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Land Divided, Land United

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2009


Decollectivization and the division of land have raised questions about whether a landed basis might reappear for a contemporary reformulation of patriliny in the Chinese countryside. This article addresses these questions by examining the processes through which formerly collective land has been divided and partially brought together again in informal, nameless co-operative groupings with an apparent patrilineal tinge.

A Symposium on Rural Family Change
Copyright © The China Quarterly 1992

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1. Field-work was carried out in Huaili in January 1988 and in the summers of 1989 and 1990, with the support of a series of grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada: a SSHRCC-Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Exchange Grant, 1987–88; a Canada Research Fellowship at the University of Western Ontario, 1987–89 and at the University of Manitoba, 1989–92; and a SSHRCC Research Grant, 1990–91. The author gratefully acknowledges the cooperation and assistance of the Shandong Academy of Social Sciences, the China Shandong International Culture Exchange Centre, the Shangdong Women's Federation, local authorities at various levels and, especially, the leadership and people of Huaili.

2. “Shandong's Economy in 1988,” BBC, Summary of World Broadcasts, Part 3: The Far East. Weekly Economic Report, FE/W0076, C/1, citing Jinan Dazhong ribao (Masses Daily). 16 03 1989, p. 2.Google Scholar

3. Ibid. p. 5.

4. Li, Lin, “Wo guo nongye de kunjing yu chulu wenti taolun zongshu” (“Summary of discussions on the question of the predicament and prospects of our country's agriculture”), Jingji yanjiu (Economic Research). No. 4 (1989), pp. 7377.Google Scholar

5. See Shuzhen, Liu, “Shandong sheng renkou duo yu gengdi shao de maodun yue lai yue jianrui” (“The contradiction between Shandong's large population and small arable area becomes steadily worse”), Renkou yanjiu (Population Research). No. 2 (1989), pp. 5052.Google Scholar

6. Watson, Andrew, “Agriculture looks for ‘shoes that fit’: The production responsibility system and its implications,” in Maxwell, Neville and McFarlane, Bruce (eds.), China's Changed Road to Development (Oxford: Pergamon, 1984), pp. 83108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7. These figures are based on retrospective accounts and extrapolations backward from more precise data provided for 1988, 1989 and 1990. These and all other data presented here are derived from my field-notes, unless a published source is cited. The figure of 1,300 mu refers only to agricultural land designated for systematic allocation. It excludes non-agricultural land and land which remained in agricultural group hands, for allocation at the discretion of the leadership.

8. Every five years, all males aged between 18 and 40 are recorded and are expected to provide this service for the following five years. The result is that men from 18 to 45, but not all men within five years of the upper and lower age limits, are included. Grounds for exclusion are mental or physical handicap, formal status as a specialized household, attendance at school, and some rural public service work (medical personnel, local (minban) teachers, drivers, electrical workers, and local cadres). One or more cadres lead each village's work team and are paid RMB 200 each year but are not allocated land. Former servicemen are included in the land allocation, but are not required to do the work. Each man who is recorded receives a land allocation for the five year period, although he may not be asked to provide the service every year. While the work is actually being done, those doing it are paid RMB 0.30 per day plus food at village expense. Each year the county government determines how much labour is required and sends down a quota, given as the proportion of a village's total population. In 1989 it was set at 13%, which meant that Huaili had to send over 100 men for one month-nearly the total number (140) of recorded men. The quota was, as always, set high to allow exemptions up to a limit of 5% to be sold (at RMB 200 in 1989). Many men could make more than RMB 200 a month, and more sought exemptions than were granted them. I was officially told that replacements are not hired by the exempted individual or by any level of government, though I was also told, less officially, that the going rate for a substitute in 1989 was RMB 120–130. This could be attractive for the less fully employed men. Village officials reported that the work was extremely unpopular and that it was hard to meet quotas. An unconfirmed but probably reliable report said that much of the maintainance of the drainage system lapsed during relatively dry years at the end of the 1980s, and the land in some drainage ditches was being cultivated.

9. There are also households of elderly individuals or couples in the village which might, in some sense, be considered to be without land. Although stern families are common in Huaili, there are also many instances of household division leaving elderly i individuals or couples on their own, with arrangements made for their allocated land to be cultivated by their divided-out sons and for these sons to provide for their support. These are only apparent cases of landlessness.

10. In the summer of 1990 the road running along one side of Huaili was closed for upgrading. This was hurting local household enterprises, especially restaurants, which partly depended on the traffic. Local hopes were for increased traffic when the road was reopened. It is worth noting that the rural economy, in this area as in general, was in trouble in 1990.

