China: More than 50 million farmers have lost their land since the 1980s

[When the article mentions the “reform and opening up,”  the “reform” refers to the dismantling of socialism that took place after the death of Mao in 1976 and the arrest of his closest allies in the party leadership.  Under China’s collectively-run system of agriculture  from the 1950s to the 1970s,  the vast dispossession of farmers from their land described in this article would have been unthinkable.  The “opening up” refers to the decision in the 1980s by the new government led by Deng Xiaoping to invite a host of multinational corporations looking for cheap labor into China.–Frontlines ed.]

China Daily, November 11, 2010

Rural land disputes lead unrest in China

BEIJING About 65 percent of mass incidents in rural areas are triggered by land disputes, which are affecting rural stability and development more than any other issue, land experts said.

China’s quick urbanization has provoked a new round of land seizures in rural areas to facilitate economic development, Yu Jianrong, a professor with the Rural Development Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted by the Beijing News as saying on Friday.

Jiangsu Province: Some of the 20,000 farmers who came to protest against illegal takeovers of their land by local government officials. When the officials were unresponsive, the farmers took over a government building for 5 days--after which riot police beat up hundreds of farmers to drive them away.

“Since the reform and opening-up,  more than 50 million farmers have lost all their land and nearly half of them have no jobs or social insurance. This has caused social conflict,” Yu said.

Land disputes are mainly caused by forced land acquisition, low compensation and unfair appropriation of the compensation, Yu said.  Land transactions have become a substantial contributor to local governments’ revenue.  For the past two decades, the difference between the land compensation paid to farmers and the market price of the seized land is about 2 trillion yuan ($294 billion) for 14.7 million hectares, Yu said.

Zheng Fengtian, a professor of the School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development of the Renmin University of China, said that due to the conflict between the shortage of land for construction required for quick economic development and the strict “red line” of 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) of arable land – the least amount necessary to feed the country’s 1.3 billion population – local governments turn to rural homesteads for development.

Governments should be service providers, not money-makers, in rural land management, but now many local governments want to make money through real estate development, triggering conflicts, the Beijing News quoted Li Changping, professor of the Rural Development and Construction Research Center of Hebei University, as saying, on Friday.

Li said as long as the central government could guarantee local governments financially, local governments can act as the service provider in land management.

Local governments from more than 20 provinces and autonomous regions across the country are forcing rural residents to move to high-rise apartment blocks to increase the amount of arable land since the Ministry of Land and Resources issued a new document on rural housing land in 2008. The document said local governments could increase arable land through housing land reclamation.

Zou Xiaoyun, deputy chief engineer of the China Land Surveying and Planning Institute, said many local governments are using the document to gain assets, which is not its intention.

In Zhucheng, Shandong province, 1,249 villages with 700,000 residents were combined into 208 rural communities with about 80,000 mu (5,333 hectares) of housing land reclaimed, Xinhua News Agency reported on Tuesday.

Some rural residents are fighting for their rights.

Tao Xingyao, a 92-year-old farmer and his 68-year-old son set themselves on fire in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, in March. Tao was badly burned and his son died.

In September, three people of a local family in Yihuang, Jiangxi province, set themselves on fire with petrol to protest against the local government’s forced demolition. The three were seriously burned and one of them died later in hospital.

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