Category Archives: Field missions




Newsstand in Chaotianmen (朝天门), near the confluence of the Jialing river (嘉陵江) and the Yangzte (长江). Photo taken during a field trip to Chongqing in March 2014.

In the age of smart phones, e-books, personal digital assistants, tablets, and a long train of etcetera, paper books seem to be doomed to disappear from the streets. This outcome, which has been attempted by emperors and envisioned in science fiction, might eventually happen due to technology. Perhaps it was happening already, before the arrival of these electronic devices, which in most cases are used for anything but reading. At any rate, the passer-by is captivated once more by traditional newsstands that bring a whiff of nostalgia. The one in the photo offers a library service as well. Readers may borrow books from the collection available for 1 yuan a day. There is no need to register or ask for a reader’s card. Trust is taken for granted, and it seems to work. According to the seller, never has a reader forgotten to return a book.

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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Poultry market

Poultry market, Elosua Miguel

Steaming a freshly slaughtered chicken to get the feathers out. Photo taken during a field trip to Chongqing in November 2013.

Live poultry markets have been shut down again this winter in many places in China as a new spate of  H7N9 human infections have been reported  (see last year’s article about this issue: Numerous experts have indicated that visiting live poultry markets may be the most likely source of infection. The Golden Triangle of the Yangtze, particularly Zhejiang province, and Guangdong province are the worst affected regions. Hong Kong has introduced stringent measures to keep the virus at bay, requiring mainland farms to operate under licence, and ordering the slaughtering and freezing of any available unsold poultry at the end of the day. Public concern might lead to a permanent closure of poultry markets. Experts advocate a change in people’s lifestyle, promoting buying frozen chicken instead of fresh.1 The most disturbing fact is that the drugs currently available seem to be ineffective. Therefore, the strategy is to deal with the virus at its source. The days of live poultry markets in China may well be numbered.

Poultry market 2, Elosua Miguel Live poultry market in Guanling county, Anshun city (Guizhou)  

  1. Last visited on 13 Feb 2014 []

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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UCI 2013 Call for research

The Urban China Initiative aims to be the source of innovative solutions to urban development issues in China. To achieve this goal, UCI conducts a grant program to support research concerning China’s urban development and sustainability.

UCI accepts research applications on an annual basis for grants up to RMB 100,000. It also provides assistance and guidance during the research process and facilitates the publication of working papers and implementation through city pilots (Click here for more supports UCI GRANTS provide).

The Initiative supports research on the effectiveness of programs and technologies related to urban development; emerging domestic and global best practices in project design, development, and execution; and paths to successful structural adjustment in China’s cities. Grant-supported research focuses on sustainable urbanization (Click here for detailed requirements).

Candidates are required to submit an application package which includes a detailed research proposal and CV (download a. application form and b. proposal template) to

The deadline for the upcoming round of funding is December 31, 2013. Research for the grants is expected to be completed within a year. For inquiry, please contact us via or +86(10)-8525-5331.

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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Urban Village

Urban Village (chengzhongcun - 城中村), Elosua Miguel


Urban villages have proliferated in almost every Chinese city as consequence of the urban sprawl commanded by local governments, sometimes with the purpose of financing their budgets. They expose the imperfections of the double property system, where the government has a monopoly of the primary land market. The term “urban village” (chengzhongcun – 城中村)refers to the situation where the city ends up encircling the village. Most of the farmland has been expropriated and urbanized, and only the villagers’ original homesteads remain. Soaring real estate prices in the surrounding city reduce the possibility of an eventual expropriation and redevelopment of the area.

Urban Village 2 (chengzhongcun - 城中村), Elosua Miguel

In the meantime, the original residents make a good profit from renting rooms, mostly to migrant workers who have restricted access to urban formal housing, due to the high prices, and the lack of stable jobs and tax returns. Housing conditions are precarious and villagers are not keen to invest much money, hoping for an eventual expropriation. Buildings like the one in these photos date from the 1950s.  They are made of mud bricks and have dirt floors, water leakages are frequent, and some lack running water. The average rent is around 50€ for a 15 square meter room. Migrant workers adrift on the fringes of citizenship.


Urban Village 3 (chengzhongcun - 城中村), Elosua Miguel

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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Call for applications: CEFC short-term mobility grant

The French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) is offering three fieldwork grants for doctoral students, ranging from one to three months, to be carried out between June 2013 and December 2013 in China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. The grant comprises a monthly stipend of 1200 € as well as a round-trip air ticket between Europe and China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, within the limit of 1000 €.

Applicants shall satisfy the following eligibility criteria:

  • Be enrolled in a doctoral program in a French or European university (located in a member-state of the European Union or of the European Higher Education Area), in the field of humanities and social sciences.
  • Their research project must be situated within the scope of the CEFC’s mandate, which is to study political, economic, social and cultural developments in Greater China.

