Law of the land or land law? Notions of inequality and inequity in rural Anhui

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Much commentary on the unequal treatment of rural residents in China has focused on the role of local government in land requisitioning. The dependence of city, county and township governments on off-budget revenue acquired by the expropriation and sale of rural land gives rise to collusion between government and property developers, with farmers receiving paltry compensation (Y. Wu 2004 ; Gong 2006 ; F. Zhou 2007 ; R. Wu 2008 ). The Finance Ministry reported that in 2009, more than 1.4 trillion yuan was raised in land conveyancing fees ( tudi churang shouru ) (see Z. Liu 2010 ; Ministry of Finance 2010b ). In some localities these fees accounted for more than 60 per cent of off-budget revenue. To put the magnitude of this revenue windfall in perspective, in 2009 total national revenue collected was 5.96 trillion yuan (Ministry of Finance 2010a ). Little is directed towards agriculture or rural areas, with a large portion (27.1 per cent) allocated to urban construction projects. 1However widespread this land enclosure movement is, most farmland and farmers are located far from urban centres, and thus are unlikely to experience large-scale land requisitioning. This chapter examines how notions of inequality and inequity play out in a highly contested process that nearly all Chinese farmers have experienced, and will encounter in the future: land reallocation. In the face of more than two decades of government efforts to proscribe the practice, why does land reallocation persist, given that it appears to afford farmers less secure land use rights? At the heart of this question are notions of equality and fairness, and a broader notion of egalitarianism in rural China. Few studies have addressed this question, as it falls outside the quantitative mindset of most studies of land use. 2Yet land reallocation among farmers is one of the few examples we can point to of Chinese exceptionalism in the debate on the social costs of inequality. We can point to no other nations where demands for equality among households led to large-scale periodic reallocations of land, against the wishes of the central state, and often against the active opposition of the local state. Moreover, even in regions where the practice is rare, thedebate about whether and why (or why not) to adjust landholdings occurs in the lead-up to each Spring Festival period, and thus shapes the discourse among the majority of Chinese citizens about which matters more: land equality or legal equity? These voices are seldom heard, and the outcome of this long-running debate is far from settled.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationUnequal China: The Political economy and cultural politics of inequality
    Editors Wanning Sun and Yingjie Guo
    Place of PublicationLondon and New York
    PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
    ISBN (Print)9780415629102
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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