Land Expropriation Protests in China: structures, processes, and meanings of selected cases in rural and peri-urban Guangdong and Sichuan

Project: Research project

Project Details


The proposed project will examine protests against land expropriation in China. It will have two parts. The first part will be a longitudinal analysis of such protests over the last ten years. The second part will involve four in-depth case studies of land expropriation protests in Guangdong and Sichuan, two of which involved more than one phase of land requisition. In addition to the analysis of policy papers, statistics and news reports on land expropriation, petition and mass disturbance, this study will entail 100 interviews with government officials, researchers, journalists, non-government organizations and villagers that have engaged in the protests.

This project is important for several reasons. First, although China’s land expropriation protests have increased in number since the late 1990s and important policy changes on land development have been introduced, relatively few scholars have studied land expropriation protests as such. This project aspires to fill this gap in the empirical knowledge.

Second, existing studies of China’s rural conflicts have either paid insufficient attention to the institutional and structural factors in the emergence of land expropriation protests or treated these factors as static and external to the protests. By contrast, this project will draw attention to the changing policies and, above all, the interactions and negotiations among officials from different levels of the government, villagers and other actors in the conversion of rural land into urban land. As such, it is expected to provide a more dynamic analysis of the institutional-structural processes that underlie the unfolding of the protests.

Third, this project will complement existing studies of China’s rural conflicts by providing new observations about the political opportunity for collective action, mobilization process, and cultural meanings that structure the protests. Above all, because this project will involve cases with more than one phase of protest, it will introduce new factors, namely, prior networks and learning from past experiences, with which critical debates in the study of China’s rural conflicts and nascent civil society can be re-examined. The debates include whether the protests have emerged spontaneously and remained disorganized or coalesced into emergent organizations with the benefit of past experiences and prior networks; and whether the protesters may gain a rudiment of rights consciousness when repeated land requisitions lead them to re-consider the meaning of land, justice, and their relationships to the government.

The investigator expects to publish several internationally refereed journal articles and, in time, a monograph on the findings.
Effective start/end date1/01/1431/08/16


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