Chinese Land Institutions: Peasant Workers, Industrialization, and Urbanization

  • Jinqing Cao
  • Yuqin Huang
  • Ming Gao


This chapter is a detailed analysis of the relationship between changes in the land policy and the emergence of a massive class of “peasant workers” in urban China. With the abolition of the people’s commune system and its replacement with the “household contract responsibility system” in the 1980s, land rights shifted from the collective to the household. However, the ultimate ownership still was vested in the state authorities.

The local authorities use these powers to acquire peasant land for the purpose of industrialization and infrastructure development at rates of compensation highly exploitative to peasants but highly lucrative for local authorities and investors. There was growth but at the cost of the peasants. The land policy and the household registration system that divided the rural and urban labor, have created a massive class of rural migrant workers in urban areas known as “peasant workers”. These “peasant workers” are permitted to work in cities but not allowed to obtain urban registration that would entitle them to urban citizens’ rights, including the right to property, social protection, and educational facilities for their children. The authors point out that this material-centered urbanization has resulted in industrialization of workers without urban rights. The authors argue that since China has reached the “Lewis turning point” and is moving toward a higher level of development, there is a need for modification of land policy and the urban registration system to overcome the anomaly of “peasant workers” by according them urban citizenship rights.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jinqing Cao
    • 1
  • Yuqin Huang
    • 1
  • Ming Gao
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologyEast China University of Science and TechnologyShanghaiChina
  2. 2.Department of Cultural Studies, School of Liberal ArtsShanghai UniversityShanghaiChina

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