CPC moves to solve land disputes

Updated: 2012-11-09 22:30

BEIJING - After it became the country's only ruling party 63 years ago, the Communist Party of China (CPC) is now looking back to where it started on its way to the national power: solving the land problems for farmers.

In his keynote report to the 18th CPC National Congress on Thursday, Chinese President Hu Jintao has pressed the Party to reform the land expropriation system and increase farmers' share of gain in land value.

"We should give more to farmers and take less from them," Hu told the Party in his speech at the opening of the congress, which was televised nationwide Thursday.

Hu promised the CPC will ensure equal exchange of factors of production and balance allocation of public resources between urban and rural areas.

The pledge, the first of its kind the CPC has ever made in its national congress reports, came at a time when massive protests by farmers over land seizures erupted in multiple villages across the country over the past years.

The reform of the land expropriation system, if proceeds as promised, means that the Chinese government will no longer sacrifice the property rights of farmers to reduce the cost of the country's industrialization and urbanization.

According to China's existing land system, rural collectives, usually a rural village committee, rather than farmers themselves, own the land in rural areas, a systematic arrangement that came into being in China after several land reforms initiated by the CPC lifted it to national power.

Historians believe the widespread support the CPC once had from farmers was one of the magic codes that made it China's ruling party after it confiscated land from landlords and allocated them to peasants for free in the revolution era.

China's late leader Mao Zedong attributed the CPC's course to national power to a strategy of "using the rural areas to encircle the cities".

The reform and opening up that catapulted China into its current position of the world's second-largest economy also originated from  Xiaogang village in East China's Anhui province, where farmers secretly contracted farmland from the collective in 1978 when most villages in the country were still struggling to make their ends meet in collective farms.

The practice at Xiaogang village was later applied to the rest of the countryside, as rural collectives distributed land-use rights to households through contracts of 30-year "household management".

Under the existing rules, the state can nationalize the collective-owned land over reasons like "public interests" and transfer farmland for industrial and construction use.

To build more homes for migrant workers flocking to cities and towns amid the country's rapid urbanization, local governments grabbed a number of land from farmers over the years, then sold them to industrial and housing developers, but compensated very little to rural residents.

Moreover, farmers are deprived of any gains in the land value after their farmland is expropriated, thus fueling increasing discontent and complaints from farmers, including those living at Wukan village in the city of Shanwei of South China's Guangdong province.

A year ago, Wukan made international headlines when the small village's residents staged three waves of large-scale rallies in four months to protest against village officials' alleged illegal land seizures, corruption and violations of financing and election rules.

"Under the current land expropriation system, farmers are almost excluded from benefits of land price appreciation," said Xu Xiaojing, director of the Research Department of Rural Economy with the Development Research Center, a government think tank under the State Council, China's cabinet.

He said the current compensation standard for expropriated land is too low, thus limiting farmers from sharing the revenues of increases in land prices.

"In fact, those farmers who lost their land have been unfairly thrown out from China's industrialization and urbanization process," Xu said, "This is absurd."

In many villages, villagers usually get a reimbursement between 450,000 yuan ($75,000 ) and 750,000 yuan for each hectare of farmland expropriated, but local governments can cash in millions of yuan in revenue on auctioning a hectare of rural land.

Yang Yuying, a female farmer living in the suburbs of Hefei, the capital city of Anhui province, fell one of the victims due to such an unfair land seizure system in the country.

Yang and her family was compensated less than one million yuan, along with a 90-square-meter housing unit, for their land seized by the local government.

"The compensation looks quite a lot of money, but we've lost our land and can't enjoy the same treatment in employment, medicare and education as urban residents do," Yang said.

"Our lives have no guarantee, and even my kid has to pay extra fees to go to school in the city. All these are quite annoying," she said.

As China's urbanization has driven over half of 1.3 billion Chinese into cities and towns, many farmers like Yang are having their land seized by local governments without property compensation, thus spawning seeds of unrest in the country.

"The unfair treatment farmers face in land seizures are now the primary source of complaints and social unrest in the country," said Wang Kaiyu, a sociologist who has conducted field investigations in rural China for a long time.

"In reforming the land expropriation system, the government should appropriately raise the one-off compensations to farmers, but establishing a mechanism to guarantee their long-term lives is even more important," Wang said.