China’s Emerging Land Rights Movement

 Images 2006 02 23 International 18China583 While many media and individual observers of China are compiling their lists of “top events” of 2007, the biggest story of this year seems to be just emerging. Following is news about four collective actions initiated by Chinese across the country demanding their , all this month. Mentioned in this article, by Beijing-based legal activist Chen Yongmiao (陈永苗 ), are three recent cases from Jiangsu, Shaanxi and Heilongjiang which together could be considered to be a nascent grassroots land rights movement, partially translated by CDT:

Chinese farmers are finally showing their power, standing up to the sky. Hundreds of thousands of farmers from three different regions publicly announced to the whole nation that they have the right to own their land. Looking back at villagers in
Xiaogang (小岗村) who divided their land in the early reform period, that could still be considered kneeling on the ground, an improvement from their previous totally supine position. This time farmers have really stood up, despite the potential high pressure from the government.

Chen quoted three documents.
The first: On December 9, a public announcement to the all people in the whole country declaring their land rights ownership, from forty thousand farmers from Donnangang village (东南岗村)and 72 other villages in Fujin city (), Heilongjiang province. On November 28, the villagers of Dongnangang held a democratic meeting of all villagers, where they decided to take back all land into their own hands. They completed a land survey on November 29. On November 30, preparations started to divide this land among villagers. On December 3rd, the land redistribution started and now the process is basically finished.

The second document: On December 12, 2007, about seventy thousand farmers from 76 villages in Dali county (大荔县), Huayin city (华阴市) and Tongguan county (潼关县) in Shaanxi province, which all belong to the Three Gorges Dam migrant region, announced to the nation that “we seventy thousand returned migrant farmers collectively decided to take back the right of ownership of our land. We tell the whole nation: this land belongs to us and are for our future generations to use. We throw away the ‘collective ownership’ of this land. We have permanent ownership of 24710 acres, which are currently used by all the villages. We also have permanent ownership of another 24710 acres, which the State Council has given farmers the right to use, but the land is being used by officials at various levels. We will organize to divide this land evenly among farmers for them to own it forever, and end the illegal occupation of the land by officials of various levels. ”

The third document Chen quoted in his essay is from 250 families from Zhaungchun village (庄村), Yixing city (宜兴市) in Jiangsu province, who insisted they own the right to their housing land and demand the realization of the saying “People have a place to live.” In their online public letter, they state: “In every dynasty, it is clear that every villager owned their land. Farmers respected their land rights, and all the transactions concerning this land were commercial transactions according to legally protected rules. Since the opening and reform period, there are new terms such as ‘village collective ownership’ (村集体所有) and ‘utilizing rights.'” But farmers believe that whatever the terminology, the land belongs to farmers and is intended for farmers to live on and develop for generations. Now these farmers, according to the “rule of heaven” (天理)history (历史) and the current utilization situation of the landannounce to the nation that “In Zhuangcun, all housing land belongs to each family permanently. Agricultural land and mountainous land will be evenly divided among all villagers. This land once belonged to our ancestors, but now belongs to us and our future generations!”

There are dozens of websites inside of China that have (or had) these texts. For example: here, here, and here. If you have trouble viewing the text in those links, that means the government censors were quick to delete it. At least at the time of writing this post, the original posts are still cached in Baidu, here, here; and here.

And here is the fourth event of this month: More than 8,000 farmers from a suburb of Tianjin took action to protect their land ownership, translated by CDT’s Linjun Fan:

More than 8,000 farmers of suburb Tianjin took action to protect their land ownership

Farmers in several places of China are taking aggressive actions to defy local governments and claim their land ownership.

Farmers in suburb Tianjin went to block construction of a 1,500 acre reservoir in recent days, which they claimed was grabbed illegally from them by local government officials. “The land is owned by us farmers. The occupation of land by government departments or developers is illegal, ” said a number of farmers in four villages of Matai Town, Wuqin District of Tianjin City.

The land was taken away from the farmers back in 1992 in the name of building a reservoir for flood and drought prevention. But it has never served the alleged function, and was instead used to farm fish and has provided millions of dollars’ profits to the Wuqing District Government each year. The reservoir, which has no water source itself, often robbed farmers of the irrigation water for their crops and caused heavy losses for local farmers. It’s even more outrageous that the farmers were asked to pay the land’s agricultural tax for more than ten years from 1992, when the land was taken, to 2003, when the central government abolished agricultural tax

Now officials of Wuqing District decided that they would stop fish-farming and start building a “Green Ecological Park” on the reservoir, which farmers had expected would be returned to their hands. Construction of a large and permanent project is going to begin soon. All the farmers suddenly realized that the land, which had been owned by them for generations, will be lost forever. Each local farmer owns less than one fifth of an acre now. They will hardly be able to survive if they are unable to protect the good farming land their ancestors left them. And they will shame their ancestors and offspring if they fail to do so. They have petitioned to negotiate with local officials a number of times, but have been dismissed again and again.

Farmers have united and are taking action right now. They wish to tell all officials of Wuqing District through the media that they should own their farming land permanently, and they should also own permanently the 1,500 acre land occupied by the local government. They criticized local officials for pursuing their own interest instead of serving farmers by building the reservoir. “They are not serving farmers, but ruining their lives. The local government departments should be an institution that serves all people of the district, rather than the private shrine of officials. Only those officials who are willing to serve the people should be kept in their positions, Otherwise, they should be out of their seats.” they said.

Read also RFA’s report on the Tianjing story here.

Please read CDT’s new post on this story: “Land is the Most Important Human Right for Farmers” – Dongnangang Villagers.

[Image source:]


Photographer: Hou Yimin, from



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