Shitong Qiao and Frank K Upham
in Michele Graziadei and Lionel Smith (eds), Comparative Property Law Global Perspectives (Edward Elgar 2017) ch 14
Abstract: This chapter provides an outline of the changing Chinese land regime, including the past, present, and future of land expropriation, small or informal property rights, and rural land reform. We argue that the evolution of Chinese land law exhibits three characteristics. First, law serves as the final confirmation of policy reforms, rather than the precondition of the reform. Second, there is no individual land ownership, and public land ownership (including both state land ownership in the urban area and collective land ownership in the rural area) still matters. Third, due to the rapidly changing nature of the Chinese economy and society, property rights in action are often a pale shadow of what their legal entitlements would indicate in theory. As a result of these three characteristics, Chinese land law poses two related challenges to conventional property theory. First is one of the rarely questioned verities of economic theory: that clear, secure, and judicially enforceable property rights are an essential – perhaps the most essential – prerequisite to economic growth. The second question grows directly out of the first. China’s growth has come through voluntary market exchange on a massive scale, and in this sense fully vindicates economic theory. The challenge is to understand how these markets – in our case, the real estate market – operate without the legal framework considered necessary for Coasian bargaining. We propose a relational property theory as one explanation of what has enabled the market, without any legal rules or judicial enforcement, to thrive on a literally global scale. Relational property emphasizes the determinative role of social relations in the construction of property. The most important normative implication is that relational property can function without the full and faithful implementation of formal property law; but property law cannot function without embedding itself in social relations.