The practice of property rights in rural China

Juan Li

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    In the economic transition of the past decades, China has seen remarkable economic growth without robust property rights. In an era of urban transformation premised on large-scale rural land conversion, those ill-defined property rights have, without hindering economic growth, led to increasing social injustice. This study draws upon the Chinese case of rural land expropriation, and seeks to explore how rural property rights function in practice in the Chinese rural setting.
    The study tracks how the Chinese state has created and rearranged property rights in rural land to serve national goals of urban transformation and increasing agricultural productivity (Chapter 2), and gives an institutional and legal analysis of rural land expropriation that has weakened rural property rights (Chapter 3). Drawing on fieldwork in three villages in South Central China where expropriation of rural land was ongoing, Chapter 4 reveals how the notion of property rights has been interpreted and transformed into pragmatic and realistic material interests in negotiations over land-taking. I claim that a transformative interpretation as such has harmed farmers’ dignitary and autonomy interests in holding land and consolidated, rather than weakened, their commitment to the status quo. Chapter 5 uses an analysis of the power structure and the relationships between actors to identify barriers to the effective exercise of property rights. The exercise of power in this context is both elusive and dynamic, and this makes it extremely difficult for those facing expropriation to develop appropriate strategies to defend their property rights. Despite their inferior bargaining position, the expropriated group is not powerless. They have displayed an instrumental use of property rights and law to both strategize their resistance and maximize compensation gains throughout the process of resisting the exercise of local power. Nevertheless, their attempts to articulate and gain immediate individual interests have led to a fragmentation of the expropriated people as a group, which prevents the formation of collective action that is arguably the most effective strategy for challenging the current power structure. Chapter 6 examines how the expropriated population employs different routes of redress to resolve disputes. My findings go beyond the conventional view that Chinese citizens ‘trust petition rather than law’ for dispute resolution, and demonstrate that the disgruntled farmers combine, alternate, and adjust both litigation and petition in a complementary rather than mutually exclusive manner to enhance the possibility of success in attaining justice.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Laws
    Awarding Institution
    • Tilburg University
    • Goodwin, Morag, Promotor
    • Paiement, Phillip, Co-promotor
    Award date20 Dec 2017
    Print ISBNs978-94-6167-346-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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