Three rights separation : China's proposed rural land rights reform and four types of local trials

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-121
Journal / PublicationLand Use Policy
Online published31 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


China's central government is promoting a new round of land reform in its rural areas, the core of which is the so-called ‘three rights separation system’. In attempting to achieve the double goals of developing agriculture and maintaining the basic stability of rural society, central policy makers want to separate the original household right of contractual operation into a contractual right (right of disposal) and an operation right. When formally adopted, these two rights, combined with the village collective ownership, will constitute China's new structure of farmland rights. Many local governments are already using practical approaches involving the separation of the three rights, providing a valuable reference for its formalization in the future.

In this paper, we analyze four relevant existing approaches by case studies of four representative projects. The results show that, while all four have in different ways reached the goal of increased scale of farmland operations, all are facing different contradictions and conflicts among the collectives, local governments and farmers, due to different farmland interests, demands and endowment problems. In response, a new framework is developed involving three rights separation, entailing some new meanings. This involves the repositioning of the four leading players in the distribution of farmland rights − the state, collective, part-time farmers and professional farmers − in order to realize the free transfer, monetization and redistribution of farmland rights to meet the demands of all the parties involved. With this framework, collective ownership is limited to the management of the award and recovery of the contractual right instead of specific agricultural operations. The introduction of a contractual right exit mechanism encourages the contractual right to be sold back to the collective for awarding directly to the professional farmers. In this way, the transfer of the operation right to professional farmers is encouraged as far as possible to enable them to increase their operating area and agricultural income.

Research Area(s)

  • China, Contractual right, Farmland, Operation right, Ownership, Village collective