Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Chinese farmers don't have to worry about the goverment seizing their land for development

Because they don't own it
SANCHAWAN, China - For five months, Gao Lading and other angry farmers had occupied the walled compound of the Communist Party's village office. They had pitched tents, eaten rice and sweet potatoes, and waited.

It was a sit-in born of desperation. Officials from the nearby city of Yulin had seized land that had been part of the village since imperial times. The farmers had protested for nearly two years before finally seizing the village government's seat of power.

Early on Oct. 4, the government struck back. Witnesses say truckloads of paramilitary police surrounded the sleeping village. Hundreds of people inside the office compound were injured as the police fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
In real estate terms, the crackdown amounted to closing day. Like other land transactions in rural China, negotiations had been one-sided: Yulin officials, citing an obscure legal clause, ordered farmers to leave and offered them $60 per parcel of land. The farmers had screamed robbery.

But farmers in China cannot be robbed of land because they are not allowed to own it. The same economic reforms that have made China the world's fastest growing economy have created a two-tiered property system that favors city dwellers while handicapping the farmers once at the core of this society.

One result is that a booming, private real estate market has emerged in cities, where residents can now buy and sell apartments or suburban villas as investments toward joining the fledgling urban middle class. Farmers still fall under a village collective system that forbids them to own, buy or sell the land they till - and that often leaves them powerless to keep it.

The Sanchawan case is one example among thousands in which city officials pushing lucrative development projects have confiscated rural land by guile, fiat or force. Experts estimate that as many as 70 million farmers have lost their land in the past decade - a number expected to rise above 100 million.
Good thing they don't get to vote or icky stuff like that.