|dc.description.abstract||In recent decades, few policies and practices other than land development have caused such enormous economic, social, and political changes in China. On the one hand, land development has generated large profits and contributed to the acceleration of industrial and urban development. But on the other hand, it has created deep controversies about how to distribute the profits and has become the biggest source of social unrest since the mid-2000s. In villages where active land development is underway, especially in the city outskirts, decisions about land are usually the most important decisions in village governance. Who can participate in the decision-making process and how the decisions are made largely determine the outcomes.
When the community is under threat and major collective interests are involved in land development, people in some villages engage in electoral and non-electoral politics to guard the community and strive for the collective interests, whereas in other villages people defect to opportunism for private ends at the cost of the common good and other community members. Where huge interests and conflicts are present, brought about by active land development, why does political behavior to fight for land interests and resolve disputes differ? My dissertation tries to answer this question: What makes people take part in community-based political participation as opposed to individual action and opportunism? By answering this question, we can better understand why and how villagers in some places versus others have benefited from land development in a more fair, equal, and sustainable fashion, felt more satisfied with the results, and more effectively resolved conflicts through rule-based negotiations.
In an effort to answer this question, I conducted an in-depth comparative study in two villages: Prosperity Village in Hunan Province and Green Village in Guangdong Province, against a general background of land development and its impact on Chinese villages. Collecting and analyzing a combination of archival, ethnographic, and interview data, I argue the key to understanding the puzzle is twofold. First is whether communal organizations manage important collective assets and make important public decisions that motivate villagers to be concerned about their common interests, with organizations structured in a way to encourage and enable villagers to get involved in village public life. Villagers who are equal shareholders of a genuine collective economic organization are likely to have incentives and opportunities to participate in this organization and village affairs in general.
Second is whether, in the process of engagement encouraged by the communal organizations, villagers have built necessary infrastructure and cultivated a mindset to facilitate their future political participation. Motivated villagers come together and forge an interwoven communal network that helps diffuse information and aggregate interests. In a political environment that discourages citizen participation, they need formal institution building at the local level to facilitate their own participation. In the process, if a civic mindset has emerged, for example, embracing universalism, fair procedures, and justice for all, villagers are more likely to resort to political participation to strive for collective interests and settle disputes, rather than rely on individual action and opportunistic behavior. I call these three aspects—interwoven communal networks, empowering formal institutions, and civic mindsets—civic solidarity. Civic solidarity is a type of solidarity that is based on universalistic values and principles, most importantly, inclusiveness, rules, and equal application. By contrast, particularistic solidarity often gives preferential treatments based on close human relationships.
This research project sheds light on important questions of why and how, in a non-democratic political system, some ordinary villagers can organize themselves, participate in village decision-making, hold effective elections and select accountable leaders, and engage in successful collective bargaining with the government to protect their collective interests in land. It also addresses one of the most important economic, social, and political issues in China—land development. Rapid and accelerating industrialization and urbanization have encroached upon hundreds of millions of mu of farmland and produced tens of millions of dispossessed villagers, with more in years to come. This undergoing great transformation has already created and will bring about more social and political challenges. Whether and how villagers can be beneficiaries rather than victims of this process and resolve conflicts in non-violent ways will deeply affect not only rural welfare, but also fundamental social and political order in China.||