Working Paper 41
Bifeng Gorge Nature Park: the ownership of landscape in postsocialist China
John Flower and Pamela Leonard
Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’
Year of publication
Number of pages
Working Paper 41
Property rights are widely viewed as a key element in China's ongoing transition from a socialist to a market economy. This article examines recent changes in land use and conflicts over property rights at the grassroots level, through a case study of the experience of Chinese farmers in Ya'an, western Sichuan Province, who are giving up agriculture under new policies that redefine their landscape as an "ecological zone." The study highlights both the diversity of land use strategies at the local level, and the broader regional interactions that underpin land use practices within that local framing. Two approaches to ecological development are being implemented in Ya'an: a reforestation project that converts steep cropland to forest, and the development of a local natural feature as an ecotourism site. The state-directed reforestation project keeps farmers on the land and buffers the transition away from agriculture with grain subsidies, while the ecotourism site uses the complicated and controversial practice of land expropriation (zhandi) in which the township government evicts farmers from their land holdings and pays them compensation for their land rights. In the ethnography of this changing landscape that follows, the focus is on the management of property rights from the perspective of local farmers, and their experience of the two approaches to local development exemplified in the reforestation and ecotourism projects, respectively. The ethnography suggests that modernization and individuated privatisation are not synonymous, and highlights the need to maintain policies that give consideration to the long-term subsistence concerns of people whom state policies are moving away from farming.