No Change for Thirty Years: The Renewed Question of Women's Land Rights in Rural China
Since the mid-1990s, a new land-use rights regime has gradually come into effect in China. It follows upon a series of earlier changes — land reform, collectivization and the first wave of contracting land to households — that paid attention to women’s role in publicly recognized work and provided access to land. The new regime, which has gradually come into effect as previous (usually fifteen-year) terms expired, authorizes an adjustment in land allocation which is then normally frozen for thirty years. An apparently inadvertent effect of this policy is not only the exclusion of young people from direct access to land for up to thirty years from birth, but the de facto separation of the majority of women who marry or remarry patrilocally from allocated land. ‘No change for thirty years’ (sanshi nian bu bian) has thus become the distinctive feature for women of China’s current land-use regime. The state has renounced its potential to reallocate land periodically and there is no indication that market mechanisms are filling, or are capable of filling, the void thereby created. This article examines local conceptions, responses and practices regarding land-use rights and their transfer within this new framework, using field evidence from three upland agricultural communities in Chongqing and Sichuan (studied in 2003, 2004 and 2005), where land allocations were fixed in 1995, 1999 and 2001 respectively. The ethnographic findings are further explored in relation to contemporary research on gender and land rights.