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The Art of Negotiations

Legal Discrimination, Contention Pyramid, and Land-Taking Compensation Policy in China

Meina Cai

June 2023, English

How do land-dispossessed villagers protect their interests in a context where the legal framework discriminates against them? Contradictory to the existing research that pays much attention to protests, this research identifies negotiations as a strategy of the dispossessed to engage with local governments and improve their compensation arrangement. Negotiations, together with petitions, protests, and violence, form a pyramid-shaped structure of contention where the frequency of occurrence decreases as one moves up along the pyramid. More importantly, these negotiations focus on local specific considerations that are not specified in formal compensation policy – which I call “non-programmatic compensation” (NPC). NPC negotiations create a fragmented compensation policy regime that combines low, stagnant, and less locally diversified formal compensation standards with dynamic and locality-specific informal NPC negotiation deals. The arguments are developed using extensive field research, an original dataset of local land compensation policies, and surveys of rural households, village cadres, and local government officials. It deviates from the conventional wisdom of contention politics by conceptualizing a form of contention of the dispossessed which has been overlooked. It contributes to the knowledge of land politics and urbanization, contentious politics, institutions and development, and rural governance.


Land Law, Poverty