Squeezing the Same Old Stone: Evidence from Administrative Courts Explain Tax Reforms, Land Seizures, and Protest in Rural China
John Wagner Givens
Asian Studies Center, University of Pittsburgh
Andrew W MacDonald
University of Oxford - Department of Politics and International Relations
February 26, 2013
American Political Science Association 2011 Annual Meeting Paper
This paper seeks to explain why incidents of rural unrest have continued to rise in China, despite a major attempt by the Chinese government to reduce peasant tax burdens, previously the largest source of unrest. Our hypothesis is that local officials, strapped for cash after a series of tax-for-fee reforms, increasingly resorted to another form of extraction: the expropriation and sale of land used by peasants. Our explanation of why the number of mass incidents continues to rise suggests that reforms have only forced officials to resort to an even more disruptive form of extraction and therefore done little if anything to address underlying dissatisfaction.
In part one of this paper, we explore the recent history of peasant tax burdens in rural China, including the reasons for the rise in rural taxes in the 1990s. We describe the tax-for-fee reforms central officials forced upon local government in response to the increase in peasant protests and hypothesize potential responses by local governments to this loss of revenue. Based on a review of these responses, we propose the most significant reaction by local governments is to turn to land seizures as an alternative source of revenue.
In the second part of this paper, we test our hypothesis against statistical data. Because there are no sources of reliable data on the causes of mass incidents, we propose using administrative litigation cases as an alternate measure for causes of unrest. We therefore explain China’s system of administrative litigation and make clear how it can function as a measure for causes of unrest. Finally, we show that administrative cases do demonstrate the predicted negative correlation between taxation and land disputes. This provides a quantitative confirmation of our hypothesis, tells us something about the tactics of contention, and suggests the relative failure of the Hu/Wen administration’s effort to soften the impact of reform on the less fortunate.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 35
Keywords: state, state-society relations, taxes, protest, land, authoritarian, comparative politics, China, tax-for-fee reform, land seizures, unrest, administrative litigationAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: August 18, 2011 ; Last revised: February 27, 2013
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