.
China’s Private Education Promotion Law stipulates that land designated for education shall not be put to any other use. When the primary school was first established in 2005, the local authority granted it 83.7 mu, or nearly 14 acres, of land. However, the school soon began to illegally absorb more land. Despite a financial penalty imposed by the local government, the primary school proceeded to build residential property on the campus.
In August 2016, the local housing department attempted to halt construction by confiscating equipment, but the students and teachers revolted. Students even climbed onto cars and threw stones at the officials’ vehicles, according to a government memo. Eventually, the police were called in, and all future demands to cease construction were ignored by the school’s leaders.
Taikang County, where Zhoukou City is located, is proud of its development of private education over the past decade. Since the mid-2000s, private investment has been pouring into the city with the support of local government. In the first half of 2004, the city received nearly 1 billion yuan for investment in education. Huaxia was one of the first private institutions to emerge during that period.
Huaxia Foreign Language Primary School could not be reached for comment on Thursday afternoon, and a person who answered the phone at the local education department told Sixth Tone that they knew nothing about the school’s activities.
A director from the local land authority said that they do not dare investigate the school’s land use because it attracts investment to a rural area that’s otherwise relatively poor. Land that’s put toward educational purposes is generally cheaper than commercial land, so private schools can often buy it at a discount. But it’s not unheard of for some private schools to try to profit from this advantage.
A similar case in another county in Henan province, for example, was reported in December 2015. The private school in question rented land from local farmers but then used the land not to educate children, but to build commercial apartments. Though the school claimed that the apartments were built for teachers, the media report found instead that it had colluded with developers and local authorities to profit from selling the apartments.
With contributions from Wang Yiwei.
(Header image: E+/VCG)