Oct 17

(Letter) China’s Agricultural Land Reform? Not So Fast!

Written by guest on Friday, October 17th, 2008 at 2:40 am
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The other day, Chinese President Hu Jintao was reported to promote the land reform in a village in the Anfei Province before the CCP Annual Meeting.

The meeting came and went. Nothing concrete seemed to come out of it. News analysts inside and outside China speculate that there was resistance to the reform at the meeting.

I am not surprised of the resistance. It was a total blackroom operation. Not clear what reform ideas were entertained. Not clear what their impact would be. Not clear how this reform relates to urbanization.

I believe the whole thing was a rash job.

The real reform should be allow farmers move to cities. In fact, any migrant worker who now work in a city should be allowed to become that city’s resident. This should be the first step of the reform, not the complex and very ideological land reform.

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16 Responses to “(Letter) China’s Agricultural Land Reform? Not So Fast!”

  1. Charles Liu Says:

    Maybe a blackroom to some of us, but from the articles posted in FM’s Chinese section, there has been discussion, even contention over the meeting and the proposed changes, in Chinese media and academia:

    A People’s University professor urging caution on latest rural land reform, in a Sohu Finance interview

    An OpEd from cb.com.cn reporter praising the reform

    An ex local party secretary turn activist on Sina.com.cn criticizing the reform

    There are partial translations, anyone interested please help finish them.

  2. bt Says:

    Netizen K, Hi!

    What would be in your opinion the effects of the hukou suppresion? Is there the possiblility of an uncontroled influx of minggong who may destabilize the Mainland Chinese cities?

  3. Netizen K Says:

    Charles Liu,
    Thanks for the links. The land reform issue is very complex and requires real deep and wide discussion.

    Those articles indicate huge reservations on the part of many people. But are their views being taken into account during the CPP meeting? We don’t know. Who are promoting changes and who are resisting changes? The Chinese people need to know because if something goes right or wrong, someone should take the credit or blame for it.

    We don’t know who. That’s why I said it’s a blackroom operation. Really, who are advocating reform and to what degree, and who are resisting them? It’s total darkness. This issue is so important and it won’t stand and shouldn’t.

  4. Netizen K Says:


    I think the Hukou issue is very important and be dealth with very carefully but urgently. I can see farmers will be moving to cities in 5 or 10 years regardless they have hukou or not. Therefore the government has to act quickly and have plans in place now.

  5. JD Says:

    The most important aspect of any reform is to ensure those who enjoy positions of influence don’t loose their place at the trough. No, the peasants should be kept locked in an informal economy, with no rights, little influence, and relatively dim prospects. The hukou should be strengthened, but only as a measure for control and not enough to discourage cheap, submissive laborers from serving the needs of their urban betters. Offering the prospects of rural rights through land and beneficial hukou reform is dangerous and risks upsetting the status quo. China is not ready for that, and never will be.

  6. bt Says:

    @Netizen K,

    Thanks a lot for your comments. I think you are right … in fact they are already moving. That’s quite scary for China, if you consider that deny them rights (school for children, for example) is the best way to create violent urban areas and a lot of unemployment.

  7. Charles Liu Says:

    I heard some rural areas in China have huko lifted, and people are free to move around (near Shanghai or around Zhuhai?)


  8. bt Says:

    @Charles Liu

    Thx, i didn’t know that … so, it could be a good case to observe the effect of the policy if applied to all the territory. Anyway, a collateral dammage i have seen concerning the Hukou is to ban young educated urbans to change their working place when they want to find a good position.

  9. Charles Liu Says:

    BT, that kinda follows the policy model in China – experiment, then inspect and adapt gradually.

    I don’t think people in China are required to take the job assigned to them anymore. I know people who have refused hometown job offers and go free agent in the cities after college.

    I think the old arrangements were a matter of practicality. Folks study out-of-province used to want to go back home due to family attachment, plus an iron rice bowl and subsidized housing from work unit, under the old socialist system, was something prized.

    That’s all changed AFAIK.

  10. bt Says:

    @Charles Liu

    Well, i was not thinking about that … i think too that this policy is abandoned. However, if you are let’s say a young engineer, you may have difficulties nowadays to move from one city to another to find a better job. That can creates a lot of HR problems.

  11. Charles Liu Says:

    bt, not sure how true that is. Take the farmer’s rights activist who wrote an article criticizing rural land reform, his bio seems to suggest eventhou his activism is somewhat sensitive, he’s been able to move around:


    This Li Tsan Ping guy deserves a blogpost of his own. He was the local party secretary, then resigned in protest of treatment of famers. He even wrote a letter to Zhu peittioning for reform. He raises money within China and I don’t think he’s ever been arrested.

  12. Steve Says:

    I’m kinda confused about hukou. I remember when I was in Shanghai from 2000-2002, we had several people not from Shanghai who worked for us. I’ll use the case of one guy, Pan Ning. He was originally from Anhui province, went to university in Dalien, and then applied to work for us. Our company (international corporation) filled out the paperwork for him to legally live in Shanghai. Did that change his hukou status? Isn’t that how you can go from one place to another? Is it still that way or now a different process?

    I also remember a girl who told me that when you go to work in a new job, in order to get permanent employment you have to show that your hukou was in Shanghai. If not, they could only employ you for something like three months as a temporary worker. Is that also the current process? Have any of these rules changed since that time?

  13. Wukailong Says:

    @Steve (#12): Hard to say. The paperwork could have been for a zanzhuzheng (temporary residence permit) that should allow you to stay longer, or an application to move the person’s hukou to Shanghai, something big companies usually have the power to do.

    From my experience, though, a lot of people still have their permanent hukou somewhere else than their place of work (usually their hometown), and they can still work more or less permanently in their company because control is lax. One case I know of is a guy whose hukou is in Shenzhen, which of course is a great advantage, but kept working in Beijing. The only trouble he got was when renewing his passport, in which case he had to go to Shenzhen.

    Moving someone’s hukou is a bit like helping an international worker with his/her visa – big companies should do it.

  14. Charles Liu Says:

    Steve, please see comment 7, the huko thing seems to have been lifted for some metro areas in China.

  15. Steve Says:

    Thanks, Charles… I had missed that link. I read the part about Shanghai and it almost seems like a Catch 22 since you can’t get the temporary resident permit unless you have a steady job but for many jobs, you can’t get the job unless you have a resident permit. I hope there’s a way around that.

    Back in 2001, I knew a girl who was born and raised in Shanghai except when her parents (both engineers) were transferred to northern Sichuan province during the CR. After that time, she went back to SH, finished middle and high school and one year of college when the government said her hukou was in Changzhou and not Shanghai (her father was originally from Changzhou) so she had to move back there. After a few years, she was so unhappy since she truly is a Shanghai girl that she moved back but without having the papers and had to work these lousy jobs to survive since she wasn’t able to have long term employment without the proper papers. I felt very sorry for her since she was one of nicest people I had ever met, and was also very intelligent and a hard worker. I guess she just got caught up in a bureaucratic snafu and had no way to get out of it legally. I’ve lost contact with her but would hope that by now, she is a legal resident again. It seems no matter what country you are in, all government bureaucracies are huge mazes of ineptitude.

  16. bt Says:

    Another problem is the school for your child when you don’t have the Hukou … back doors still exist, like buying a fake one (most schools don’t really care about the check), but a great anxiety for the parents.
    I think a big company can obtain it for you, if they really want you … if you are on your own, probably much harder.
    I heard a relaxation of the Hukou was in the air last year … i don’t know if it’s (effectively) implemented now.

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