Pierre-Joseph Proudhon on Land Ownership
"Proudhon and China’s landownership system
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon has challenged Locke’s theory that “private property in land originated in First Occupancy” by emphasizing that population growth makes it impossible for everyone to have private property in land.
Proudhon’s point is that, if private property in land implies indefinite control of the owner, then it is incompatible with population change. Therefore, private property in land, understood as a universal right applying to everyone, cannot exist. In other words, if private landownership implies indefinite control on the part of the owner, it cannot adjust to population change, therefore private landownership cannot be a universal right for everyone; if private landownership adjusts to population change, it cannot be private property in the sense of owners’ indefinite control."
"It is remarkable that today’s landownership in China testifies to this insight of Proudhon.
China’s rural land is not owned by the state, or by the individuals. Rather, it is owned by the village collective. The current system is called the household contract responsibility system for rural land lease (thirty years). How much land lease a family gets is in accordance with its size, and every member of the village regardless of age and gender receives an equal share. The land was leased out to the family by the village authority5 for five years in the early 1980s, the length of land lease was extended to fifteen years in 1984, and further to thirty years in 1993. Because the size of a family changes over time with in-and-out marriages and births and deaths, village collectives usually make a small adjustment of the land lease every three years, and a thorough adjustment every five years.
It is a mistake on the part of many Western leftists to assume that China has “restored” the “capitalist productive relations in the countryside” after abandoning the People’s Communes. China’s rural landownership system is a Proudhonian version of petty bourgeoisie socialism, with all of its promises and contradictions. The Chinese government is in the process of making land contract law and trying to consolidate the household contract responsibility system while achieving economy of scale and speeding up urbanization. It is a great experiment of petty bourgeoisie socialism in that one of its core ideas is to realize socialized production without depriving peasants."
- Essay/Chapter: Liberal socialism and the future of China. A petty bourgeoisie manifesto. Cui Zhiyuan. Chapter 9 of: The Chinese Model of Modern Development. Edited by Tian Yu Cao.