Washington International Law Journal


Pamela N. Phan


As China in the twenty-first century rushes ahead in its quest to become more developed and cosmopolitan, the poor are increasingly cast as outsiders to the nation's new social contract and urban development politics. Nowhere is the contrast between China's urban rich and rural poor as stark as on the land itself. In cities throughout China, land continues to be taken away from the collective and placed into the hands of an increasingly rich and powerful elite. As a new society built upon urban poverty, exclusion, and inequality emerges, and the gap between rich and poor widens, the new political order must wrestle with questions of how to balance the interests of government regulators, business elite and the average citizen, while minimizing social tensions arising over land disputes. Current reforms ignore the real issues—which include the need for the governing regime to define and recognize the property rights of the individual. By clinging to the political rhetoric of demolition and renewal in the "public interest," paving the way for corrupt officials and land-hungry developers to render thousands homeless and landless, China's government continues to operate urban renewal as a "top-down" process. This Article focuses on the current state of economic development in China, and the crisis in governance that it has created, questioning whether increased urbanization necessarily signifies progress in an environment in which the voices of a significant fraction of the population are left out.

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