China’s Largest Land Grab

On Tuesday I reported briefly on Shaanxi’s plan to relocate 2.7 million residents from the northern and southern parts of the province. The local gov’t reported that this was a major push to help break the cycle of poverty that has been effecting those regions for generations. They also cited the fact that both areas are prone to disasters, and so this project would help save lives.

I wasn’t so optimistic about the project, and wondered when exactly we would find out the real motivation behind it.

Today as I was combing through the part of the People’s Daily I realized they had yet again buried the lead.

The headline is “Shaanxi plans to move 2.7 million to safer areas“, and the first page of the article is the same optimistic fluff that I reported on Tuesday. The second page though broke the real story – Mining companies are funding the project.

Why would they spend nearly 2 billion RMB to help “rescue” people from poverty-stricken areas?

The two areas’ total resources are worth more than 42 trillion yuan – one third of the national total – according to the provincial government website.”         – quoted from People’s daily

Even within the story local people say that they are suspicious of the plan,

“It’s not difficult to imagine that these companies have some secret deal with the provincial government for their own interests in the region,” Dong Miao, a resident of the city of Yulin in the north of the province, told the Global Times.”

So now you can see why I am at times a bit pessimistic when I read the Chinese news papers. Now that we know there are billions of RMB involved in this project, we can also assume that later there will be stories of forced demolitions, corruption, mine collapses, and protests from farmers saying they didn’t receive enough compensation.

Hopefully this story will gain traction with Chinese netizens, who are the only ones who would be able to stop this project.

Generally speaking when enough people complain quickly about a problem like this the national gov’t will take action. What usually happens though is the censors block the story before it becomes widely known, in which case it becomes a sensitive topic, officially off limits for discussion.

I will continues following this story over the next few months and we’ll see what happens.

15 responses to “China’s Largest Land Grab”

  1. Thank you for keeping us updated

  2. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    It’s so depressing! Thanks for highlighting this reality Tom. As a former professional social worker, I can draw parallels with the way dysfunctional families operate! On important issues, China has the emotive “good story” (or the emotive “bad” story) whereas the reality is quite different. I call it “Alice in Wonderland” Thinking!

  3. Chopstik says:

    Thanks for the follow-up on this story, Tom. I’m curious now to see how it will play out – though I think your scenario seems the most likely. I’m not sure whether I find it encouraging or frightening that China seems to operate as many Western (read: democratic) nations when it comes to the cooperation between government and big business…

  4. Mark walker says:

    Interesting to see a story in the making and watch as it unfolds.

  5. The Shaanxi relocation plan seems like a somewhat cruder form of the more sophisticated land grab forms we have in Hong Kong, and I should imagine sooner or later the various local and national governments will have a crack at using the Hong Kong methods. In keeping with the more democratic nature of Hong Kong (i.e. relative to mainland China), we have a public-sector land-grab method, courtesy of our Urban Renewal Authority, and a private-sector method, courtesy of our real-estate agents. To cut a long story short, the two Hong Kong methods rely on Contract Law and the Law of Succession to carry out their (re)possessions.

    • Chopstik says:

      The problem with the land grabs in China is the lack of concern for the rule of law – and I daresay that applies to a great deal more than just land dispute issues. It is the random application of law that causes the most problems – and greater potential for flashpoints of discontent. Hopefully there will be a future de-coupling of the legal sector from the political sector though I remain doubtful so long as there remains no incentive on the part of the party to relinquish any of its power.

      • Not to put too fine a point on things, the legal sector can’t be decoupled from the political sector even in advanced Western countries. It’s very hard to explain this without being longwinded. The short answer is that the political system is basically in the driver’s seat with respect to the legislative/legal system because the political system has the power to cause legislation to be legislated – and this is already the situation in advanced countries.

        To a trained lawyer (such as myself), the situation in China is actually quite straightforward – it’s mostly a matter of needing due diligence and consistent application of law. The law is there to be had – just that it isn’t applied or just applied highly selectively. At least in China we could see the defects and we could examine them.

