Chinese land reform: A world to turn upside down | The Economist

MORTGAGING a village home is a sensitive issue in China. A nervous local official has warned residents of Gumian, a small farming community set amid hills and paddies in Guangdong province, that they risk leaking state secrets if they talk to a foreign reporter about the new borrowing scheme that lets them make use of the value of their houses. They talk anyway; they are excited by what is going on.

Urban land in China is owned by the state, and in the 1990s the state allowed a flourishing property market to develop in the cities. That went on to become a colossal engine of economic growth. But rural land, though no longer farmed collectively, as it was in Mao’s disastrous “people’s communes”, has stayed under collective ownership overseen by local party bosses. Farmers are not allowed to buy or sell the land they work or the homes they live in. That hobbles the rural economy, and the opportunities of the farmers who have migrated to the cities but live as second-class citizens there.

Hence the importance of experiments like those in Gumian. Cautious and piecemeal, they have been going on for years. Some are ripe for scaling up. Handled correctly, such an expansion could become a centrepiece of Xi Jinping’s rule.

On October 7th Mr Xi said the government was drawing up a “master plan” for not just more reform, but a “profound revolution”. Such talk is part of the preparations for a plenum of the Communist Party’s Central Committee which will begin on November 9th. It is the third such meeting since Mr Xi came to power; because the first two plenums of a party chief’s term are given over largely to housekeeping matters, including party and government appointments, third plenums are the ones to watch.

And Mr Xi is marking this one out as particularly important. In private conversations with Western leaders he has been comparing the event to the third plenum that, in 1978, saw Deng Xiaoping’s emergence as China’s new strongman after the death of Mao two years earlier, and set the stage for the demise of the people’s communes. Indeed “profound revolution” is a deliberate echo of a phrase of Deng’s.

via Chinese land reform: A world to turn upside down | The Economist.

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