Within the framework of this grant, beneficiaries accept to:

  • Submit to the CEFC a short report on their fieldwork, which may be included for example in the annual activity report of the Centre.
  • Present their research, at the end of their fieldwork, to the CEFC research team during a seminar in Hong Kong, Taipei or Beijing.

Applications can be submitted in French or English and must contain the following:

  • A detailed resume
  • A research project explaining the fieldwork to be undertaken under the grant and explaining how it will contribute to the applicant’s doctoral project
  • A recommendation letter from the PhD supervisor

Selection will be made according to the following criteria, which should be addressed by applicants in their research project mentioned above:

  • Aims of the research and contribution to the dissertation project (please include the working title of the dissertation)
  • Methodology, sources, type of fieldwork (where and how will the fieldwork be carried out?)
  • Time frame (please specify for how long the grant is requested)
  • Results of the research (planned publications, etc.)
  • Strength of the applicant’s cooperation with French research networks (for applicants in other European universities)
  • Relevance to the research programs currently hosted in the CEFC

Complete applications must be submitted in a single PDF file (max: 10 pages, 1.5 line spacing), addressed to the Director of the CEFC, by email to Alfred Aroquiame ( with the subject line “Fieldwork Grant 2013” on or before 10 May 2013.

The recommendation letter should be sent directly by the PhD supervisor by email to Alfred Aroquiame ( or by ordinary mail (in this case it must reach the CEFC by 15 May 2013), to:
Sebastian Veg, CEFC, 20/F Wanchai Central Bldg., 89 Lockhart Road, Wanchai, HK.

Selected applicants will be informed in early June 2013.

Contact information: Tel. (852) 2876 6914 or 6910 – email

Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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Farmers carrying rice straw

Farmers carrying rice straw on a pole at the end of September in Chengkan, Huangshan. This photo was taken just before the sale that took place by the rice paddies. Once the sacred grain has been taken away, the straw can be used for thatching, packing, or weaving. Shoulder poles are usually made of bamboo and can bear loads of more than 50 kilos, something that is not uncommon here.

Rice, along with tea, continues to be the main agricultural crop in the Huangshan region. An area of about 40 thousand hectares is used for growing rice (more than 30 per cent of the region’s total area devoted to crops).1

Urbanization poses a threat to the land that is devoted to agriculture. On the one hand, using arable land for land development has been a common feature of the Chinese countryside over the last decades; in Huangshan district alone, the urbanised area has expanded by 60 per cent during the last five years2. On the other hand, migration to cities, leaving the land idle, often results in land impoverishment or loss. To counter this trend, incentives are often proposed to foster intensive farming.

Sufficient food supplies have been an ongoing preoccupation for Beijing. We are often reminded that China counts 22 per cent of the world’s population with only 7 per cent of the arable land, making land all the more precious. This issue played a pivotal role in the creation of the double property system at the outset of the economic reform. However, according to official statistics, in the short period from 1996 to 2004, 6.6 per cent of the total arable was lost3. Even though the Land Management Law was revised in 1998 to restrict the use of arable land for commercial, residential, or industrial purposes (prohibiting the use of collective land for developments, and establishing land appropriations as the standard procedure for this purpose thereafter), official statistics from 2005 show that this law was violated more than a million times4. A satellite surveillance system is now in place to control land misuse.

This clearly reflects the ongoing conflict of interest between central and local governments, the chief concern of the former being to ensure sufficient food supplies and social harmony, while the ultimate goal of the latter is to manage their finances. This conflict of interests, or game as it has been called (boyi)5 , became more apparent after the important fiscal reform of 1994, since local coffers became much more dependent on land development than before. The new tax system left little room for local governments to legitimately increase income and land finance became a secondary source of revenue.

Using cheap land expropriated from local farmers to finance local development has been common in China for more than two decades and is a topic that causes a great deal of public concern (and social unrest). Land is the key to understanding local finance and may be regarded as the main contributor to development during the reform era.

The losers of this so-called game are the farmers. Even though the Constitution attributes ownership of rural land to them, or more precisely to the sui generis collective, which in theory represents their interests, the collective is not allowed to transfer “its land”, to modify its use, or to benefit from an eventual modification carried out by the local government, usually by means of the urban plan. Should this plan include a conversion of agricultural land into urban land, this is done through expropriation, and ownership of the land that has been reclaimed passes from the collective to the State (local government). Inclusion in the urban plan alone is regarded as a declaration of public interest, justifying the appropriation of the land (something that is not uncommon in Western countries either). The land’s inherent value is ready then to be exploited by its new owner. As a result, farmers not only lose their land, but also their “safety net”, becoming what is known as the “three withouts”, namely those without land, without social security and without education. According to official sources, it is estimated that between 1990 and 2002, 66 million farmers lost their land.6

In order to rectify this imbalance and reduce the income gap that the double system of property rights has produced, the legal circulation of land-use rights allocated to farmers by the collective have finally received the green light from the central government. Old phantoms have been surmounted, and the flow of surplus rural labourers towards the cities is no longer an impediment to providing sufficient food supplies and, as was feared for a long time during the 20th century, will not necessarily lead to the concentration of land in the hands of a few. At least it will not present a problem since the collective retains ownership. Moving to small and medium cities is now desirable, specially to those urbanised to finance local development and not to respond to population needs, and farmers are given incentives to become citizens and give up their rural hukou.

