Tag Archives: land expropriation

Land expropriation in China

revue_fonciere_2We are pleased to announce that Michel Prouzet, member of the UrbaChina stakeholder committee and Ai Chi-han (Sun Yat-sen University), partner of the UrbaChina team, have jointly published an article in a new French journal “Revue foncière“.

Their article entitled “Le concept d’utilité publique en République populaire de Chine (The concept of public interest in People’s Republic of China) examines the legal principle and use of land expropriation in China.

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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Japanese nail house (dingzihu – 钉子户)?


Building penetrated by an expressway 001 OSAKA JPN.jpg
Building penetrated by an expressway 001 OSAKA JPN” by ignisOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In the last few years, the phenomenon of the “nail house” (dingzi hu – 钉子户) has become rather frequent in China, as land acquisitions are ubiquitous and residents are usually not satisfied with either with the land seizure or the compensation package. Apparently, the term is a pun coined by developers to refer to “nails that are stuck in wood and cannot be pounded down with a hammer”.1 The existence of this phenomenon suggests that the best way for residents to protect the rights to their homes is to make them their stronghold. This course of action, however, is not risk-free, as many sad events have proved over the last few decades of meteoric development.

Reading about nail houses, I came across this photo of the Gate Tower Building in Osaka, also called the Beehive because it always seems busy. A highway passes through its fifth to seventh floors, of which it is the tenant! Cars pass through the building when exiting the highway.

As explained by Wikipedia2:

 “The elevator passes through the floors without stopping: floor 4 being followed by floor 8. The floors through which the highway passes consist of elevators, stairways and machinery. The highway does not make contact with the building. It passes through as a bridge, held up by supports next to the building. The highway is surrounded by a structure to protect the building from noise and vibration.”

However, the building didn’t exist at the time of the construction of the highway. In fact, both constructions were planned almost at the same time, and the property rights’ holder of the planned office building (who was the owner of the land) and the highway corporation negotiated for five years to reach this arrangement. It was facilitated by a reform in regulations allowing for the development of highways and buildings in the same space, something termed “multi-level road system” in its English translation.

I’m not familiar with the Japanese property rights system but I wonder why the government did not seize the land through expropriation. The construction of highways typically meets the requirement of public use. At any rate, the agreement shows a lot of creativity on the part of both parties and the government to make the best use of limited resources without compromising the interests of everyone involved. It’s also a good compromise to avoid the so-called tragedy of the anticommons, which occurs when property rights’ holders can’t reach an agreement and land remains undeveloped.

  1. See article about holdouts on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holdout_(architecture)#Nail_house []
  2. See article about the Gate Tower Building on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gate_Tower_Building []

Miguel Elosua

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

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Policy implementation through the lowest levels of the state

This presentation was given by Stephan Feuchtwang during the 4th international conference of UrbaChina held in Chongqing from May 28th to May 30th, 2014. It shows the results of the fieldwork completed this year in five neighbourhood committees (juweihui-居委会) in Chongqing.

Miguel Elosua

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

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Land expropriation in China

Zhang, Xian. Seeking just compensation for collective-owned land expropriation in China. Short Academic Paper, Peking University (July 1, 2013). 18 p. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2331225 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2331225

In the process of urbanization, China needs to expropriate more and more collective-owned lands in order to satisfy the need of city construction and development. However, when the collective-owned lands are expropriated currently, peasants get very low compensation for their loss in improvements, green crops, and land use rights.Why Chinese peasants get such a low compensation? From legal aspect, it is illegal for the Collective to sell its land directly in the market. China does not allow a market for the transfer of collective-owned land, the compensation lacks of a comparable market standard. In addition, the Land Administration Law requires the compensation to be based on the original purpose of land expropriated and administrative pricing. That leads the compensation standard to be far away from fair market value. From incentive aspect, the local government needs extra-budgetary revenue to fill the huge gap between its tax revenue and fiscal expenditure. The price spread between land-transferring fees and compensation turn into local government’s extra-budgetary revenue. Thus, the local government has great incentive to lower the compensation. With the discretion on deciding what qualifies public use, local government can expropriate as many collective-owned lands as possible, in order to generate more extra-budgetary revenue.

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Chen, Lei. Legal and institutional analysis of land expropriation in China (October 14, 2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2339998 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2339998

China has a bifurcated land system, with clear distinctions between urban and rural land use rights. While state-owned land in urban areas has become commercially transferable, rural land cannot be transferred. This discrepancy has been exploited by property developers, investors, village heads and local governments, which has caused wide-spread, large-scale malpractice in relation to expropriation of land. Thus, conflict over expropriation of land has been, and continues to be, a simmering hotpot of social unrest in China. It has been claimed that land disputes over expropriation is one of the most common ways of provoking grassroots resistance and undermining public confidence in the government. How should the grievances suffered by the rural farmers be redressed, and how should the Chinese government draw the fine line between economic development and individual property rights? In order to answer these questions, this paper addresses the root causes of land disputes both from a legal perspective, evaluating the most recent statutory changes, and from the policy perspective, analyzing the national strategy of integrating urban and rural areas (城乡一体化), including the recent local experiments on transforming the inalienability of rural land use rights.

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See also

Roberts, Dexter (November 20, 2013). Is land reform finally coming to China? Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 10 February 2014 from http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-11-20/is-land-reform-finally-coming-to-china

China’s leaders raised a multitude of reforms as priorities at the plenum that closed a week ago. A key one, a change in land ownership so that farmers can more freely rent, sell, and mortgage their land, is hoped to boost China’s still laggard household consumption.

Read the full story

Sargeson, Sally (2012). Villains, victims and aspiring proprietors : framing ‘land-losing villagers’ in China’s strategies of accumulation. Journal of Contemporary China, 21 (77),  757-777. DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2012.684962

This paper examines how debates in the media are providing the discursive conditions for, and thereby giving impetus to, diverse strategies of ‘so-called primitive accumulation’ in China. Taking as its empirical referent Chinese news and journal articles on land enclosure, the paper analyzes three frames in which policy entrepreneurs craft varying class positions for land-losing villagers. Grounded in different ontological premises, problem diagnoses and recommendations centering on the adoption of either a statist, neo-collective or liberal rural land regime, and backed up by evaluations of local policy experiments, the frames illustrate the diversity of ideational, political and institutional configurations that could facilitate the separation of peasant producers from the land, place land-losing villagers in different relationships with the state and capital, and sustain accumulation. In foregrounding these debates over land-losing villagers’ future class positioning, the paper aims to offer a corrective to the historical determinism implicit in contemporary analyses that characterize enclosure in China as simply one national manifestation of homogenous, global neo-liberal projects of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ or ‘gangster capitalism’.

Read full text on Taylor & Francis online (restricted access)

Monique Abud

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

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