Land Reform Run Amok

The dark side of state land grabs in China.

By: /
28 November, 2012
By: Cameron Tulk
Production Editor, OpenCanada

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.

Before you click away, we’d like to ask you for a favour … 


Open Canada is published by the Canadian International Council, but that’s only the beginning of what the CIC does. Through its research and live events hosted by its 18 branches across the country, the CIC is dedicated to engaging Canadians from all walks of life in an ongoing conversation about Canada’s place in the world.

By becoming a member, you’ll be joining a community of Canadians who seek to shape Canada’s role in the world, and you’ll help Open Canada continue to publish thoughtful and provocative reporting and analysis.

Join us