Urbanization, peasant differentiation, and “granting land to cultivators:” reflections on the reform of agricultural land system from the pPerspective of urbanization

CHEN Wenqiong1 LIU Jianping2

(1.School of Public Administration, Central South University)
(2.College of Public Administration, Huazhong University of Science & Technology)

【Abstract】Based on the investigation of the urbanization of rural families in ordinary agricultural villages, this article finds that a vast majority of rural families maintain a lifestyle of semi-urbanization, and rural families in the process of urbanization have already been divided into cultivators and non-cultivators. Significant differences and conflicts exist between the purposes of guaranteeing rights and defending rights. Due to a failure to cope with the conflicts, the current reforms of the rural land system is counterproductive to high-quality urbanization. Specifically, cultivators are keen to expand their scale of operation at low prices. They are eager to solve the problem of land fragmentation and reduce the cost of farming, thus increasing household income and eventually enhancing the capability to settle down in cities. Non-cultivators tend to advocate the consolidation of individual land rights, wishing to use land rights in exchange for a desirable property income, which has nothing to do with their ability to settle down in cities. The current trend in the reforms of the rural land system is consistent with non-cultivators’ land claims. As a result, cultivators’ interests are impaired, which leads to the concentration of counterforce against high-quality urbanization. This study proposes that the system of “granting land to cultivators” can ensure an orderly migration of rural population to cities, prevent the strengthening of the strong and the weakening of the weak, and maintain the general stability of the rural land system in a rapidly changing society.

【Keywords】 rural land system; peasant differentiation; land to the tiller; semi-urbanization; land claim;


【Funds】 Social Science Fund of Hunan in 2014 (14YBA402) Philosophy and Social Sciences of Zhejiang Province in 2017 (17NDJC296YB).

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(Translated by Lin Jing)


    [1]. ① These four villages were Mei Village in He Town, Xiang Village in Duan Town, Mu Village in Mu Town, and Jia Village in Yan Town. The survey was conducted in Mei Village in June 2014, Xiang Village in September and October 2015, Mu Village in May 2016, and Jia Village in June 2016. To follow the academic rule, all the toponyms in this paper are pseudonyms. [^Back]

    [2]. ② The authors led field research in Yang Village, Nanjing, Jiangsu Province in April and May 2017, Jiang Village, Longyan, Fujian Province in July 2017, Guan Village, Jinmen, Hubei Province in October 2017, Hong Village, Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province in January 2018, Shuang Village, Tongren, Guizhou Province in May 2018, and Yuan Village, Changshou, Chongqing in July 2018 respectively. [^Back]

    [3]. ③ “High quality” in this paper means that compared to the urban phenomenon that many people who migrate to the cities become residents of urban slums in many developing countries, Chinese peasants aim at having their own stable residence in the cities and their living condition is far better than slums. They also strive to earn a stable income in the cities that allow them to enjoy all kinds of urban resources, especially the educational and medical resources, so that their family members staying in the cities can lead a decent life. [^Back]

    [4]. ① The research on encouraging rural residents to become urban residents stresses that the government should guide the turn of the peasants who transfer from agriculture to the secondary and tertiary industries into urban residents. [^Back]

    [5]. ② Urbanization back in the hometown means the process of urbanization in which the peasants who work in the developed coastal areas return to settle down in the cities of their hometown. [^Back]

    [6]. ① As the authors observe in the surveys conducted on the Jianghan Plain, terms including “terrible,” “average,” “pretty good,” and “wealthy” constitute the criteria local peasants often use to evaluate each other’s household income. [^Back]

    [7]. ① Statistics here come from the investigation on the Jianghan Plain. [^Back]

    [8]. ① See Xi, J. 农村改革要坚守“四个不能”底线, http://news.china.com.cn/2016-05/25/content_38529138.htm [^Back]

    [9]. ① The authors explain the issue with the surveyed villages as examples. In Jia Village, the smallest patch of land was 0.009 mu (1 mu = 0.0666667 hectare); the largest was no more than 2 mu; and the majority were less than 1 mu. In Xiang Village, a middle-aged peasant tilled 13 mu of land, but there were in all more than 30 scattered pieces. In his own words, it took him at least half a day to patrol all the fields. When it was dry, he had to irrigate the fields, laying the cables, placing the tubes, collecting the tubes, or moving the pumps. He was always on the way. As the fields were scattered, he was not able to take care of all of them, so sometimes he had no choice but let the rice seedlings die of drought. [^Back]

    [10]. ① As definition of Zhang (2012) in his book Granting Land to Cultivators (耕者有其田), the term “granting land to cultivators” means cultivators have the right to rent and manage rural land but non-cultivators do not have the right. [^Back]


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This Article


CN: 11-3586/F

Vol , No. 06, Pages 26-40

November 2018


Article Outline



  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Research ideas
  • 3 Objective of high-quality urbanization and peasants with differentiated abilities
  • 4 Nature of rural land, the pattern of land rights, and the contradictory land claims
  • 5 New trends in the reforms of rural land system and the counterforce of high-quality urbanization
  • 6 Granting land to cultivators: policy implications on the orderly promotion of high-quality urbanization
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