Hu Deping on Wukan and Land Rights

Hu Deping, son of former Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, contributed this commentary to a forum discussing the December 22 People’s Daily editorial “What Does ‘Wukan’s Turn’ Mean for Us?” The discussion was posted December 27 on the website Hu Yaobang Historical Data. (Translation by Harriet Xu)

This morning, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal met me. First we talked about the Internet, then about Wukan. At the time, I did not fully express my opinion. This afternoon, I saw the People’s Daily commentary “What Does ‘Wukan’s Turn’ Mean for Us?” I was really excited, and very happy to take part in a discussion on “Wukan’s Turn,” as well as see to everyone take initiative in supporting “Wukan’s Turn.”

The Wukan Incident started in September, and only now are solutions seeing the light of day. The developing momentum is great. I think that we should pay attention to this problem, and stay level-headed and keep an analytical attitude towards reform–this is extremely important at this time.

These local property rights problems have been among the most pressing issues since the period of opening up and reform. I take these rural property rights issues very seriously. The sale price of rural land should have the same rights and values as state-owned land. Why have there been so many instances of forced demolitions in our society? The reason is that people’s knowledge of the peasant land system has undergone a huge change; many believe that all rural land belongs to the state. I spoke to some comrades about this. One said that rural land belongs to the state. I said that it belongs to the rural collective. He said that the collective also belongs the state, including some provincial and municipal leaders, and even some cadres–this was his understanding. Someone [else] said land occupied by individual peasants also belongs to the collective, and the collective belongs to the state, which in turn belongs to the Communist Party. This is completely different from the understanding of the rural households contract system. The change in this line of thinking has led to the forced demolition of rural housing, and has its roots in the idea of urbanizing the peasantry. Since all land belongs to the state, the state should resolve its property [issues] in accordance with the city’s prerogatives. Rural collective land rights exist in name only. But now the name no longer remains, and this is an alarming social trend. This trend is enough to change the character of reform. The aforementioned understanding of the [rural land] issue has become widespread, and has taken hold in several localities. Of course, the rural land collective system does not suggest that land cannot be transferred, nor that it cannot follow a business model–this is the foreground of agricultural modernization.

I hope that the Wukan Incident can push society into establishing a system which takes democracy and the rule of law as its foundation. I hope that from now on, when society meets similar types of issues down the line, people will be able to solve them using rule of law and negotiations. The government has recognized the cadres and autonomous organizations chosen by the people of Wukan. I think this is significant. I hope this can continue and have a positive ending.

Because Guangdong’s period of reform and opening up began relatively early, land property rights issues also appeared relatively early. If coastal regions can resolve these issues well, then this will doubtless serve as an example to the country as a whole and have a positive influence on comprehensive reforms. I reckon there is a great likelihood that there will be a good resolution to these problems, about 70% or higher.