[U]nlike pawnshops in most countries, the real business [in China] is a steady stream of people putting their houses in hock…Beijing residents [in 2006] pawned houses valued at Rmb 1.5bn, much of it in order to buy shares.
China's asset market development has lagged well behind the extraordinary growth in the real economy during the post-1978 period. Secondary markets for government bonds did not even exist until the latter half of the 1980s and the interbank market was established only in 1997. Although stock exchanges were opened in the early 1990s, market capitalizations remained quite low relative to the size of China's economy and, on average, market performance was rather poor relative to the robust growth registered elsewhere. Finally, bond and equity prices, as well as real estate prices, have been vulnerable to the effects of abrupt regulatory policy shifts by the government. All this helps explain why asset markets have historically played only a small role in the funds raised by China's nonfinancial institutions. Indeed, even in 2006, bank financing still accounted for over 85% of total finance raised within China (Table 8.1). A positive element, though – as discussed in the following section – was the increase in the importance of corporate bonds from a minimal 1% share of total financing in 2004 to above 5% in 2005 and 2006.