Accepted Paper:

Land ownership claims and kinship creativity in a hometown village to Overseas Chinese   


Meixuan Chen (University of Durham)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at the close relationship between property ownership and kinship grouping.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the close relationship between kinship and landed property claims in a South China village in the post-reform era. In "socialist" China where a market-oriented economy has been developing since the early 1980s, the state-imposed forms of property relations are at odds with local notions of property. Land ownership by the state and the collective is a legal given, but use rights to state-owned land can be sold and transferred in the market. With the political-economic return of overseas Chinese (huaqiao) in the 1980s, the localized kinship group, the lineage, and ancestral worship has extensively been revived.

First, I explore how participation in ancestral worship was used as statements of ownership in the dispute over a piece of "ancestral mountain land". It became a make or break moment for the kinship group. This case illustrates the point that kinship relatedness is dialectically linked with property ownership in contemporary rural China. The second case tracks the history of appropriation and re-appropriation of a vegetable plot by different agents or institutions in the past 80 years. The way land ownership changes have something to do with how it comes to be claimed as unalienable. These acts of appropriation are interwoven with the intra-and inter-lineage tensions. In both cases, the memory of the lineage property has been reactivated by the presence of the overseas Chinese visitors. The interdependency between the local villagers, overseas Chinese and the local state agents have given rise to the fuzziness of ownership of rural property.

Panel G45
Land and property through a legal pluralism lens (IUAES Commission on Legal Pluralism)