Fragmented Laws, Contingent Choices: The Tragicomedy of the Village Commons in China
41 Pages Posted: 19 May 2018 Last revised: 27 Jan 2019
Date Written: May 7, 2018
This paper focuses on how the small-property norms interact with the fragmented and layered Chinese property laws. Defining the direct conflict between law and social norms as a tragedy and their reconciliation as a comedy, this paper serves as a case study of the mixture of tragedies and comedies of collective land governance in China. The term tragicomedy is to capture such a mixture. This paper presents two opposite stories of small property: one village co-op is captured by a mafia and the consequent mafia-style small property business is maintained through violence and the bribing of government officials; the other is a village co-op that from time to time takes actions “in the name of law” in their bargaining for legal property rights with the government and with a hold-out couple who refused to submit their “nailhouse” to the village co-op for redevelopment. This paper reveals that the different identities that village leaders simultaneously assume under different social control systems are key to understanding the co-evolution of property law and norms. It also highlights the essential roles of the laws and communities’ legal strategies in governing the commons.
Keywords: Small Property; Social Norms; Commons; Co-Evolution; Collective Land Governance; Village Co-Op; Chinese Mafia; Land Assembly District; Shenzhen
JEL Classification: K11; K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation