The Everyday Lives of Policies and People
Edited by Norman Long, Jingzhong Ye and Yihuan Wang
Chapter 6: Land to the Tiller: The Complexities of Land Ownership and Use in a North China Village
Zhao Xudong INTRODUCTION This chapter explores the debates and issues concerning land ownership and use in China. It covers key arguments regarding land reform and land privatization and illustrates the complexities involved with a case study of land use in a north China village. As a basis for survival, land has always been the special focus of social institutional arrangements. However, land occupied as the private property of the individual is, in China, only a recently emerging phenomenon. Land was originally collectively owned by the lineage, clan or tribe, and more recently by the collective and state. Rousseau’s comment that ‘the noble savage’ had no concept of a piece of land being defined as private property in his name might still be the case for many rural cultivators in China. Rousseau implies that its formation and development is the basis of one aspect of the human civilizing process.1 Since time immemorial, whether in the north or south, at least one piece of land has been reserved for communal use in rural China. It was the basis of the common consciousness of a village community. There were several names for such land, including ‘lineage land’ (zu tian), or ‘righteous land’ (yi tian). In his famous 1947 book, The Golden Wing, Lin Yueh-hwa describes, for Huang Village in Fujian Province, the important role played by public/common land in collective action: The first ancestor is said to be the nominal owner of a piece of land, usually called the ancestral plot, which is...
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