Yesterday the NY Times reported Chinese protests about land inequities. The interests of the Chinese government are not aligned with the interests of the people, so inequality and protests will continue and grow until changes are made.
In the Guangdong town of Wukan, “villagers chased away government leaders, set up roadblocks and began arming themselves with homemade weapons” “after residents learned that one of the representatives they had selected to negotiate with the local Communist Party had died in police custody. The authorities say a heart attack killed the 42-year-old man, but relatives say his body bore signs of torture”.
“A major source of unrest, including in Wukan, is the seizure of land by well-connected private developers or government officials, which involves forced evictions for meager compensation. More than just unalloyed greed, these seizures are supported by local governments that have come to rely on proceeds of land sales and development to pay for day-to-day operations.”
“The discontent in Wukan has been simmering for more than a decade. Residents say land seizures began in the late 1990s, when officials began selling off farmland for industrial parks and apartment complexes. Villagers say more than 1,000 acres have been seized and resold to developers in the past decade or so. The residents’ ire exploded in September, when thousands of people took to the streets to protest the sale of a village-owned pig farm for luxury housing that netted the government $156 million.”
There are construction cranes all over China. These development require land, and the government owns all land. A Wall Street Journal article from September explains that “under the 1982 constitution, all urban land is automatically state-owned, while rural land is under “collective ownership. So the most that farmers in the countryside get is a 30-year lease on the land, which leaves them defenseless against the expropriations of corrupt local officials.”
Development is driven by continued demand for housing and development as people flock to the cities. Another factor is new families. China has more young men than young women, so the young women can be and are choosy about whom they marry. Many want a car and housing in order to marry. One of our China guides agreed with this assessment and added that he was fortunate that his wife chose to marry him.
Until meaningful changes are mode, development will continue, the local government will make millions from development, people will be moved off the land, and protests will continue. In the meanwhile, people will try to get by and perhaps get ahead a little.