Land Reform Run Amok

The dark side of state land grabs in China.

By: /
November 28, 2012

In a recent article for Foreign Affairs, U of T professor Lynette H. Ong (who recently moderated our online discussion of the Chinese leadership transition) considers the dark side of state land grabs in China. Local officials there are displacing millions of farmers to make way for government construction projects to stimulate quick economic growth and impress their superiors up the political food chain. As Ong says:

An inevitable effect of state-led urbanization is that farmers are forced to vacate their land. Close to 300,000 peasants are removed from their villages every year to make room for the construction of airports, highways, and buildings. Since 1980, more than 60 million peasants, roughly the population of the United Kingdom, have been moved.

The displaced are not usually consulted before relocation. Governments frequently force them to leave by suspending the supply of utilities, such as electricity, to their homes. Increasingly, local governments are even hiring or colluding with gangsters to intimidate villagers who refuse to move. Tellingly, in some villages, these mobsters are known as the “second government.”

Ong’s article fills in some of the wider context behind a photo of a house in Wenling, Zhejiang province that made therounds last week:

Not going anywhere


The elderly couple who own that house refused to allow their house to be demolished, claiming that the compensation offered to them was not enough to cover what it would cost to rebuild elsewhere.