Understanding the development of China's urbanconstruction land : the state, market, and peasantry inaction

by Tao Liu

Institution: University of Hong Kong
Year: 2016
Keywords: Urbanization - China
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2109764
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10722/223582


China’s phenomenal urbanization in recent decades has been characterized by not only a rapid growth of its urban population but also a massive expansion and development of its Urban Construction Land (hereafter UCL). The existing literature on China’s urbanization is preoccupied by concerns over the growth of the urban population and rural-urban migration. Little work has been done to document and explain the growth dynamics of China’s UCL. This thesis makes an original and significant effort to fill the gap existing in the studies of China’s urbanization. Development of China’s UCL is described in the existing literature as a combined outcome of the increasing market demand of the urban economy and the popular land-centered strategy practiced by the local states. With few exceptions, the peasantry as original land owners were either neglected or treated as passive victims in the process of UCL development. Drawing insights from the recently developed theory of regional political ecology, this thesis examines the nature and internal dynamics of China’s UCL development. My original research has identified two different types of UCL development in China, namely formal development in the legal and regulated domain top down and informal development in the semi-legal, poorly regulated, and grey domain spontaneously bottom-up. My systematic analysis and comparison have found a scale and speed of informal land development no less significant than that of formal land development although informal land development tends to be scattered, pervasive, difficult to track, and usually overlooked in research and policy formation. Contrary to the popular perception of the peasantry as passive victims of land development, this thesis has revealed an intriguing dynamic in which the peasantry has played an increasingly (pro)active in developing their rural land for urban uses in informal markets. My further investigation of UCL development in Beijing and Shenzhen has uncovered an interesting trajectory in which the uneven growth and utilization of UCL are contingent upon the different developmental milieus existing in different places. UCL in Shenzhen is characterized by high rapidity, efficiency, a stronger land market, better-organized peasantry, and relatively weak state intervention. By contrast, the development of UCL in Beijing under strong state controls with poorly organized peasantry is dominated by the formal track with low efficiency. Ironically, the central state’s policy objective of efficient land utilization has failed in Beijing where central land policies were well implemented but has been better achieved in Shenzhen where UCL is developed with limited intervention of central policies. China’s land institutions based on an urban-rural dual land system are contradictory to the ultimate goal of land saving and efficient utilization. An urban-rural integrated land market and management system is thus highly recommended. The theoretical and empirical enquiry in this thesis challenges the perceived notion of China’s UCL…