Land Transfer and the Political Sociology of Community: The Case of a Chinese Village

Siyuan Xu, Tony Michael Fuller


Land assembly by various semi-legal and coercive means is universal. Assembling land into large holdings for commercial agriculture is a basic step in the process of modernization and is well documented historically in the literature on agrarian change. Knowledge of the China experience however, is scant, although land transfer (the assembly of land-use rights by outside capital) is currently unfolding at a rapid pace. This paper contributes a case of a rural community in Southwest China in which partial land assembly has taken place. Land transfer denotes the process by which land is assembled for agricultural purposes and differs from land expropriation for public goods such as roads and railways. Unlike land expropriation, in this case, land transfer tends to proceed in a passive manner and raises the question of old and new forms of authority producing moral forms of persuasion that most peasant households cannot resist. This smooth form of land transfer may not be the only way to concentrate rural land for large-scale commercial agriculture, for exceptional violent cases can also be found. However, it does represent numerous land transfer cases that are not well-documented because they lack the dramatic effects to catch media and academic attention. The dual pressures from the subtle state support and the delicate manipulation of social norms contribute to the establishment of commercial agriculture and wherein peasants become laborers on their own land in a reshaped community.

Keywords: land transfer, resistance, rural elites, community development, China

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.