The Making of the Landless Landlord Peasant: Government Policy and the Development of Villages-in-the-City in Shanghai and Guangzhou (2021)


China's rapid urbanization has generated a substantial population of "landless peasants," villagers whose farmland has been fully expropriated.  The fate of these "landless peasants" has varied greatly from locale to locale.  In many cities, they have become wealthy urban landlords; in others, they have been pushed aside in the urbanization process.  When they have become urban landlords, they have often done so through the formation of village collective shareholding corporations and villages-in-the-city (also known as "urban villages" 城中村), which have in turn provided housing for many migrant workers.  Comparing Guangzhou, with its many villages-in-the-city and powerful village collectives, to Shanghai, with far fewer villages-in-the-city or village collectives, this paper argues that the radically different distributive policies adopted by these two cities stem from their divergent conceptions of urbanization.  Shanghai persisted in implementing Mao-era policies in which urbanized villagers were granted urban jobs and converted to urban citizens even when the government no longer had jobs to grant, while Guangzhou quickly adapted to the more market-oriented economy of the Reform Period.  These strategies for urbanizing villagers proved amply elastic over time, reflecting the ability of changing leaders and their changing preferences to make real change on the ground even in the face of the constraints imposed by local traditions and path dependencies.
Last updated on 02/01/2021