Investigating the Changing Faces of China’s Rural Land Policies

Chow, Teddy [Browse]
Senior thesis


Widner, Jennifer A. [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
Between 2000 and 2014, there were two policy trends to reform China’s rural land tenure regime. The first trend: to accommodate the increasing participation of agribusinesses and large family farms in China’s rural economy, the central government relaxed and modified prior restrictions on rural land use rights afforded to rural peasants. The second trend: to limit the instances of land expropriation, the central government instituted increasing protection to prevent the removal of rural land use rights afforded to rural peasants. The 1986 Land Administration Law granted rural peasants equal rural land use right to an assigned plot of farmland for management and subsistence. The first trend involved first allowing rural peasants to convert their assigned land into equity shares, and receive dividend payments from agribusinesses in a “cooperative model,” and later allowing the direct leasing of rural land use rights to third parties, including agribusinesses and large family farms. The second trend involved first stipulating that rural land managed by rural peasants could only be expropriated for urban construction, for the purpose of public interest, and defining the aspects of compensation that followed taking away rural land from peasants, and later stipulating that rural land could only be taken away from rural peasants under their consent. This thesis employed 4 hypotheses to explain why the central government chose these two directional changes in policies to reform China’s rural land tenure regime: policies that realized long-term objectives were picked, policies that incentivized local implementation were picked, policies were a response to pressures from marginalized peoples, and policies that would further the benefits of vested interests were picked. It was discovered that the first policy trend was introduced because the central government wanted to further its long-term objective of scaling up agricultural production, and developing the rural economy, as well as to further the interests of agribusinesses and large family farms. On the other hand, it was discovered that the second policy trend was introduced, because the central government wanted to maintain the immediate social stability of China’s rural areas and address the increasingly violent protests of rural peasants, overriding the long-term objective to urbanize. Urbanization was a goal yet to be realized. In 2014, a different approach to rural land tenure reform was announced: rural peasants could change their hukou to urban, without losing their rural land use rights and surrendering their assigned plot of land. This thesis argues that the intention behind this policy was to let rural peasants acclimate to urban life over time first, before expropriating their land for the long-term objective of urbanization, thus reducing chances for mass rural protests. This thesis recommends that the central government ensure full assimilation of the newly urbanized, clearly define policy duration, and ensure local-level implementation for the intention behind this 2014 policy change to fully materialize.

Supplementary Information