Home > Asia-Pacific, Economics, Politics > The Next Land Revolution?

The Next Land Revolution?

Li Datong writes in openDemocracy:

The outcome of the key contest over rural property rights will transform China yet again.

Li Yulan, a painter living in Beijing, finds herself in a worrying situation. She lives in Songzhuang village, an artists’ community located within the borders of Beijing municipality, but outside the city proper. Now, the contract she signed five years ago when purchasing her home has been declared void by the local court. The court order also demands that she leave her home within ninety days.

Li is not alone in her predicament: since October 2006, twelve artists have been taken to court by the farmers from whom they bought their Song village properties. These farmers had been delighted to sell their homes for what at the time were considered excellent prices, but the recent dramatic rise in property values makes them think that they got a raw deal; today, they seek to reclaim their properties.

For the more than 1,500 artists who live in Songzhuang village, this news has come as a bolt from the blue. If the court’s judgment is upheld, each one will be facing the same fate as Li Yulan – given no choice but to move out of the village. They had never imagined that their contracts, whose validity was guaranteed by the local government and village head, would not receive the protection of Chinese law. In the event, the root cause of all the trouble is that the houses they bought are governed by what are informally known as “lesser property rights”.

Winners and losers

China’s land-ownership system is hard for most people to understand. In general, all urban land is owned by the state, and in order to build on it, one must first obtain government approval and pay land-usage tax. On the sale of property built on the land, buyers are issued with a property certificate, and their ownership of the property is protected by the law. The buyer thereby has what are informally known as “greater property rights”.

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