11. The three agricultural groups (nongyezu) were formed at the time of decollectivization and replaced the previous five production teams (shengchandui). They have some minor administrative functions within the village, including being a channel for the allocation of land. They were formed on the basis of the teams they replaced but, in addition to the obvious consolidation, were adjusted so that members of the same yuan would be in the same team. This enabled the form of agricultural co-operation discussed later.

12. Household land may be freely rented or loaned for limited lengths of time, but it is understood that if this practice continues the household will forfeit its land allocation in the next land readjustment. Two of the households in Huaili who were without land in 1989 had held land in 1984, rented it out, and given it up in the 1986 reallocation. Long-term private landlordship or patron-client relations based on land resources are not possible under these conditions.

13. See Judd, Ellen R., “Niangjia: Chinese women and their natal families,” Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 48, No. 3 (1989), pp. 525544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

14. The prevalent form of post-marital residence in Huaili is patrilocal. There are a few uxorilocal marriages, but none which has taken place since 1986. Uxorilocal matches commonly involve men with non-agricultural registration, who would not be eligible for land allocation in any event. In cases of intra-village marriage, which have occurred since 1986, the marrying woman's land remains allocated to her natal household.

15. Despite national legal provisions for inheritance on the part of both sons and daughters, daughters do not inherit in Huaili, on the asserted grounds that they do not assume responsibility for the care of their parents. Married-out daughters do customarily assist their natal families, and how have a legal obligation in this respect as well. Huaili's adherence to local custom in preference to national law is a common rural practice. Also see Palmer, Michael, “China's new inheritance law: Some preliminary observations,” in Feuchtwang, Stephen, Hussain, Athar and Pairault, Thierry (eds.), Transforming China's Economy in the Eighties, Vol. 1: The Rural Sector, Welfare and Employment (London: Zed, 1988), pp. 169197.Google Scholar

16. Compare this with Potter, Sulamith Heins and Potter, Jack M., China's Peasants: The Anthropology of a Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17. This type of “unclear division” (fenjia bu qing) is fairly common in Huaili and, I would venture, elsewhere in contemporary rural China. It provides a viable compromise between the younger generation's preference for division into nuclear families and a mechanism for the support of the older generation.

18. Donkey owners were unanimous in saying that their donkeys were loaned out freely to the entire village, provided they were not needed for work in their own households. They were less unanimous in reporting what I believe was also generally true, that this would be compensated for with fodder for at least the day's work. While the loan was generous and beneficial to the recipients, the fodder for an otherwise idle animal which would still have to be maintained – fodder costs were high at the time and constantly commented upon-also benefited the donkey owners and provided a solid economic basis for this generalized co-operation.

19. Compare this with Harrell, Stevan, Ploughshare Village: Culture and Context in Taiwan (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982).Google Scholar

20. See Cohen, Myron, “Lineage organization in north China,” Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 49, No. 3 (1990), pp. 509534.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

21. Fazhan yanjiusuo zonghe ketizu (Integrated task group of the development research institute), “Nongmin, shichang he zhidu chuangxin” (“Peasants, markets and the system innovate”), Jingji yanjiu (Economic Research). No. 1 (1987), pp. 316.Google Scholar

22. An extended discussion of the sense in which agriculture is feminized in Huaili is included in the larger project of which this paper is a part.

23. See Ebrey, Patricia Buckley and Watson, James L. (eds.), Kinship Organization in Late Imperial China, 1000–1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).Google Scholar

24. See Yanagisako, Sylvia Junko and Collier, Jane Fishburne, “Toward a unified analysis of gender and kinship,” in Collier, Jane F. and Yanagisako, Sylvia J. (eds.), Gender and Kinship: Essays Toward a Unified Analysis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), pp. 1450.Google Scholar

25. Croll, Elisabeth, The Politics of Marriage in Contemporary China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).Google Scholar

26. The implications of this for the status of women and for the implementation of China's birth control programme do not go unnoticed by the local people.

27. Bourdieu, Pierre, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

28. See Wolf, Margery, Women and the Family in Rural Taiwan (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972).Google Scholar

29. Cohen, , “Lineage organization,” p. 513.Google Scholar

30. Croll, , The Politics of MarriageGoogle Scholar, and Parish, William L. and Whyte, Martin King, Village and Family in Contemporary China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).Google Scholar

31. For an interesting and detailed comparison with Hebei regarding kin and commercial ties in the rural economy, see Sibin, Wang, “Jingji tizhi gaige dui nongcun shehui guanxi de yingxiang” (“The influence of the reform of the economic system on rural social relations”), Beijing daxue xuebao (Beijing University Journal). Vol. 3 (1987), pp. 2634.Google Scholar

32. Diamond, Norma, “Collectivization, kinship, and the status of women in rural China,” in Reiter, Rayna R. (ed.), Toward an Anthropology of Women (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), pp. 372395.Google Scholar