Jiangsu Farmers Win Lawsuit Against Land Ministry

April 4, 2005

A group of 150 farmers from Hongqiao village, Jiangsu province, has won an administrative lawsuit against the Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR). According to China Daily and Xinhua reports, a Beijing court ruled March 18 that the MLR must review its approval of a Wuxi city decision to requisition the farmers’ land. The farmers allege the land seizure was unlawful because the land was used for commercial purposes. Last July, they appealed to the MLR for reconsideration of its decision to approve the land seizure, but the MLR rejected the appeal on technical grounds, arguing that it was not submitted within the legally prescribed time. In late 2004, the farmers filed suit in the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court to compel the MLR to consider their appeal.

Although the court decision is a significant victory for the Jiangsu farmers, it is unclear whether the farmers will eventually prevail in challenging the land seizure. According to Chinese reports on the case, the Beijing judgment invalidates the MLR’s decision to deny the farmers’ request for administrative reconsideration and orders the MLR to hear the appeal. However, it does not appear to invalidate the MLR’s original decision to approve the land requisition, as reported in the South China Morning Post on March 22. In theory, the MLR could hear the farmer’s appeal and simply uphold its original decision, in which case the farmers would be forced to file a new administrative lawsuit challenging the underlying approval of the land seizure.

The People’s Daily reported late in 2003 that the largest categories of administrative lawsuits involve "urban construction" and "land resources" and that the number of such lawsuits is growing rapidly. However, there have been few domestic reports of success in such cases. Chinese commentators suggest that the Jiangsu farmers’ successful lawsuit is a milestone in the history of administrative litigation in China and an indication that the legal consciousness of China’s peasants is increasing. The court decision, and efforts to publicize it in official Chinese media, may also reflect a Chinese government effort to ease unrest over land disputes by encouraging farmers to take their claims to the courts.