My I’m in a grumpy mood. Francesco Sisci usually writes wonderful commentary on China, but in this case he has written an entire article which is based on false premise, that the draft law on property will change the system to give farmers individual title on land (which I’ve argued elsewhere is a bad idea since it will enable corrupt officials to use divide and conquer techniques against peasants and eliminate the actual purpose of farming which is that it is a vast social welfare program.)
The problem with this article
is that the proposed draft real property law doesn’t affect the Chinese law tenure system at all. The proposed law codifies the rules regarding property transfers and could affect privately owned law use rights, but it doesn’t change the collective system of land ownership in the villages. That is set up in Article 10 of the PRC Constitution and would require a constitutional amendment to change.
Also it does strike me as a bit naive
If the peasant has clear rights over his land, then the village chief can’t act as a middleman, pocketing huge margins between the price paid by a real-estate developer and the funds received by the peasant.
What is no doubt going to happen is that the developer, the local official, and the local judges all of whom are friends with each other are going to use semi-legal means to get the peasant to “sign on the dotted” line and hand over all his land rights to friends of the local official or else, leaving a landless peasant with nothing. There is strong reason to believe this is going to happen in rural land because it is more or less what has happened with urban land which does have a system of individual land use rights.
Under the current system, peasants can’t sign away their right to land, unless they get urban residency in which case they get social welfare benefits. Also under the current system, when land is taken out of the village pool, the whole village loses something when the land is redistributed. This creates the basis of collective action. If you have individual plots, the corrupt official is going to pick off the peasants one by one, and no one else is going to care because their land is not lost.
And Mr. Sisci really doesn’t get an the major objection to the real property law which is that it is unconstitutional. The PRC Constitution has a number of provisions which envison a system of public ownership, and the major argument against the law on real property is that it contravenes those sections, and that if the state really wants a system of private property it should amend the constitution to say so. The trouble with doing that is the with the public mood what it is, any effort to change some of the egalitarian and socialist ideals of the PRC constitution would have a huge public backlash.
There is a very curious situation in China right now, and that is that the people in the bureaucracy are the least interested in socialist ideals. I spend most of my time studying the people in the finance ministries, and I doubt that any of them more any more socialist than their counterparts in the United States. As you get further into the more “political” parts of the government (i.e. the Politburo the NPC and into the population) socialist ideals have a lot more resonance, and the people for whom socialism has the most support are the peasants and the poor.