Category Archives: Guiyang

Who is the collective? (II)


A village within the city – The village committee’s bureau of Dongshan village in Guiyang city

In last week’s article I introduced the collective, which is designated by the Constitution as holding ownership rights of China’s rural and suburban land. I will analyze in a separate article the reasons why the Chinese leadership granted ownership of rural and suburban land rights to the farmers’ collective instead of declaring State ownership not only of urban, but also of rural land. But first, let’s continue elucidating the nature of the farmers’ collective through the analysis of the organizing bodies that exercise its land property rights.

Article 60 of the Property Rights Law  (2007), which has taken me a long time to unravel, establishes the organizing groups that exercise the collective’s property rights. Article 10 of the Land Management Law (1986), includes a similar provision, although employing the terms “management” (jingying-经营) and “administration” (guanli-管理) instead of the more legal term “exercise of rights” (xingshi suoyouquan-行使所有权), revealing the strong political content of the Land Management Law, which has been widely criticized by Chinese legal scholars.

The three levels of farmers’ collectives are classified according to their territorial scope:

(i)                    Township (town) farmers’ collective (乡(镇)农民集体);

(ii)                  Village farmers’ collective (村农民集体);

(iii)                Inner village farmers’ collective (村内农民集体).

Each of these collectives has a representative body to exercise its rights, which are, respectively:

(i)                    The township (town) farmers’ collective group (乡镇农村集体组织);

(ii)                  The village’s committee (村委会) or economic group of the village (村集体经济组织);

(iii)                The villager’s group (村民小组).

Simply, each class of farmers’ collective have a different size and scope. The township (town) farmers’ collective assembles all the village farmers’ collectives, and each village farmers’ collective is formed by all the inner village farmers’ collectives, which is in turn formed by all the villagers living therein.

It is necessary to explain that the three representative groups of the farmers’ collective succeeded the commune, the brigade, and the team, respectively. However, there is an important difference between the two sets of groups. Before the promulgation of the Constitution, both political and economic ownership rights were vested in them whereas, after, a good part of the economic rights were disaggregated and given to the farmer’s household. In other words, the inner rights of ownership were split, separating bare ownership and usufruct, and granting usufruct rights to the farmers foremost through the house responsibility system (jiating lianchan zerenzhi-家庭联产责任制, now known as chengbao jingying quan zhidu 承包经营权制度).

In conclusion, even though there is still confusion among scholars and cadres about the identity of the collective, the law is not as ambiguous as has often been indicated. The law is not easy to understand, but this is the rule in and out of China. The law defines who holds property rights over rural and suburban land and who exercises these property rights. The key question boils down to determining who or what are these representative groups, and if they do really exercise ownership rights on behalf of the farmers.

Miguel Elosua

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

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Opera in the park

Opera in the park, Elosua Miguel


A former factory worker and amateur Peking opera performer, playing the role of the virtuous lady, or zhengdan (正旦), in Qianling park (黔灵公园), Guiyang. November 2013.

After the massive layoffs from State Owned Enterprises of the 1990s, millions of workers lost their job. Although for the most part they could stay in their homes (the factories were closed down but danwei lodgings were usually handed over to its occupants at a subsidized price), and were provided with a pension when they reached the threshold age, the speed of economic development and inflation has forced many to look for alternative ways to make money.

Former factory workers often compare their economic circumstances with those of farmers, and tend to consider them as marginally better off. After all, farmers did not get aid from the State in the form of pensions or the subsistence allowance. (Note: the situation in the countryside has improved now, as described in previous photo captions.) Nor they did benefit from the creation of a real estate market that allowed them to exploit the increased value of their properties either.

In the background, other comrades watch the performance waiting for their turn. In particular, a breeze of nostalgia is brought about by the lady dressed in a Red Guard uniform, who is about to start performing the role of a revolutionary soldier in one of the model operas engineered by Mao’s last wife Jiang Qing (江青) during the Cultural Revolution. Music comes from the speakers, played from a computer. During the performance, the singer carries a pannier where the audience can give some reward. It’s not rare to see young people and children among the audience. Appreciation for the traditional (and revolutionary) opera might not be fading away with modernity after all.

Miguel Elosua

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

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