Washington International Law Journal


Three decades ago, China moved from a communal system of farming to a system that granted more extensive land-use rights to individual households, starting rural China on a path to greater prosperity. Today, however, the law and policy promulgated by the Chinese government prevents farmers from fully realizing this prosperity. The Land Administration Law gives farmers thirty-year contractual rights to the land they farm and the Law on Rural Land Contracting strengthens this right by more specifically enumerating requirements for land contracting and the transfer of contractual rights. Nevertheless, the rural-urban gap is the worst it has been in decades and rural Chinese are left behind to watch their urban counterparts enjoy China’s recent economic success. Realizing the need for rural reform, the government has issued two policy directives that outline measures to increase land tenure security with the goals of doubling farmers’ incomes by 2020 and maintaining the country’s grain supply. While these documents are well intentioned, they are insufficient to fully address rural issues surrounding land tenure rights and do not represent a breakthrough in rural land reform. In order for the policy directives to be more effective, the Chinese government should define who exercises collective ownership rights over farmland, implement a rural registration system, and educate farmers concerning that system. By taking these steps, China will better ensure that conditions in its rural areas will begin to match the prosperity that was envisioned for them thirty years ago.

First Page