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China’s Agrarian Reform and the Privatization of Land: A Contrarian View
Journal of Contemporary China
  • Qian Forrest ZHANG, Singapore Management University
  • John A. DONALDSON, Singapore Management University
Publication Type
Journal Article
Publication Date

Many media and scholars outside China are advocating for the privatization of land ownership in China, claiming it to be a necessary step before China can transform its agriculture into large-scale, market-oriented and technology-intensive modern agriculture. Chinese scholars advocating land privatization, on the other hand, typically argue that land privatization would offer farmers more protection of their rights. In this paper, we present a contrarian view to these calls for land privatization published in both mainstream media and academic journals. We argue that, under China’s current system of collective land ownership and individualized land use rights, the aforementioned goals can be achieved. In fact, under the current system, not only modernization of agriculture has proceeded rapidly in China, it did so in a fashion that avoided many downsides of privatization. Land privatization, in our view, would only exacerbate class inequality and social tension in rural China and weaken farmers’ positions in their dealings with more powerful actors. We compare the effects of these two approaches in five areas to show that strengthening the current system is superior to privatizing rural land: increasing investment in land and agricultural productivity, promoting scaled-up, modern agriculture, protecting farmer’s land rights and preventing land grabs, allowing farmers to use land as collateral to obtain loans, and, speeding up migration and facilitating rural migrants’ integration into cities.

  • Land ownership,
  • China,
  • agricultural industry,
  • agriculture and state
Taylor and Francis
Copyright Owner and License
Creative Commons License
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0
Additional URL
Citation Information
Qian Forrest ZHANG and John A. DONALDSON. "China’s Agrarian Reform and the Privatization of Land: A Contrarian View" Journal of Contemporary China Vol. 22 Iss. 80 (2013) p. 255 - 272 ISSN: 1067-0564
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