Research Summary


by Meg Rithmire


Land Bargains and Chinese Capitalism: The Politics of Property Rights under Reform

Published October, 2015

China since the 1980s has been the scene of unprecedented efforts at urban construction and growth, even in the absence of privatization of ownership over land. These efforts were made possible by the separation of land use and ownership rights and, therefore, the initiation of markets in land in the late 1980s. This book examines the emergence of property rights practices over urban land and property at the national and subnational levels in China. At the national level, I draw on government documents and other Chinese sources to analyze the decision to initiate land markets in 1988, the first national experience with real estate markets, and policy changes thatreorganized land, fiscal, and financial institutions in the 1990s. At the subnational level, I rely on a controlled comparison of three cities in a single region—China’s Northeastern “rustbelt”—to examine how different local political economies differently configured property rights practices. The book advances a novel theoretical argument about the politics of property rights as endogenous to the process of political reform. I emphasize the roles of political bargaining (the articulation and recognition of property rights claims as a form of political accommodation) and moral argument (competing claims to legitimacy) in property rights change. The empirical contribution of the book concerns the centrality of property rights to China’s local and national economic development strategies. Property rights were deployed as political and economic resources at the local and national levels, figuring prominently in various groups’ efforts at capital accumulation as well as state strategies of political inclusion and appeasement. Ultimately, by illuminating subnational practice in land politics and national level development of land institutions, this book puts land at the center of explaining the unique evolution of Chinese capitalism in its first three decades.

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