However, for this to be fully implemented, the market for land-use rights may need to have more appeal for its participants. The circulation of land-use rights is not new in the Chinese countryside, although before 2008 it was illegal. Most farmers are still reluctant to transfer their land-use rights because they still encounter obstacles that prevent them from becoming first class citizens. Until a proper social protection system is created for them, their roots will be in the countryside. In addition, since land use cannot be modified, there is little margin for increasing its value. Land use restrictions are necessary to avoid the loss of arable land, but what is perhaps needed is for farmers to become the ultimate beneficiaries when their rural land is transformed into urban land. This would not only put an end to the expropriation game, but would also allow farmers to become citizens automatically, entitled to make a fair enough profit to motivate them to break their attachment to the land.

  1. Huangshanshi 2010 nian guomin jingji he shehui fazhan tongji gongbao (Huangshan statistics bulletin on national economy and society development. 2010) 黄山市2010年国民经济和社会发展统计公报 Retrieved from Last accessed 10 December 2012 []
  2. Huangshan zhengfu 1 hao baogao (Government of Huangshan, Report number 1, 2012) 黄山政府1号报告 2012 []
  3. Wang Xiao Gang 王小刚(2009)Zhongguo nongcun tudi zhengshou: wenti, yuanyin ji gaige fangxiang. Lanzhou shangxueyuan xuebao. 5, 2009(Expropriations on China’s rural land: problem, causes, and reform direction. Lanzhou business school journal. 5, 2009) 中国农村土地征收:问题,原因及改革方向。兰州商学院学报。5, 2009 []
  4. He Bochuan (2007) La Crise Agraire en Chine. Etudes Rurales. January-June 2007 []
  5. Zhang Shu Guang 张曙光(2011)Boyi: zhengquan de xifen, shishi he baohu. Beijing: shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe (Game: the segmentation, implementation and protection of land rights. Beijing: Social Sciences Academics Press, 2011 博弈: 政权的细分,实施和保护。北京:社会科学文献出版社 []
  6. Li (2008) Hu Jintao’s Land Reform: Ambition, Ambiguity, and Anxiety. China Leadership Monitor. 27 []

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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Back to the village

Retour au village, Elosua Miguel

This photo was taken in Cheng Kan, Anhui, on the 28th of September, 2012 at dusk.

The end of September is a period that is particularly busy in this area. Farmers spend the day harvesting rice crops, most of which are sold on the spot. They also hang corn from balconies to dry.  Fields are well irrigated by the Longxi River. The town has an elaborated layout based on the principles of fengshui. It reflects the socioeconomic structure of the Ming and Qing dynasties, when wealthy Hui merchants (Huishang) returned to their hometowns and left their legacy printed on the streets and buildings.

This will probably be the last generation of farmers in the Huang Shan area to cultivate the land in the traditional ways. The city is flourishing again with the arrival of tourists, who flock to the Yellow Mountain, the area’s main attraction. Although the younger generations benefit from the tourist boom, by working in the service sector, this is not the case for the older ones, whose lives are alien to this transformation. Apart from tourism, new regulations dealing with land rights guarantee longer and more stable tenures, thus setting up a framework for the establishment of larger farms and the mechanization of agriculture. The aim of the prohibition concerning land readjustments during the tenure period is to stimulate long-term investments in the land, as well as to increase the number of leases. While this may be a likely scenario in Huang Shan, it may not be the case in other rural areas of China, where there is no tourist industry. In many places, farmers still advocate land readjustments in cases involving changes in demographics, for example, or to recover land leased out after agricultural taxes were abolished and therefore no longer representing a heavy financial burden. This has led to a failure to enforce the law in some cases, causing numerous conflicts and paving the way for new sources of grievance for farmers. If land readjustments hoped to ensure equal land distribution among farmers, the prohibition to readjust during the 30 years of tenure will undoubtedly put an end to this socialist aspiration. Perhaps this situation simply reflects the presence of two different social realities in rural China:  those who benefit from economic development and embrace free market policies, and those who are left behind and still believe in the socialist principles they were brought up with.

Miguel Elosua

Spanish qualified lawyer; PhD in Chinese Law. UrbaChina Research Officer. Has lived in China since 2006.

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Field research in the administration of environmental protection for the Huangshan district





On 25th September, for the Urbachina program, Professor François Gipouloux interviewed Hu Xiaowei, the director of taxes, Cheng Yu,  the director of environmental protection and Jiang Wenxiu, the deputy director of forestry for the district of Huangshan. The topics discussed were socio-economic development, tax policy, environmental protection and urban construction in the Huangshan district.



Chi-Han Ai

Ph.D. candidate of EHESS ( École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris) focusing on regional economic development in China and Taiwan.

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