Rooted in earth, rooted in community: Aging in rural houses of northern China

J. H. Shin, Kin Wai Michael Siu, Y. H. Ma (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Northern China has experienced unprecedented urbanization over the past several decades, with younger Chinese moving to cities while leaving the lion's share of the older population in rural areas. This study explores how this structural change creates unique opportunities and challenges for older adults living in rural houses, which informs their everyday practices, the meanings of homes, and their subsequent housing choices. We examined the housing experiences of rural older adults through a field study conducted in Heilongjiang province. The study employed qualitative in-depth interviews with thirty-two older adults who live or have lived in rural housing, along with systematic documentation of their houses through photography and hand drawings captured from the field. We analyzed the interview narratives and images using the Glaserian grounded theory method to allow a high level of flexibility and conceptualization. The study identified five core categories of residential experiences: (1) houses as sites of production; (2) the earth/dwelling relationship; (3) social life in interstitial spaces; (4) the house as a means to preserve agency in old age and; (5) the burdensome house. These features were directly linked to the older adults' senses of home and their subsequent housing choices. The rural houses offered a strong sense of agency and belonging to rural older adults, but the city's expansion, the changing household registration system, and their aging bodies forced rural older adults to engage in constant reevaluation of their houses, informing their residential choices. We discuss the study's theoretical contributions and offer insights into policies and future planning for residential areas in both rural and urban areas by comparing the spatial configurations of rural dwellings with their urban apartment counterparts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101025
JournalJournal of Aging Studies
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • Aging in place
  • Chinese rural houses
  • Community
  • Everyday practice
  • Interstitial space
  • Land tenure
  • Meaning of home
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy


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