A National Governance Perspective on the Transformation of Rural

Social Sciences in China

Vol. 39, No. 1, 2018


A National Governance Perspective on the Transformation of Rural

Property Rights: The Chinese Experience



Deng Dacai


Property rights have multiple attributes, and these are correlated with national governance. In the West, property rights have the economic function of maximizing efficiency and the political function of rights protection, but in China, they also have a strong social character. With the modernization of national governance, these functions interact with and transform each other. When the state’s ability to supply public goods is relatively weak, property rights take on more of a social character, meeting public demand for welfare at the grassroots level. When the state is better able to provide public goods, the social function of property rights lessens as their economic function grows. The social character of property rights was the institutional foundation for China, as a huge agrarian state, to realize “governance through inaction,” and at the same time was the secret key that could break the code to the millennial continuity of Chinese agrarian civilization. Reforms including the collectivization of rural property rights after 1949, the “separation of two rights” (to collective ownership and household contracted land, with a focus on the latter), and the “separation of three rights,” (to collective ownership, household contracts and revitalized land management). These changes constitute a process in which the economic function of property rights has been growing while their social character has lessened under conditions of national governance modernization.


Keywords: national governance, national governance capacity, property rights attributes, economic function of property rights, social function of property rights