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Gao Yu: Land and the Law in Rural China

Brewing discontent over compulsory government land acquisitions
Gao Yu, Landesa’s China Director, at Asia Society Hong Kong Center on May 24, 2012. (Asia Society Hong Kong Center)
by Wendy Tang
14 June 2012

HONG KONG, May 24, 2012 — In China, 43 percent of the villages surveyed by Landesa (formerly the Rural Development Institute) have experienced compulsory government land taking since the late 1990s. Landesa's China Director, Gao Yu, joined the Asia Society Hong Kong Center to examine the consequences of troubling land insecurity in rural China.

Land and property laws are still "inadequate on the subject of compulsory takings," said Gao, and are aggravated by a "lack of supporting institutions for property rights." According to the 1998 Land Management Law, individual farm households are given 30 years "use rights" on collectively owned land and the 2002 Rural Land Contracting Law specifically requires the issuance of land contracts and certificates to farmers. However, untill now, only about 36.7 percent  of China's farming families have been issued with both documents. Grassroots awareness of property rights, dispute resolution mechanisms and courts are usually lacking.

A large number of land transfers are one-sided in favor of companies or outsiders and "the average compensation to land-losing farmers is a small fraction of its true market value," Gao added. After their land is taken away, farmers are also often put in involuntary urbanization programs with scant social benefits. Growing discontent over land grievances has led to an escalation in rural dissatisfaction and confrontation in recent years.

"This challenges sustainable economic growth and social stability in China," said Gao, because farmers who have secure land rights typically increase and diversify investments in their land. This would lead to greater productivity and higher income as well as improved social stability, civic participation and environmental stewardship.

Reported by Laura Mapstone

Video: Watch the complete program (59 min., 48 sec.)