PDF | Free | 27 pages
Download PDF

“The Tragedy of the Commons”?

Urban Land Development in China under Marketization and Globalization

George C. S. Lin

April 2013, English

China’s massive and sometimes wasteful land development has been widely attributed to the lack of a clear definition and effective protection of property rights. This paper critically interrogates the conventional theory of neo-liberal economics against the actual practices of land property rights and land development in transitional China. Contrary to conventional theoretical expectation, land property rights in both urban and rural China have seldom been pre-given from top down and have instead been initiated, negotiated, and produced from bottom up. Land property rights have operated not so much as a bundle of rights with standardized and uniform legal assignments but more as a diverse set of local practices adaptable to various regional conditions. Chinese municipal and township governments have claimed and produced their land property rights politically and administratively in response to changes in the political economy. Chinese farmers have shown an unexpected preference over an equal access to land as the main source of subsistence rather than tenure security. Land property rights and land development are better seen as social constructions that can never function in isolation of the political, cultural, and social conditions on which they are practiced, negotiated, and contested. The relationship between property rights definition and land development remains contingent upon the political, cultural, and social relations that characterize the economy and society at a particular time and space.

Keywords: Land Management, Land Use Policy, Land Property Rights, Neo-liberalism, Political Economy, Urbanization, China, Local Government, Economics