China's economic development has often been contrasted with that of other transition economies in Europe, but academics have fought shy of making direct comparisons of urban housing reform in the two systems. This paper fills this gap by making such direct comparisons. Adopting the market-housing model advocated by the World Bank as an analytical framework it finds that extensive housing privatisation in China is supported by a system of urban housing property rights and a growing residential mortgage market. Although China has a distinctive institutional framework, there is also much variety among the European transition countries, and a distinctive Chinese model was not identified; so this micro-level analysis did not support the contention that China represents a form of 'contested modernity'. Nonetheless, a crucial point arises from China's hybrid status as a developing as well as a transition country. The bulk of the urban migrant population remains excluded from formal housing policy and enabling strategies that form an element of the market-housing model especially in developing countries are not so much replaced by a distinctive Chinese model as by a yawning gap.