CASS Scholar Yu Jianrong on Shift in Focus of Peasant Activism from Taxes to Property Rights

September 20, 2004

In an interview with Southern Weekend (translated here by Manfred Elfstrom), Yu Jianrong, the noted Chinese Academy of Social Sciences scholar and author of a recent book on the dynamics of rural China, states that illegal confiscation of land by local officials and related abuses have become the most serious threats to peasant rights, and that property rights have displaced tax burdens as the principal focus of peasant protest. Yu traces the sharp rise in the number of land petitions and protests in the last two years in part to China's rapid urbanization and in part to the focus of China's new leaders on governing "for the people," which he claims has created an environment in which peasants are more comfortable raising their grievances. He notes that over 66 million peasants have lost their land over the past 13 years. According to Yu, the Chinese government is very concerned about the threat that landless, jobless peasants represent to national stability.

Demolitions and forced relocations are also major issues in China's cities. Urban evictions, while not addressed by Yu in the discussion of rural China, have sparked a similar surge of petitions, lawsuits, protests, and even suicides. The State Council has expressed alarm about discontent in urban areas as well, and in June 2004 ordered cities to curtail the scope of urban re-development.

These and other issues related to property seizures were dealt with in detail at a recent CECC Issues Roundtable entitled “Property Seizures in China: Politics, Law, and Protest.”