Elevating the Peasants: Spatial Realignment, Property Rights and Local Accountability in Rural China

Project: Research

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Urbanization and the social dislocations related to the transfer of land rights have been the major concerns among policy makers and academics. There is a growing literature on the conflicts around the peripheral expansion of cities in Africa and Latin America and the issues of spatial justice have always been, and remain at the core of urban debates in the social sciences theory. China is evidently not immune to this challenge. The intensity of the tension unleashed by the scramble for land is reinforced by the unique features of its development trajectory: decades of suppressed urbanization, massive influx of foreign capital, unequal distribution of fiscal resources between levels of government and pervasive corruption. The resistance of Chinese peasants against the loss of land has however alerted the central government and provoked its intervention in favour of the former. Yet, land-hungry local governments remain undeterred. The form of land grab may have changed, but not its intensity. The most recent attempt at land accumulation by local government is to "elevate the peasant into high rise apartment". Under this new institutional initiative, peasants who are willing to surrender their land contract will be relocated to a modernized apartment in a high rise building. Such vertical extension of residential space would then release more land for development. This spatial realignment could have significant implications for rural life. How do the peasants and local government renegotiate property rights over rural land? Does the new spatial alignment signal the end of traditional rural community in China? Will this new residential pattern undermine the moral cohesiveness of rural community and thus weaken the accountability of local administration? In other words, with its possible impact on the peasants’ economic and welfare entitlement and political efficacy, this change may herald a redefinition of rural citizenship. This research intends to evaluate the impact of this process. Three localities that have introduced this innovative policy are chosen for analysis: Beijing, Chongqing and Zibo in Shandong. The team will deploy a wide range of research tools including in-depth interviews, household survey and documentary analysis to conduct a comprehensive exploration of the issues. The findings should have a major impact on the theoretical debates on spatial justice, local democracy and property right and significant policy relevance related to the issues of social stability and political reform in contemporary China.


Project number9041843
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1330/11/16