This article investigates the history of land use reform in China and proves that the so-called rural land problem is the consequence of China’s partial land use reform. In 1988, the Chinese government chose to conduct land use reform sequentially: first urban and then rural, which made local governments in China the biggest beneficiary and supporter of the partial reform. However, a beneficiary of partial reform does not necessarily support further reform because of the excessive rents to seek between the market of urban real estate and the government-controlled system of rural land development and transfer. The central government, in particular its agency in charge of land administration (the former Bureau of Land Administration, which has been elevated to the Ministry of Land and Resources), also has interests endowed in this regime. In contrast, losers of this partial reform, Chinese farmers and other relevant groups, have no voice or power in the political process of the reform, which makes it difficult for the central government to achieve an agenda that balances interests of all relevant parties. However, this is not to say that a country, even without a democratic political structure, would necessarily be trapped in the partial reform equilibrium. In the China case, Chinese farmers challenged the existing system through forming a huge small-property market, around which social groups disadvantaged by the partial reform, mainly Chinese farmers and middle-and-low income urban population, present their interests claims and their ability to jeopardize the purposes the central and local governments hope to achieve through the existing system. This has led to adaptive policy changes.
Shitong Qiao is completing his J.S.D. at Yale Law School. Mr. Qiao received his LL.B. degree from Wuhan University in 2007 and his LL.M. degrees from Peking University in 2009 and from Yale University in 2010. His research focuses on property and social norms, with broad academic interests in law and development, law and economics, and law and globalization. Mr. Qiao’s dissertation addresses the relationship between property, law and the market economy by exploring the evolution of land rights in China’s market transition. He is a recipient of the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund fellowship, the Kauffman Summer Student Fellowship, and the Streicker Fund fellowship at Yale Law School, and has been invited to present his research at various forums, including Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School, New York University School of Law, European Association of Law and Economics, and the Annual Comparative Law Work-in-Progress Workshop of the American Society of Comparative Law. He was a visiting faculty member and Director of Advanced Legal Studies at the Peking University School of Transnational Law in the 2011-12 academic year, where he taught a seminar on property and development and supervised the student thesis program. He is qualified in both China and New York State. Mr. Qiao has published widely both in Chinese and in English. His recent publications include an article accepted by Canadian Journal of Law and Society and two book chapters accepted by Cambridge and Columbia University Presses. During his time at USALI, Mr. Qiao conducts research on Chinese land reform and collaborates with Professor Frank Upham on property-related courses.