Research Summary

Overview

by Meg Rithmire

Description

Subnational Political Economy and Land Politics in China

Professor Rithmire’s ongoing book project examines the politics of land control during China's transition from state socialism. In urban China, agents of the state—everyone from local and central bureaucracies to public enterprises to members of the working class—as well as agents outside the state, such as entrepreneurs and migrants, stake claims to urban land. Despite that the same formal regulations govern land ownership in urban China, cities vary greatly in local land politics. In some cities, local governments (and specific bureaucracies within those local governments) have successfully established themselves as monopoly holders of property rights, executing showcase and development projects at will and encountering little successful resistance to relocation campaigns. On the other extreme, other urban landscapes look more like a pastiche of local claims, where informal claimants outmaneuver local authorities and thwart efforts at remaking urban territories. Using three case studies in the Northeastern Chinese "rust belt region," I argue that local governments exert different kinds of control over land based on the sequencing of their exposure to market reforms and global capital and their relationship to the central state. Perhaps surprisingly, it is the cities that were exposed to global capital and market forces early and widely in which we find the most local state control over land.

This research, focusing on the process of land commodification in the 1980s and 1990s, speaks not only to comparative debates about the emergence of property rights, but also to contemporary debates about land politics in China.

In this book and in other work, Professor Rithmire draws on archival and interview data collected during fieldwork in China as well as quantitative data collected at the local level using spatial analysis and mapping.

Keywords: China; land politics; urban planning; China;