Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Protest in authoritarian China?

The assertion in this New York Times article by Michael Wines and Jonathan Ansfield is that protest works when it aligns with basic "revolutionary" tenets of the PRC regime's Communist past. It might also matter that the protests are urban. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of protests in the last several years by farmers have been largely invisible and ineffective.

Trampled in a Land Rush, Chinese Resist
When China’s land boom excited a frenzy of popular resistance late last year — including headline-grabbing suicides by people routed from their homes — Chinese policy makers finally proposed a solution: rules to protect citizens from unchecked development and to fairly compensate the evicted.

Today in Laogucheng, a dingy warren of apartments and shops slated for redevelopment on Beijing’s far west side, the fruits of that effort are on vivid display: a powerful developer is racing to demolish the neighborhood before the rules are passed. And about 700 gritty homeowners are adamantly refusing to move until they get the fair deal they hope the rules will provide…

[P]eople do have influence over their autocratic masters. Top officials are worried that the property rush — which has led to soaring prices for urban real estate and low prices for old homes and farmland seized for development — is enriching local governments and well-connected developers at the expense of ordinary people and social stability.

Protest[s]… have forced officials to at least consider measures to make it harder to seize property and turn it over to developers without fully compensating those who live on it or use it. Effective confiscation of land nominally owned by the state, but farmed or lived on by the poor, has been a major source of unrest for the past two decades...

Two years ago, China’s appointed legislature, the National People’s Congress, approved a law to strengthen individual property rights and ordered new rules written to regulate urban land. But that effort stagnated in the legislative affairs office of the State Council, China’s cabinet.

“They face resistance from interest groups — from people in the government and from developers,” Shen Kui, the vice dean of Peking University’s law school, said in an interview…

[After widely publicized protests last fall,] State Council bureaucrats not only resurrected the long-stalled plans to write new land rules…

The draft covers only urban property, leaving out rural city outskirts where local governments have reaped huge profits — up to 100 times the value of a home — by converting commercially zoned countryside to city land…


And as in past years, lobbying against the new measures remains intense. “The obstruction and opposition is quite formidable,” said Mr. Shen’s principal co-drafter, a Peking University law professor, Wang Xixin. “Much of it derives from the local levels.”…

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