China's Stealth Urban Land Revolution

55 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2014 Last revised: 26 Aug 2014

See all articles by Donald C. Clarke

Donald C. Clarke

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: February 4, 2014


Both supporters and critics of China’s urban land use regime use the language of state ownership to describe it. But significant reforms have taken place to that regime since the early 1990s — so much so that over much of China’s urban land area, de facto re-privatization has already occurred. This is because the long-term use rights granted over urban land are economically and legally very similar to full private ownership, and indeed can be found in other jurisdictions where nobody doubts the existence of a private land ownership regime. Although some uncertainties remain, this is because the cost of maintaining them is low whereas the cost of resolving them is high; as that cost balance changes over time, there is reason to believe that they will be resolved before they become a drag on economic development. The analysis presented here applies not only to China, but to any jurisdiction where something less than full fee simple ownership (or its equivalent) is the dominant form of land tenure.

Keywords: land, land reform, real estate, state ownership, Chinese law, privatization

JEL Classification: K11, K20, K40, P20, P30, R31, R33

Suggested Citation

Clarke, Donald C., China's Stealth Urban Land Revolution (February 4, 2014). American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 62, No. 2, Spring 2014, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2014-44, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-44, Available at SSRN:

Donald C. Clarke (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States


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