The Costs of Complex Land Titles: Two Examples from China

Robert C. Ellickson

Yale Law School

October 31, 2011

Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 441

Chinese customs and law have traditionally prevented a land seller from conveying outright title to a buyer. The ancient custom of dian, which persisted until the 1949 Revolution, gave a land seller and his lineage an immutable option to buy back sold land at the original sale price. This little-analyzed custom discouraged soil conservation and land improvements, and, especially after 1600, contributed to China’s inability to keep pace with England.

After calamitous experiences with land collectivization between 1951 and 1981, China’s Communist government began to confer private land-use rights. But, instead of making outright sales, it chose to award contractual rights only for a fixed-term, for example, 50 years in the case of an industrial parcel. For the same reasons dian did, this policy threatens to impair China’s prospects of economic development.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 23

Keywords: China, land tenure, dian, economic development

JEL Classification: K00, K11, N15, N55, Q15, Q24

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Date posted: November 2, 2011 ; Last revised: May 29, 2012

Suggested Citation

Ellickson, Robert C., The Costs of Complex Land Titles: Two Examples from China (October 31, 2011). Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 441. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1953207

Contact Information

Robert C. Ellickson (Contact Author)
Yale Law School ( email )
P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-7033 (Phone)
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