Farmers Be Warned, Here Comes Housing-Based-Land Reform

By: RD16 (2020/05/23)

Summary: Under Chinese Communist Party regime, people actually never have the right to own a piece of land including farmers. With the so-called Housing-Based-Land Reform being pushed forward, more farmers might lose the land they have been living and cultivating on…

For the past decades, many people living in the West may have been dazzled by the news on the exponential growth numbers of Chinese real estate market. Many of those Chinese urban property “owners” had become instant millionaires-on-the-paper just for owning a piece or two in the most sought-after neighborhoods. Rarely did the outsiders know, those ‘lucky’ urban Chinese dwellers actually do not own an inch of those properties, they merely have purchased the “right of use” from the government. As it is the law, and the full span for right of use of a property is capped at 70 years. 

Lately some news has gained traction that the village people in China have become anxious about what has been happening to the housing they are actually living in. This all comes in the backdrop of the government’s stepping up on the implementation of “Zhai-Ji-Di” Reform (i.e., Reform of housing-based-land). As described in a Baidu column(*1), “Zhai-Ji-Di”, housing-based-land means the land to which the farmers or village people build their houses on; while the land still entirely belongs to the government without exception, and the farmers only have the right of use once they have built a house on it.

This concept may have come to surprise to not only the general public in the west but also to people who might have thought that they had decent understanding about China’s economic affairs. The Chinese people under the Communist Party regime, actually never have the right to own a piece of land, not even after one has paid an exorbitant amount of money; or not even for the farmers who have been living and cultivating the same land for generations.

As one would wonder why this policy matters and why this is now emerging in public eyes even with its inception dated back to 2014 or earlier. If one’d take a closer look, it is not hard to discover four major challenges the famers are likely to encounter; and how easy it is for the government to decidedly “reclaim” back a good portion of the land previously “used” by Chinese farmers.

First of all, the land must not have been referenced in any kind of disputes. As people have known, family disputes are not uncommon in village/rural settings, especially village family structures tend to be larger and complex. This would dash the hope for many families who are already plagued by internal quarrels.

Secondly, to be certified under the “one-family-one-housing” rule, one family can only claim one housing to use, and, one ought to obtain the certificate from the government to prove the legitimacy. Any more numbers of houses or residences beyond the quota of “one”, will not to be granted, therefore not to be certified.  This would devastate many families as many have been saving for years if not decades to build up family wealth, just to set up the extra housing for their children, or for other family usage. This simply means their fruit of labor and possession is not to be respected; and they could be robbed of their own houses if the housing is deemed to be “excessive”, aka, beyond the quota of “one”.

Thirdly, in order to be certified, one must go through a series of procedures, and present various types of documents to prove the undisputable “legitimacy”.  This well-designed red-tapes, plus the corrupted bureaucracy might easily frustrate many, and hence make the process unnecessarily long and complicated, which may lead to failing to obtain a certificate.

Just when you think you have managed to pull through all the above, almost ready for a victory lap, wait, there is one last hoop to jump through – Number #4, one has to prove that the original “housing-based-land” record registered with the local government has to be an exact match with the person claiming the certificate. For example, if the original registered record was in the grandfather’s name, and somehow the grandson cannot present the chain of events of the transfer for the “housing-based-land”, then you, the grandson will not be able to obtain the certificate after all.

In rural area or in village settings, it’s quite common that many local governments’ procedures are not established fully by the book due to the lack of management capabilities, and a lot of village affairs simply are operated and maintained by honor system; hence carefully written records are not always produced. This number#4 criterion undeniably just adds another layer of deterrence for the farmers.

According to the same Baidu column(*1), under the same policy, the government has stated that if the farmers have decided not going to return to their villages, the farmers are “allowed” to trade in their “housing-based-land”, and they are to be compensated in monetary values. As for the amount of payback values, there has not been any clear definition. But if history is any indication, it would be yet another painful uphill battle for the farmers… 

According to CIA record (*2, est. 2016), 27% of Chinese labor force is considered in agriculture, while another 43.5% considered in services (of which a large portion are indeed migrant workers). As of July 2018, China’s population was about 1.4 billion. This means about 378 million are agriculture workers, not including migrant workers. Even not all the agriculture workers may face the same “housing-based-land” issue, but still it is a big base number if we convert that to numbers of families.

All in all, the Chinese people under the Communist Party regime, actually never have the right to own a piece of land. And with all the hardship piled on due to crashing economy, the Chinese village people or the soon-to-return-to-farmland’s migrant workers may find themselves stricken with even more uncertainties. Under this Housing-Based-Land Reform, who might reap the benefits from their potential losses though?

*1. Source: https://baijiahao.baidu.com/s?id=1667392693666899159&wfr=spider&for=pc

*2. Source: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/219.html

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