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China's New Land Reform and Two Modes of Rural Transformations


Lecture by Shaohua Zhan, Nanyang Technological University

Monday, May 20, 2019
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Haines 279

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In November 2013, the Chinese government declared its intention to reform the rural land system and turn villagers’ lands (both farmland and construction land) into marketable assets. The decision is dubbed the “new land reform,” which has led to a flurry of measures to modify rural land institutions so as to facilitate land transfers. However, fierce debates on how far the government should push villagers to transfer land rights have followed, and the recent trend again shows ambiguities and uncertainties. Will the new land reform succeed? Why does the Chinese state pursue a contradictory rural revitalization strategy when pushing for urbanization? This talk will attempt to clear some confusions around China’s land issues by theorizing two modes of rural transformations: land-intensive agrarian capitalism and labour-intensive industrious revolution. As a contrast to agrarian capitalism, the latter originated from the East Asian context and is characterized by the absorption of large populations into the rural economy. The interactions and contradictions between the two modes have shaped the land system in the past 40 years, but the outcome of the contention does not depend only on rural interest groups, but more importantly, on the prospect of urban expansion as well as the actions of local governments and urban investors. The economic slowdown in recent years has heightened the contradictions and motivated the central government to develop the rural areas, which is against the interests of local governments and large urban capital.

Shaohua Zhan received his doctoral degree in sociology from Johns Hopkins University and is currently assistant professor of sociology at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He was a research fellow of the Center for a Livable Future, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (2011-2012) and a Henry Luce/ACLS postdoctoral fellow in China Studies (2014-2015). He studies land politics, food security, migration, and economic development. His works have appeared in The Journal of Peasant Studies, World Development, Journal of Rural Studies, Journal of Agrarian Change, Studies in Comparative International Development, Geoforum, Globalizations, The China Journal, Modern China, and so on. He is the author of The Land Question in China: Agrarian Capitalism, Industrious Revolution, and East Asian Development (Routledge, 2019), which examines the development dynamics of industrious revolution and agrarian capitalism in rural China.

Aaron Miller
(310) 825-0007

Sponsor(s): Asia Pacific Center, Center for Chinese Studies, Sociology