Recently, Beijing announced new procedures to “give an effective guarantee” to rural citizens that their land rights would be respected by “standardising” arbitration procedures. This is explicit recognition that rural unrest remains a serious problem. But the problem in rural China is not bad legislation but enforcement. No number of new laws and procedures passed – no matter how elegantly rewritten – can improve their enforcement. In fact, the non-enforcement of new and better laws will likely increase unrest rather than appease frustrated rural citizens.
According to official figures, there were 87,000 instances of “mass unrest” in China in 2005, rising from a few thousand in the mid 1990s. Several human rights groups based in Hong Kong believed that the figure was closer to 300,000 instances. In a bad sign suggesting a worsening problem, Beijing has published no more recent figures.