Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In China’s rural areas, farmland was distributed to rural households through contracts in the 1980s. However, village collectives have continued to be the owners of rural land, and the land rights of rural individuals have never been specified by law. Based on field data collected in Southwest China, this paper shows that factors associated with urbanization (e.g., increased wealth, consumerism, a youth culture, and social mobility) have caused growing awareness of individual rights and increasing rights-asserting activities. For example, daughters, who traditionally do not have access to family property, have begun to demand their shares of land when the family divides, or their share of compensation when the family’s contracted farmland is acquired by the government, or their names to be listed on the land certificates issued to their husbands’ families. Parents’ attitudes towards daughters are also changing, offering some daughters the opportunities of succeeding family property. Moreover, due to increasing social mobility and economic opportunities that have caused more and more villagers to leave rural areas, disputes frequently break out among brothers over what constitutes a fair property division—one based on traditional egalitarianism among sons or one based on labor investment. In short, by examining the disputes on family property (primarily farmland and houses), this paper will assess whether the increasing rights-asserting activities have eroded the tradition of the household as a property-holding unit and the roots of villages as the owners of common land resources.