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The Chinese government has long recognized the need to stop excessive land grabs and evictions of Chinese farmers by subnational governments. During this years’ annual session of the National People’s Congress the Minister of Land and Resources Jiang Daming announced changes to the Land Administration Law, which would be made public after approval. The announcement was preceded by heated debates among NPC delegates how to address the core problem of the current law: unclear farmers’ land rights.

Due to China’s socialist past, land property and management rights are a complex issue. In China there is no private ownership of land. All land in the cities is owned by the state and leased out to citizens for 70 years for a fee. Land in the countryside is owned by the village collectives and the usage rights are assigned to the members of the collective free of charge. According to law, collectively owned land is prohibited from being circulated. Therefore, subnational governments need to expropriate and convert it into urban land in order to utilize it for non-agricultural purposes.

Forced evictions in the name of “public interest”

The law in its current form is criticized by academics for its vague terminology, which does not sufficiently safeguard farmers’ interests. According to Article 2 of the Land Administration Law, “[t]he State may, in the interest of the public, lawfully expropriate or requisition land and give compensation accordingly.” The phrase “in the interest of the public” is not clearly defined, giving the government wide discretionary power.

The resulting wrongful treatment of famers in China in the form of land grabs and forced evictions by local governments causes regular protests, which sometimes take extreme forms. Homeowners’ resistance to leave their properties has led to the widely photographed phenomenon of “nail houses,” structures sticking out like nails in the middle of an area slated for re-developments. All over rural China, desperate farmers have murdered village authorities or committed or attempted suicide in dramatic self-immolations.

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