        Over to the ‘advanced’ part of the world (e.g. Hong Kong or the UK or the USA), the situation in the last 20 years has been actually much worse – because the rule of law has become eroded in an invisible way. These countries are consistent in their application of law. Trouble is, their trend is to legislate ad hoc legislation formulated in such a way that bring about desired results not only for the benefit of certain groups or sectors, but AT THE EXPENSE OF certain other groups/sectors. This is a departure from traditional lawmaking – and not often appreciated or noticed even by the legally trained. It is this new, warped way of the rule of law that is dangerous and should worry everybody. It is an Orwellian world with a legal touch – and the shape of things to come.

  6. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    Thank you for explaining this point in a way that a layman (or woman) can understand, Naked Listener. It is very interesting. Here in Scotland, we have our own legal system and for the past 12 years, our own Parliament too. With the recent success of the Scottish Nationalist Party, who now have a majority of seats in Holyrood (our Parliament), there is much speculation about Scottish independence and the viability of a small Scottish nation, much like Norway. I notice that our leader (SNP’s Alec Salmond) who is recognised as a formidable politician, is courting the Chinese assiduously (they love our Whisky!). I myself have seen 20 strong parties of Mandarin speaking Chinese officials touring the local distilleries here in Speyside.

    • Chopstik says:


      You bring up some valid points as pertains to the inability to de-couple the legal and legislative professions and I certainly can’t (and therefore won’t) dispute them. But I did want to clarify my own earlier commentary as it was inelegantly expressed (inadvertent alliteration, I assure you). The inconsistent application of the law in China has left its citizenry with no real recourse for true justice (in the truest sense of the word) when they have been wronged – whether by other citizens or, more importantly, the government/party. The perception (and there is more than a little truth to this perception) is that those with power will win out so the only options are to meekly go along or to stand up as part of a rebellion. The increase in public demonstrations of discontent by citizens left behind in the government’s rush to “improve” – much of which has been openly admitted by the party – stands as testament to this. There have been both non-violent demonstrations and those that have resulted in damage to property and personnel and the fact that they continue in spite of efforts to stop them can only end in very disastrous results for the party and the nation as a whole.

      One of the best ways to circumvent them would be more transparency and openness in the application of the law so that people will have belief that they will be treated fairly before an impartial judiciary. Even if they don’t win, if they feel they’ve been treated fairly, then they are far more likely to be accepting of the verdict. (And yes, this goes for any nation, not just China, though that is the target of my thought here.)

      • Tom says:

        I think perhaps what Chopstick was trying to say was not that legal and legislative branches should be decoupled, but that the justice system should be decoupled from the Party. As it stands it is impossible to bring any kind of case against the local gov’t or party, and that allows bureaucrats too much freedom to abuse the people. For example, the baby thefts in Hunan province.

      • Yes, I agree with Chopstick. There is truth to the (admittedly British) expression, “Not only must there be justice, but justice must been seen to be done.”

  7. Chopstik says:

    Thanks for that clarification, Tom. Bad habit to consider Party = government. Somewhat akin to likening, in the US, the Democrats/Republicans = government. An inaccurate analogy at best.

  8. […] mining companies can access trillions of RMB worth of coal and other minerals (read more about that here), There haven’t been protests, yet. The Mongol’s ethnic status and cohesion has […]

  9. […] China’s largest land grab – This was my first “scoop” and it wasn’t reported in other western sources for another few months. While finishing the piece, I was talking on the phone with my wife discussing a few of the details when she heard a loud click followed by what she described as my voice being played in reverse. We thought that the call might have been monitored and quickly hung up. When I got home my heart was still pounding, and when I threw open the front door my wife was gone. It turned out that she had simply gone upstairs to a neighbor’s and had already forgotten the incident. Nothing ever came of the mysterious sound, and it hasn’t happened again since then, but I doubt I will be able to forget the feeling. […]

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