Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
for collateral on a loan, nor can it be sold for nonagricultural purposes; instead, it must first
be converted to state-owned land and then sold, a process over which the local government
retains monopoly control. Local-government officials, whose performance targets are set
by higher administrative levels, are thus incentivized to “chase commerce and attract in-
vestment” ( zhao shang, yin zi ) by pursuing land-conversion strategies that are most remu-
nerative (Whiting 2011). 3
This shift in agricultural governance has greatly increased farming income, a welcome
trendformostruralpeople.Butitalsocreates considerable riskforindividual farmingfam-
ilies, whomustmeet theirowneconomic needsasthestate provideslesssecurity andfewer
services than during the socialist period. The implications for dam-related resettlement are
clear. If property rights exist on a spectrum—from informal access rights on one end to the
right to earn a living byfarming in the middle and full ownership and salability onthe other
end—the PRC effectively recognizes only the middle part of the spectrum. When villagers
are forced to move in order to make way for a development project, the law requires that
they be compensated, but only for lost income from agricultural production, not for lost
ownership of the land and whatever future value or productive capacity might be embodied
in it. The law does not recognize ownership or salability as part of the land-rights “bundle”
belonging to rural people. Nor does it recognize, at the other end of the spectrum, informal
resource-harvesting rights on land that is communally managed.
To provide just one example of how the land-rights regime affects displaced people, vil-
lagers in the Nu River Gorge have historically relied on an incredibly wide assemblage of
resources over which they hold no formal title at all. Many households still gather mush-
rooms, herbs, and firewood on forest land under informal agreements with their relatives
and neighbors, consuming these products as part of their daily subsistence and sometimes
selling them on the local market to supplement their income from farming. Villagers also
grow corn on recently cleared hillside land that probably does not belong to them at all; in
the socioeconomic survey results described in chapter 4 , it was not uncommon for villa-
gers to report planting more than ten mu of corn as a cash crop while reporting total land
holdings that amounted to only half that figure. Many forms of land use in rural China are,
strictly speaking, extralegal, but they are nevertheless extremely common. Loss of this land
may not fit the definition of “dispossession” but may in fact be something worse: the re-
quisitioning of assets that vulnerable people rely upon but over which they have never held
security of title.
As the economist Hernando de Soto (2003) has observed, the single greatest obstacle
faced bymostoftheworld'spoorisalack offormal propertyrights.Oneneednotbeapro-
ponent of private property to see that clearer and more transparent property rights are the
basis ofastable economic system. Well-defined property rights ofwhatever type—whether
vested in the individual, the community, or the state—are the ultimate source of wealth, es-
pecially in rural areas where land constitutes people's most productive asset and their most
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