Commentary Magazine


Contentions

This Land Is My Land!

Today, Reuters reports that Chinese authorities in central Shaanxi province have detained three peasants who led a campaign to reclaim land. The three were among six farmers who signed an open letter, purportedly on behalf of 70,000 others. “We reject the previous form of collective ownership,” the letter states. “It cannot guarantee the farmers’ permanent rights to the land . . . and cannot prevent the illegal infringement by officials and thugs.”

The three peasants have been charged with “inciting to subvert state power,” and it’s not hard to see why. In what could be the most significant development in China this year, peasants across the country in the last few weeks are declaring that they, and not the state or its collectives, own the fields they till and the orchards they tend. Similar declarations have been made in the last two weeks in the provincial-level city of Tianjin and the provinces of Heilongjiang and Jiangsu.

Mao Zedong came to power in 1949 on promises of land redistribution. He made good on his word by breaking up the holdings of landlords, but he soon confiscated all land for the state in the 1950s. Local peasants, on their own initiative, brought back the concept of individual farming in the early 1980s, but they never obtained title to the soil. Now, they want to complete the process and own the land they occupy. If successful, they will put an end to socialism in the countryside.

It’s not that the agricultural poor are highminded. They merely want what is theirs. In the last decade predatory officials have, in the name of development, grabbed peasant land with little or no compensation but almost always for their personal benefit. Land seizures are undoubtedly the biggest cause of unrest—sometimes in the form of pitched battles between peasants and thugs hired by local governments—in China today.

Beijing vows that the countryside will be stable in 2008. Yesterday, the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the central government’s State Council concluded their annual central rural work conference with the usual pledges to aid the peasantry, including a ten-point program. In addition, on Saturday the Ministry of Finance announced a pilot program to provide in three agricultural provinces subsidies covering 13 percent of the cost of color televisions, refrigerators, and mobile phones.

The Chinese will gladly take handouts, but central government technocrats are mistaken if they think they can prevent peasants from taking what they have demanded for generations—the right to own land. And there are others who are also deluded: we are about to witness, once again, the world’s poor conclusively prove to Western analysts that socialism is not sustainable.


Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.